GRAFTON, Mass. (A.W.)—The Nipmuc Nation, a Northeastern native community, held its annual Powwow at the Hassanamesit Reservation in Grafton on July 27.
David Tall Pine White, the emcee of the powwow, told the Weekly that the most important aspects of organizing a Powwow are the people and the land: “Having a vast community network and a deep historical and ancestral native background is key to the foundation of the event. Making a connection to the land itself is a vital part of the process as well.”
White explains that one dance performed around the fire in the circle of life is the “Round Dance.” “This is when everyone is invited to join hands and dance as one.” The dance is a symbol of the importance of community and “the strength and beauty of the people united, and the common bond we all share,” he said. Another dance is the “Sneak Up”: “There are many variations of this depending on where you go, but it is a hunters’ dance that represents the movements of the hunter.”
After the grand entry, White announces that a prayer is going to be said by two of his students, in the native language and in English. He has been a native language teacher for about ten years. Before his teacher passed away, he asked White to keep the classes going. With three classes per month, he teaches what he considers to be one of the most important aspects of native culture: “For a long time the language was forbidden to be spoken so there was a period of dormancy for about 100 years. Bits and pieces survived but much was forgotten in that time… It teaches us the importance and role of our natural surroundings and the relationships between all living things. It also promotes a clear and objective thought process that brings a wider understanding of life, and who we are.”
Most members of the Nipmuc Nation grew up in families where preserving the legacy and culture is paramount. Talin Avakian has participated in powwows since she was a little girl: “My mom would take my sisters and I to various tribal events in our community, whether it was our tribe’s annual powwow in the summer, Nikkomo [New Year celebration] or tribal member meetings,” she said.
Avakian talks about the importance of the choice of regalia they wear for a powwow. “Tribes and native persons have their own way of choosing/making their own regalia, but typically one creates the regalia to represent one’s family, nation, or style of dance. Because of this, most Natives take the process of creating regalia very seriously, because they want to represent who they are in the best way possible,” she explains.
Avakian notes that the outfit she was wearing for this latest powwow was inspired by a traditional Eastern Woodland outfit, with a loose fitted shirt, a wool wrap skirt, leggings, a decorated yoke (worn on the chest), center seam moccasins, and Wampum earrings (made by a friend of hers, Kristen Wyman).
Avakian decided to incorporate Marash embroidery on her yoke in tribute to her Armenian grandmother’s ancestors who are from Marash. Talin is of Armenian, Native American, and African American heritage. She has had the great fortune of being exposed to each culture she belongs to: “Every family member always reminded me of the importance of knowing who I am and where I came from.”