A Tribute to Native American Culture: The 91st Nipmuc Nation Powwow

GRAFTON, Mass. (A.W.)—The Nipmuc Nation, a Northeastern native community, held its annual Powwow at the Hassanamesit Reservation in Grafton on July 27.

A scene from the Powwow (photo by Fiona Guitard)
A scene from the Powwow (photo by Fiona Guitard)

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.”

Powwow participants dancing around the fire (photo by Fiona Guitard)
Powwow participants dancing around the fire (photo by Fiona Guitard)

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.

Talin Avakian in her powwow regalia, with Marash embroidery on her yoke
Talin Avakian in her powwow regalia, with Marash embroidery on her yoke

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.”


Fiona Guitard

Fiona Guitard is a French journalist. She earned a B.A. degree in French Literature and Communication, and an M.A. in Social Science and Humanities from La Sorbonne University. Involved in human rights, her writings also focus on politics, arts, and social and gender issues. Guitard interned for the Armenian Weekly in 2014, and currently contributes to the paper from France.

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  1. Dear Fiona
    Thank you for a beautifully written piece. Avakian’s celebration of her multi-cultural heritage should be a lesson to all Armenians to celebrate, rather than suppress, their non-Armenian cultural traditions. Only when we can respect all cultures can we truly enrich and share our own ancient cultural heritage. And through respect for all, we strip away cultural divides and discrimination – eliminating racism and wars.
    In Peace.

    • @Jackie, I am a full-blooded Armenian and I respect all cultures and traditions in their own rights but I don’t consider wanting to keep my cultural traditions pure as suppressing our non-Armenian cultural traditions. Even though I think we can be happy to have both we still need to be able to distinguish one from the other.

      The beauty of every culture is in its uniqueness and there is nothing wrong with exposing and sharing our culture with others but I have to say that when a culture loses its uniqueness and becomes hybrid then it loses a lot of its self-worth and it becomes difficult to distinguish one culture from another.

      I say be proud of your cultural uniqueness but neither shy away from wanting to keep it distinct from others nor wanting to share it with others.

  2. This was a rather charming article to read. Anyway, I think in addition to learning about our own culture, it’s also important for Armenians to learn about other cultures. And, in addition to learning about our own genocide, it’s also important for Armenians to learn about other genocides that have taken place in history, such as the genocide committed against the original Americans (Native American Indians) by the United States. By learning about these various things, an Armenian will become more knowledgeable about the world he or she lives in. Although my life is devoted to the Armenian Cause, that doesn’t stop me from appreciating and supporting other people’s causes, such as the Native American Indian Cause. As a matter of fact, my devotion to the Armenian Cause has been strengthened as a result of this.

  3. Hello Jacki Abramian
    Let’s see if you have a good memory….
    Some 30 and more yrs ago ,when I *no doubt you too-were invited to commeorate 40th
    Anniversary of the fusillation of Misak Manuchian*French Armenian resistance fighter-you sat next to me at the prestigious “Ecole Militaire” in Paris and they honoured us with a sumptuous Lunch.Officers of the French army serving us with white glvoes on…
    Opposite us sat the Soviet Embassy First secretary *a Mr. Gasparianand I had a long chat with him in Armenian.I wonder if you undeerstood what we talked about..
    Anyhow, it is good to practice memory strength..
    Please let me know..
    Gaytzag Palandjian

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