Ancient tribal tribal traditions live on at pow wow
Newell, 64, a Penobscot Indian and a disabled Vietnam Veteran, sings in the classic Eastern tones of his ancestors as colorfully dressed members of his and other tribes danced in the circle at the 42nd annual Labor Day Pow Wow on Saturday.
Newell and his band mates grew up listening to music of their tribes on vinyl records; their “drum” has been practicing together for almost 15 years. They know their songs, the songs of the Micmac, the Pequot, the Wampanoags and “intertribal” songs from the other two American Indian music categories — southern and northern.
“You can tell the northern style, they have the higher voices,” he says.
“And northern music more like rock ‘n’ roll,” adds his longtime drum mate, Kris Snell of Raymond, Maine.
As Mountain Spirit and a band from upstate New York alternate performances, dancers from a group of more than 500 people of American Indian heritage — and others with no native background at all — are asked to participate in the dance.
The dance honors all the tribes, nature and the Earth, and the creator of all things.
“The drum is the heartbeat of the native nation,” says Newell, who is also chief of the New Hampshire Inter-Tribal Native American Council. “It’s a very religious experience, there are things we do and say here at the drum that you would never do or say anywhere else.”
And just as the traditions and songs were passed on to Newell, Snell and the other two drummer/singers in Mountain Spirit, Lee LeDuc of Manchester and Rex Bunnell of Wolfeboro, the ways of America’s native peoples were being handed down to the many children who danced with the adults the pow wow circle.
But the purpose of the gathering has never been about religion or tribes, said Brian Salesky, president of the Laconia Indian Historical Association, which puts on the event.
“You could be a full-blooded Italian and still be a part of this,”
Salesky says. “The goal is to honor and teach the Native American culture, anyone can join us.”
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