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Thousands of American Indians Participate in National Powwow


Thousands of American Indians converged on Washington, D.C. recently to celebrate the song and dance of their native culture. The National Museum of the American Indian organized the annual event called a powwow -- a tradition dating back hundreds of years. For producer Ana Ward, VOA's Margaret Kennedy reports this year's powwow was a symbol of the native people's survival into the 21st century.

American Indians performed war dances and beat drums, competing in the National Powwow staged to honor past and present warriors. Some American Indian military veterans marched in the opening ceremony.

Pamela Barnwell is part Cherokee [tribe]. She came from New York City to see an event she says could encourage people to discover their legacy and help keep America Indian culture alive. "And this may make them want to dig deeper and maybe come here and learn more about their ancestry."

The term powwow comes from a Narragansett [tribal] word meaning "healing ceremony." In today's powwows, tribes gather to share songs, dances and blessings.

One ceremony honored Chickasaw [tribe member] John Herrington -- who expressed pride to be the first American Indian in space. "It's a great honor and it's a responsibility. You want to do the best job you can do to honor your family, where you came from. It's inherent to who you are and my work ethic. I take that pride and carry it into my job."

"I bring my children and grandchildren to powwows. I educate them because somewhere along the line, if you don't teach it to the children, it will get lost. So it's my job as a parent and grandparent to bring the kids to the powwows to teach them about arts and crafts, and the different styles of dance," says Barnwell.

American Indians make up only one percent of the U.S. population. But many more people -- such as Barnwell -- have mixed ancestry. Herrington not only wants people to know American Indian history, he wants them to know about modern native peoples.

Herrington adds, "They're very capable today of doing a variety of things, being scientists, engineers, doctors, entertainers, artists and all that. So it's not about 200 years ago or 100 years ago, it's about native Americans that are proud of who they are and what they do today."

The national powwow gives some American Indians a chance to celebrate their traditions. And at the same time they show the world they continue to survive.

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