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Enlighten Me: Nanticoke Indian Powwow a 'family reunion'

The 42nd annual Nanticoke Indian Powwow brought the woods alive in Millsboro this past weekend.

The Nanticoke Indian Tribe is one of Delaware’s two state-recognized Native American tribes.

And it hosts an annual powwow which draws members of other tribes around the region, and raises money for the tribe’s nonprofit Nanticoke Indian Association and its museum. It also serves as a reunion for members of the Nanticoke community.

For this week’s Enlighten Me, Delaware Public Media’s Sophia Schmidt visited this year's event.

“The dancing, the vendors, the foods are all parts of the powwow,” said Chief of the Nanticoke Indian Tribe Natosha Norwood Carmine. “I can’t say that it’s one exclusive thing.”

The Nanticoke Indian Tribe’s annual powwow is held in a wooded area near the Nanticoke Indian Museum in Millsboro, and draws thousands of attendees. 

 

Ariana Roland grew up in California, but says she came to Millsboro every year as a kid to visit her grandmother, who was Nanticoke, and attend the powwow. Now she lives in Maryland and brings her 4-year-old daughter to the event. 

 

“She loves it,” said Roland. “It’s nice when we do heritage week at her school, because she does her Nanticoke side. I mean she’s 4, but she presents on that and just dream catchers—and her great-grandmother, which is my grandmother, who was full Nanticoke.”

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Credit Sophia Schmidt, Delaware Public Media
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Powwow attendees wait in line for foods including frybread and succotash.

Kenneth Burton Sr. stood in line amongst others waiting to buy fry bread and traditional succotash, made of lima beans and corn. He’s Nanticoke from Millsboro, and has gone to the powwows for as long as he can remember.  “Ever since they started. I was born here 83 years ago.”

Chief Carmine describes the powwow as a family reunion, drawing not just Native people from Sussex County, but the tribe’s “extended families” from across the United States. 

“We have families here from Atlanta, and Washington, D.C., and Pennsylvania,” she said. “Then we have our sister tribes who come, and they’re from mostly Dover, Cheswold, New Jersey.”

Walter Carver sat watching the dancers in a lawn chair. He’s originally from Pittsburgh and came to Delaware to serve at the Dover Air Force Base. He’s Oneida, and says the annual powwow in Millsboro is a way to meet other Native people. 

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Credit Nick Ciolino, Delaware Public Media
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The Nanticoke butterfly dance

“I’ve met other members of the Iroquois nation here,” he said. “That guy I was dancing with, he’s a Seneca, from New York. So I meet different people from different places” 

A group of teenage girls wearing colorful custom regalia was eager to talk about the powwow. 

Alaina Herrera of Lewes is Nanticoke, Lenni-Lenape and Cherokee. She says she has been dancing at the powwow for several years. 

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Credit Sophia Schmidt, Delaware Public Media
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Henry-Harmon, Herrera and Wright pose for a photo

“I do ladies’ fancy dancing, and she does ladies’ jingle dress,” she said, referring to her friend, 13-year-old Journi Wright.

Herrera says dancers can choose their dances based on body type or personality. “So like for me, mine’s more like athletic, and I do a lot of jumping and stuff like that,” she said. “Her thing is heeling.”

Wright and 17-year-old Mikayla Henry-Harmon of Millsboro wore skirts adorned with metal tobacco lids rolled into cones, which jingle when the dancers move. 

“I think the sound of the jingles is like rain when it hits a tin roof,” said Henry-Harmon. She says she’s been dancing since she was a baby. “It’s what my culture is, so I like to come and experience my culture and show other people what my culture is about.”

Chief Carmine says dancers at powwows are not performing. 

“They’re dancing because it’s in their blood. They’re dancing because when we go into that dance circle, we’re going in prayerfully, honoring our ancestors—what they struggled for us to have what we have.

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Credit Sophia Schmidt / Delaware Public Media
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Delaware Public Media

"We want to make sure that our seven generations to come can remember the powwows and how we put them on, and the dancing that they saw their cousins, aunts and uncles do— maybe when they were only 3.” Carmine notes that toddlers dance in the circle, alongside mothers with babies on their hips. 

“That’s how they learn,” she said. “This being the Nanticoke Indian powwow, we have to share our culture, but [also] to teach our children our culture, our traditions, our heritage, so that they will know what it means to be a Nanticoke—and all of this is a part of it.”

 

This story has been updated

 

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