The sound of drums and singing filled the air at the Nanticoke Indian Museum in Millsboro Saturday for the Nanticoke Indian Tribe’s annual heritage day.
Museum coordinator and tribal genealogist Sterling Street says heritage day aims to keep members of the Nanticoke community engaged with their culture.
“And [help] the younger ones become more interested so that they can keep our traditions alive and keep them going,” he said. “And learn about their culture so that they can teach their children and their grandchildren.”
17-year-old Cheyenne Wright was among several young people who performed dances at Saturday’s event. She is part of the tribe’s dance troupe, which sometimes travels to perform at events in other states.
Wright says she learned to dance from her aunt, siblings and older cousin— and has been doing it most of her life. “Because it’s my heritage,” she said. “And I’m really proud of my heritage.” Wright’s favorite dance to perform is the Fancy Dance, which she says is known as the butterfly dance. “It reminds me of my dad,” she said.
Wright says she does not feel nervous performing. “I just dance to dance— because it’s my heart.”
Wright sees the tribe’s annual heritage day as a time to see her family— and showcase Nanticoke traditions to the public, who may have misconceptions about Native Americans.
“Heritage day means my family coming together— everyone who’s down here that you don’t get to see everyday,” said Wright. “We also get to show the public ... so they’re not, ‘Oh, this is Indians, this is what they do’ — what they show in Hollywood. This is how we live, this is the food we eat, this is how we drum.”
The last dance performed on Saturday was a social or “friendship” dance in which visitors were encouraged to join in. “I hope they take away that we’re still here,” said Wright. “And we’re still really proud to be here.”
Street says attendance at heritage day, which also includes storytelling, food and crafts, has grown in recent years. But the tribe’s largest yearly event is its September powwow, which Street says draws thousands from around the region.
The Nanticoke tribe is one of two state-recognized Native American tribes in Delaware.