Annual powwow draws thousands for celebration of culture, tradition
History and culture of the Haliwa-Saponi Tribe were on display Saturday as the tribe held its 48th annual powwow on the grounds of the tribe’s charter school.
Colorful costumes, stately dances, music, crafts and works of art represented the long cultural history of the Haliwa-Saponi Tribe and American Indians.
In welcoming the crowd of thousands, Chief Ronald Richardson said, “When Christopher Columbus wandered around off our coast, this is what he found.”
Master of Ceremonies Keith Colston added, “We welcome the visiting royalty, each and every one of you. We welcome all our dancers.”
He asked the crowd to stand and remove hats as the flags of the United States, North Carolina and the Haliwa-Saponi Tribe entered the arena.
Colston introduced the different groups of dancers and urged the crowd to “put your hands together!” for each one.
Host Drum Stoney Creek led the drum groups with a driving rhythm to back up the vocal call and response.
Between drum sessions, the haunting strains of a flute were provided by Arnold Richardson.
Dancers of all ages, from toddlers to senior citizens, enlivened the festivities.
“It’s part of my culture,” said Jacob Lynch, a student at the Warren County Early College High School who has been dancing for five years. “My whole family has been doing it.”
When one of the younger dancers was asked how old she is, Kara Richardson said, “eight,” then corrected herself, “nine.” Her birthday was April 9. She has been dancing for two years. Her mother, Uronda Richardson, also was a dancer “years ago.”
Dancers exhibited different styles, some vigorous, some slow and dignified, but all responding to the drumbeats and singing.
In a mix of eras as well as cultures, one dancer changed from her Nike running shoes to moccasins as she prepared to dance.
In a particularly poignant moment, dancers in the 13 -17 age group performed an honor song for Faith Hedgepeth, a tribal member and college student who was found dead in her Chapel Hill apartment last September. Her death, described by Chapel Hill police as murder, is still unsolved.
Faith’s father, Roland Hedgepeth, said law enforcement officials are not giving the family much information about the case. The Chapel Hill Police Department announced in January that new evidence was found in the form of DNA belonging to a male, but little beyond that. “It’s still an active case,” Hedgepeth said.
He was there with his son Chad and daughter Rolanda for the ceremony honoring Faith.
Chad wore a T-shirt designed for his fraternity, Phi Sigma Nu. On it were the words, “Remember Faith Hedgepeth. Stop Violence Against Women.” The shirt is part of a fundraising effort on behalf of a scholarship fund the family is creating to honor Faith.
Samantha Daniel was selected as the 2013-2014 Haliwa-Saponi Tribal Princess. Lucy Ann Richardson was selected as the 2013-2014 Haliwa-Saponi Senior Citizen Princess.
Not all of the visitors were members of the Haliwa-Saponi Tribe, or even Native American. Liz Frisenda, a state auditor, came from Pittsboro to the powwow.
“I was doing some work in Hollister and they said, ‘You must come to the powwow.’”
She brought along her friend Ursula Buehler, who is visiting from Germany.
William West of Arcola was one of many veterans who responded when Colston called them into the arena for a tribute. A graduate of Warren County High School, West worked in textiles for 27 years and then for a beverage company. He said he is not a Native American “but I have a grandbaby who is.”
Concession stands displayed American Indian crafts and art work, including work by silversmiths Brian Lynch and Grant Dial, artist Karen Harley, carvers Alvin Richardson and Henry Lynch and potter Senora Lynch.
The first Haliwa-Saponi powwow was held in 1965 to celebrate the tribe’s official recognition by the state of North Carolina.
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