Lenape Nation ready for annual Saltsburg powwow

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If you thought powwows were the stuff of history books or fairy tales, think again.

On Saturday and Sunday the Thunder Mountain Lenape Nation powwow will be back for the 15th year in Saltsburg. Historically, a powwow meant a gathering of tribes and was thought of as a festival or celebration. In keeping with tradition, the Saltsburg powwow will host Native Americans from around the nation who come as dancers, drummers, storytellers, and vendors selling native crafts, wares and food. There will also be a medicine wheel.

Nancy Bollinger, a Lenape from Amargh, Indiana County, who helps organize the festival, said that it is first and foremost a celebration, and it is meant to be a fun social event. She is especially excited about the Mana Polynesia, a dancing group from Hawaii that included Saltsburg in its current tour.

Thunder Mountain Lenape Nation powwow

Where: 236 Skyline Drive, Saltsburg, Indiana County.

When: 10 a.m.-9 p.m. Saturday; 10 a.m.-6 p.m. Sunday.

Admission: $5; children younger than 12, free.

Information: www.thundermtlenape.org, 724-639-3488 or contact@thundermtlenape.org.

But there is more to the powwow than fun and games.

"There are so many stereotypes that people have about being an Indian," said Pat Seligman of Saltsburg, who has been involved with the powwow since its beginnings. "We try to bring a more realistic picture of what native life was and also [bring attention] to the fact that there are still native people here."

In Pennsylvania, there are no federally recognized tribes. The Saltsburg powwow is organized by descendants of the Lenapes, also known as Delawares. A loose network of about 11 Lenape families exists in Western Pennsylvania. They are more numerous in Eastern Pennsylvania, and reside in large numbers in Oklahoma.

For the past 10 years, the Pennsylvania legislature has designated August as Native American Awareness Month.

"It is a time for us to celebrate what it means to be native," said Ms. Seligman. "There are different festivals in different areas of Pennsylvania just to highlight it."

The Council of Three Rivers American Indian Center will hold its 35th annual powwow Sept. 28 and 29 in Dorseyville.

The Saltsburg powwow draws a diverse audience. "It appeals to a large range of people -- people who do have native roots and people who are just curious," said Ms. Seligman.

The Thunder Mountain Lenape Nation is a 501(c)3 nonprofit organization, which helps bring in money to organize events such as the powwow. The organization also goes to schools to educate children about traditional Native American life.

"Twenty some years ago, I would ask, 'Does anyone have any native in their blood?' One child might say, 'Yes, but no one believes me,' " said Ms. Seligman, adding "Now, three or four children might raise their hands."

She believes the Internet plays a role in connecting people to their ancestral culture.

"It seems like just as a flame was extinguishing, it has started burning again."

lifestyle - neigh_east

Maggie Neil: mneil@post-gazette.com.


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