Powwow

By Clyde Ellis; Luke Eric Lassiter et al. | Go to book overview

CHRIS GOERTZEN


14.
Purposes of North Carolina
Powwows

The powwow arrived in North Carolina as a mature package, and North Carolina powwows continue to match the national model in broad outline. However, these powwows are typically smaller, many details are unique, and the powwows naturally mean something rather different to Indians whose collective history contrasts greatly with that of Plains populations. Recent politics matters too. Piedmont and Coastal Indian communities adopted the powwow as part of public reemergence in the last few decades of the twentieth century. Considerable controversy – indeed, acrimony – concerning which groups ought to be legally recognized divides one tribe from another, even as the powwow system unites them.

I focus here on the community living nearest to my former home in Carrboro, North Carolina – the Occaneechi-Saponis, a very small group who recently energetically sought, and finally achieved, state recognition – as well as on the larger Haliwa-Saponis, who have been recognized for decades. These groups contrast instructively and were the North Carolina Indians I first got to know. In 1991, when I first taught a world music class, I sought opportunities for students to do fieldwork, wondering which events would be sufficiently large, resilient, and friendly that a horde of kids with clipboards, questions – and uneven sensitivities – could be gracefully accommodated. One student pointed out that her former high school, Durham’s North Carolina School of Science and Mathematics, hosted a large annual powwow. For years I conveyed groups of students there, to college powwows featuring intertribal drums, and to the nearby Occaneechi-Saponi powwows.

After hundreds of hours at powwows and in conversation with North Carolina Indians, I formally researched the intersection of local powwow culture with the controversial process through which communities could seek state recognition as tribes.1 I welcomed the invitation to revise my first essay on the topic for this anthology, both for the opportunity to rethink a situation whose openness and informality overlie complexity and pain, and for the chance to again seek the counsel of Occaneechi elder and craftsman John Jeffries; his

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