MILLSBORO, Del. — Amid the trees of southern Delaware, five men in vests and feathered headbands sang out from their throats and beat a single drum together.

The Nanticoke singers were praying in the old way, opening the second day of the tribe’s 40th Powwow before the service continued with scripture, storytelling and singing.

Led by the tribe but attended by thousands of others over its two days, the Nanticoke Powwow in Millsboro serves as both fundraiser and festival. It’s a tribal coming together and a chance to ensure their culture endures for the coming generations.

“Powwow for me is a family reunion. It’s who I am,” said Tribal Secretary Kayleigh Vickers. “This is what we need to keep alive to keep our stories alive.”

It was Vickers’ first year coordinating the powwow, which was themed “The sacred fire which continues to burn within us” to honor generations gone and still to come.

Tribal dancers in full regalia are part of the way the Nanticoke pass their traditions on throughout the year and especially at powwow, said Herman Jackson, a former tribal councilman who drummed and danced over the weekend.

“All our dances and drumming, it’s about our creator and we give thanks back to him,” Jackson said. “We dress this way because we are Native Americans. That’s why we call it regalia and not a costume. A costume, you wear to be something you’re not.”

The powwow is an event open to the public and resembles more of a fair than a spiritual or familial gathering. Dozens of food and crafts vendors are scattered throughout the grounds and dances and music are centerpiece displays.

And though Odessa’s Denise Ashton-Dunkley has made her gourd work, dreamcatchers, regalia and artwork an important part of her financial life, it’s also kept her connected to her Nanticoke Lenni-Lenape roots.

“It keeps me grounded. It keeps me in touch with who I am. I get this satisfaction from people coming and appreciating what I do through my art. It keeps it alive for me,” Ashton-Dunkley said. “They can get an idea of who we are and our identity here in Delaware.”

The gathering also is the primary fundraiser for the Nanticoke Indian Association, the nonprofit that supports the tribe and operates the museum near the powwow grounds.

Raising those funds helps them to thrive as a tribe, Vickers said, and the event’s open-to-the-public posture reminds those who come that the tribe’s members are their neighbors.

“It’s so people know that we are here, that we will continue to be here and that we will always be here,” Vickers said. “One of my elders just told me today that you can have all the degrees you want, but until you get to know people and their culture and their heritage and who they really are, that is when you’ll be complete as a person.”


Information from: The News Journal of Wilmington, Del., http://www.delawareonline.com

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ADAM DUVERNAY
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