The 13th annual “New Faces of an Ancient People Traditional American Indian Powwow” overtook the halls of Mount Nittany Middle School over the weekend.
The event is a celebration of all things American Indian, featuring music and dance, foods and a variety of vendors with their wares proudly displayed.
Attracting thousands of families each year, this Penn State-sponsored event is more than just an educational opportunity for locals.
It also happens to be an attractive opportunity for visitors from all around the country, as Native American vendors and dancers come from near and far to celebrate their heritage and help spread the knowledge and love of their culture.
The highlight of the event for many is the Dancer Grand Entry, which occurred each day at noon. The middle school’s gymnasium filled with elaborately and traditionally garbed performers, decked out in their finest — from more traditional-vibe feathers and pelts to a newer take on indigenous wear, complete with neon dyes, glitter and sequins.
The dancers all arrayed in their finery and lined up to make their grand entrance is an impressive sight, which attracted bleachers filled with curious families and couples, all nonimmune to the hypnotic beating of the drums.
Music was provided by a selection of talented groups, such as Thunder Nation, based out of Pittsburgh, and the Chaska Hotain Singers, of Manitoba, Canada.
Down the hall, head cook Mike Zerby, of the Mission Band of Potawatomi, oversaw the Native Kitchen, where groups of diners lined up to enjoy a tantalizing array of native-inspired culinary treats, such as fry bread — which can be eaten plain or topped with either sweet or savory ingredients.
In fact, it makes the perfect base for Indian tacos, another item on the menu.
Beyond a delicious lunch, attendees were able to shop from the array of vendors, many of whom have been participating in the powwow for multiple years.
Some hail from nearby, such as Alan Schramm, of Silver Arrow Gallery, based out of the Lehigh Valley. The gallery specializes in unique and one-of-a-kind jewelry, art and more sourced from Native American artists from the Navajo, Hopi and Zuni nations.
Others, such as Debra Travillian, of Petrie-Hill Trading Post, drive hours to make the event. Travillian herself travels from Lawrenceburg, Ky., after her handmade and authentic wares were noticed by some of the powwow administrators.
Ask any of the vendors why they come back year after year and the answers are mostly the same — the event offers an authentic atmosphere that can’t be found just anywhere.
The volunteers at the powwow feel similarly.
According to volunteer coordinator Bruce Teeple, about 150 individuals offer up their time to ensure the entire program runs smoothly. Why go through the trouble of putting on such a culturally significant event for no pay or recognition? Many of the volunteers, just like the vendors, recognize the unique atmosphere in the building when the powwow is in full swing.
One volunteer mentioned the profound spirituality that surrounds the experience and the familial connections that build between volunteers and attendees alike.
It’s easy to see, of course, that nearly everyone knows everyone. The event is a reunion for many, as families converge, introductions are made to newcomers and friendly faces welcome the community into a contemporary glimpse of Native American culture.
Holly Riddle is a freelance food, travel and lifestyle writer. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.