BENNINGTON >> The Vermont Veterans' Home will be host once again to the 11th annual Rock, Rattle & Drum Pow Wow for a weekend of musical performances and celebrating Native American heritage.
Co-directors Fidel Moreno and Susan Jameson of the non-profit Healing Winds put on the event in Berkshire County, Mass., and surrounding New York towns prior to bringing it to Vermont for the first time last year. Native Americans will peacefully gather under the theme of the 11th hour — "We Are the Ones We've Been Waiting For" — from Hopi Elders' Prophecy.
"It's about the spirit. It's about celebration. In the midst of whatever might appear to be going on in our world, Native Americans come from all over the country. They put their feet on the ground and they connect and they bring life and spirit and goodness," Jameson said. "There's always a good feeling. It's a place where old friends come together and love one another, and you meet new friends."
Jameson talked about the world experiencing turmoil and cited the Hopi Prophecy, "Know your garden. It is time to speak your Truth. Create your community. Be good to each other. And do not look outside yourself for the leader." It ends with, "We are the ones we've been waiting for."
"Powerful stuff. You can't help but feel it. The honoring of these Indians who have not been treated well in this country," Jameson said. "That's not what's talked about here. This is a celebration of life, of the physical world and what's going on with our Mother Earth right now. Native Americans remind us of that one spirit."
To kick-off the weekend, a "Rock The Vote" free concert will be held at the big gazebo on the Veterans' Home campus from 6 to 9 p.m. on Aug. 12. It is a non-partisan voter literacy and registration drive with local bands to perform. The Vietnam Family Support Center, Aurora Portal and Healing Winds, and Bennington County Democratic Party will sponsor the event.
Pow wow performers include Nammy Award winner, Native American violinist, flute player, singer and storyteller Arvel Bird, the Aztec Dance Group, Rez Dogs as Host Drum and Red Blanket as Honor Drum, Hector Rosa Lebeau and many more. Aaron Athey of the Mohegan Nation will serve as the Master of Ceremonies.
Grand Entry starts at 1 p.m. on Aug. 13 and 14; this is the entering of all people, originally started as a parade through the town. Everyone is asked to stand as the U.S. flag, tribal flags, the Prisoner of War (POW) flag and Eagle Staffs of various present Native Nations are presented. The American flag that is carried by Native Americans holds several meanings, including remembering ancestors who fought against the country but also a symbol of the country that Native Americans are now a part of, according to Powwows.com. It is also a moment to honor veterans who fought for the country.
After, tribal chiefs, princesses, elders and event organizers enter. Men dancers and women dancers follow. A song will be sung to acknowledge the veterans and flags followed by a prayer, dance and a few round dances to the beat of the drum. Later, various social and intertribal dances in regalia with ribbons, feathers, beads and metallic jingles will ensue.
Further expression of the Native American culture is exhibited through vendors of arts, crafts, demonstrations, music, contemporary and traditional food, and sustainable living education. Community and local nonprofits will also be recognized.
A majority of the performers travel around the country or just in the Northeast attending pow wows throughout the year. Celtic Indian and headliner Arvel Bird plays music at roughly 160 events per year, said his wife Kimberly Bird.
"The natives honor the veterans and the warriors. It was not only appropriate but quite the honor to have that many veterans around and we saw quite few of them at the pow wow last year," Kimberly Bird said about last year's turnout. "The way events are run is a really big deal for us. Although I don't play, I still run the merchandise and food while we're there. This is one of the best run ones and promoted ones. Those all go together to make it a great event."
While the celebration focuses on Native Americans, all walks of life are welcome to attend the pow wow. Kimberly Bird said there are certain rules for the dancing circles, but to otherwise wear attire free from vanity and be courteous.
"None of us were alive back then, so we don't have anything in particular to be ashamed of," she said. "It's just a matter of respect. If I go to a church, I would dress modestly. The other thing is to ask a lot of questions of those natives. They're interested in sharing that part of the culture. They love educating people that aren't aware of it."
Head Man Dancer LeBeau is part of the Cheyenne River Sioux tribe from Eagle Butte, S.D., and the Taino tribe from Aguada, Puerto Rico. He sings with Mystic River singers and the Rez Dogs singers. He works as a police officer in Connecticut. LeBeau will be accompanied by his 20-year-old daughter and Head Woman Dancer, Kiana LeBeau, who is a part of the same tribes as her father, as well as the Niantic Pequot tribe. She is a jingle dress dancer, a teacher at a daycare, and she does shows at local schools and government facilities. Sixteen-year-old Sealani LeBeau, Head Junior Girl, will also perform as a jingle dress dancer.
LeBeau said his daughters grew up attending pow wows and naturally fell into their titles. "As babies, we go to Pow wows. When you're young, you watch and learn" he said.
Dancers are broken up into age brackets from infant to 6 years old, 7 to 12, 13 to 17, 18 to 41, and 50 and up.
Chris Sockalexis of the Penobscot Nation, and lead singer in Rez Dogs, also grew up with the culture and starting performing in 1995. He first learned traditional songs, but later transitioned to pow wow songs and drumming.
"Traditional ones are more ceremonial. It's the old traditional songs. Usually they're sung solo and the pow wow drum is a drum group with more contemporary songs," Sockalexis said.
He travels all over the Northeast for pow wows, but has attended Rock, Rattle & Drum since its inception, just as LeBeau has.
LeBeau has been friends with Fidel Moreno for years and said he's educated enough on pow wows to run a good event.
"I go so many years it's like family, so you see the same people and see kids grow up. I always go because they were always there for me in the beginning and I'm there for them now," LeBeau said. "Go to a pow wow, enjoy and love it. It's beautiful to see where Americans come from. It's colorful, see what we eat and buy the food. It's also educational. We love sharing our stories. If you like America history, come to pow wows."
If you go
What: Rock The Vote free concert and Rock, Rattle & Drum Pow Wow
When: Concert on Aug. 12, 6 to 9 p.m. Pow wow on Aug. 13 and 14, 10 a.m. to 6 p.m.
Where: Vermont Veterans Home on 325 North St. in Bennington
How much: Concert is free. Powwow cost $8 for adults, $5 for seniors 65 and up, youth 11 to 17. Children 10 and under cost $1.
— Makayla-Courtney McGeeney can be reached at (802)-490-6471.