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Time to dance: Hundreds gather at Grand Village for Powwow

JAY SOWERS | THE NATCHEZ DEMOCRAT — Vance Beaver, left, a member of the Muskocee Creek Nation, dances with others during an intertribal dance at the Natchez Powwow on Saturday afternoon at the Grand Village of the Natchez Indians.
JAY SOWERS | THE NATCHEZ DEMOCRAT — Vance Beaver, left, a member of the Muskocee Creek Nation, dances with others during an intertribal dance at the Natchez Powwow on Saturday afternoon at the Grand Village of the Natchez Indians.

NATCHEZ — When Shirley Glen hears that heavy drum beat, she knows it’s time to dance.

JAY SOWERS | THE NATCHEZ DEMOCRAT — Kelsey Hunter, 4, steps in line with other dancers before entering the arena for an intertribal dance at the 25th annual Natchez Powwow on Saturday afternoon at the Grand Village of the Natchez Indians.
JAY SOWERS | THE NATCHEZ DEMOCRAT — Kelsey Hunter, 4, steps in line with other dancers before entering the arena for an intertribal dance at the 25th annual Natchez Powwow on Saturday afternoon at the Grand Village of the Natchez Indians.

But the 61-year-old retired nurse and grandmother from Baton Rouge isn’t dancing to modern music in a nightclub; she’s keeping her American Indian heritage alive.

Glen — who is of Choctaw and Cherokee heritage and whose grandmother gave her the name “Winter Moon” — was one of the hundreds who made their way to the 25th Annual Natchez Powwow this weekend.

The annual intertribal gathering hosted on the grounds of the Grand Village of the Natchez Indians is patterned after powwows in Oklahoma. Participants from multiple American Indian tribes attend, don traditional garb and — once the drums start their heavy beat — dance.

“I have been dancing ever since I was the age of 2,” Glen said. “My grandmother taught me how; she also taught me how to cook and how to sew. The only thing I don’t remember is how to weave baskets.”

Mostly, she said, the powwow is a chance to get together and see old friends.

JAY SOWERS | THE NATCHEZ DEMOCRAT — Abita Aprings, LA. Resident Mitchell Luke fastens a decorative wristband around his right forearm before participating in the activities at the 25th annual Natchez Powwow on Saturday afternoon at the Grand Village of the Natchez Indians.
JAY SOWERS | THE NATCHEZ DEMOCRAT — Abita Aprings, LA. Resident Mitchell Luke fastens a decorative wristband around his right forearm before participating in the activities at the 25th annual Natchez Powwow on Saturday afternoon at the Grand Village of the Natchez Indians.

The Grand Village was for many years the ceremonial headquarters for the Natchez Indians. But while many of the dances and chants heard at the powwow hearken from a different culture and time than many of the observers are used to, they shouldn’t read too much into it, dancer Jack Heriard of Folsom, La., said.

“Just because an Indian is wearing or doing something, it doesn’t mean it has a deep spiritual meaning,” he said.

“It’s not ceremony — you enjoy the culture and you want to dance, but what you’re here for is you get to see old friends and socialize.”

An example of a symbol that might not bear the meaning that some project onto it would be the large silver cross Heriard wore on his chest as part of his dance outfit.

Sometimes Indians would wear the crosses they had been given because they were gifts, and other times, it would be so Christian missionaries would assume they were Christians and not try to convert them, he said.

“And sometimes, it was significant for no reason other than aesthetics, because it looked good,” he said.

JAY SOWERS | THE NATCHEZ DEMOCRAT — Kelsey Hunter, 4, steps in line with other dancers before entering the arena for an intertribal dance at the 25th annual Natchez Powwow on Saturday afternoon at the Grand Village of the Natchez Indians.
JAY SOWERS | THE NATCHEZ DEMOCRAT — Kelsey Hunter, 4, steps in line with other dancers before entering the arena for an intertribal dance at the 25th annual Natchez Powwow on Saturday afternoon at the Grand Village of the Natchez Indians.

For Mitchell Luke of Abita Springs, La., the powwow was about showing appreciation for other cultures in which he had become immersed.

Though he has some Indian blood, he said it’s not enough that he would try to claim it. However, he spent 15 years on a Crow reservation when he worked for the forest service and became involved with much of the local life.

“There was an older man there who I hunted and fished with there a lot, and he started taking me more and more into his culture, and eventually he adopted me,” Luke said.

A lifelong enthusiast for American Indian culture, like the others, Luke said the powwow was about keeping up with old friends.

“We have a grand time,” he said.

The powwow continues at noon today. Admission is $5 for adults and $3 for children.