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Barnett instrumental help for 25 years

NATCHEZ — When Dr. Chuck Borum first approached Jim Barnett with the request to host an American Indian festival at the Grand Village of the Natchez Indians, Barnett jumped at the chance to authentically connect Natchez with its early ancestors.

The discussions eventually blossomed into the annual Natchez Powwow, a celebration of American Indian culture and history hosted at the Grand Village, a historic site the Natchez Indians once called home.

Twenty-six years later, Barnett, who is the director of the Grand Village, will conclude his time with the powwow.

In June, Barnett will retire as the longtime director of historic properties for the Mississippi Department of Archives and History.

But Barnett said he reassured Borum his retirement would not impact the future success of the powwow.

“Our staff here has done the powwow a long time now, and everybody knows the drill,” Barnett said. “From the Mississippi Department of Archives and History standpoint, we hope the powwow will go on forever.”

Barnett said he’s had the pleasure of watching the event grow from a handful of curious onlookers to an event that typically draws between 3,000 to 4,000 people from across the nation.

“In the early years, I was afraid it would grow too big to hold at this site,” Barnett said. “It’s our biggest event of the year, by far.”

The celebration of American Indian history and culture first began when Borum, a Natchez physician, decided to bring a powwow to the Miss-Lou after seeing many successful events in Oklahoma, where he lived for a few years.

Borum said he first became interested in American Indian history as a Boy Scout and that fascination grew as he got older.

Borum hosted the first Natchez Powwow at the Liberty Park fairgrounds in 1989, but approached Barnett the following year seeking permission to host the event at the Grand Village.

“It just seemed like the natural place to do it,” Borum said. “I didn’t know how many years it was going to go or how it would evolve, but it just kind of took off.”

Barnett said moving the event to the Grand Village was important for cultural significance.

“The Natchez Powwow is unique in many ways because most powwows are held at public places like fairgrounds or sports fields, but this is a situation where a powwow is held on an American Indian sacred site, where the Natchez Indians centuries ago danced and did a lot of these similar activities,” Barnett said. “It allows for a strong connection to the history of the Natchez area and a strong connection to our American Indian heritage.”

Borum said support from the Miss-Lou and American Indians from around the country has helped keep the powwow going for 26 years.

“A lot of people call me from all over the country that tell me it’s a tradition for them to come to Natchez for the powwow,” Borum said. “It’s sort of funny because I got it started with the help of Jim Barnett and the crew at the Grand Village and everything else just sort of fell into place.”