On Saturday my wife and I headed down to Occoneechee to attend the Native American Heritage Festival (Pow Wow).I had only been to Occoneechee once before and it was for a meeting.In my rush, that day, I drove down, attended the meeting and left without taking the time to enjoy what the park has to offer.It was a beautiful day but rather windy.The lake had white caps on it but the site of the Pow Wow was in a depression that provided some breeze while not blowing everything away.
Occoneechee takes it’s name from the tribe of Native Americans that occupied the region until the late 1600’s.They were a prominent tribe active in fur trade with tribes up and down the East Cost, as well as European settlers.Their prominence came to an abrupt end when in 1676 Bacon’s Rebellion Occurred.Bacon’s militia came into conflict with the tribe and the resulting battle decimated the population and caused them to merge with related tribes and move to another location near present day Hillsboro, NC.
The park is a well kept and beautiful site sitting on the shore of the John H. Kerr Reservoir (Buggs Island Lake).It has everything to offer including camping, cabins, fishing, boating, picnicking, and trails for hiking, biking and horseback riding.They even have an equestrian campground with covered horse stalls.
When we decided to go to the festival we asked our granddaughter if she would like to go with us to a Pow Wow.Her question to us, which I’m sure would come from many, was.“What is a Pow Wow?” Unfortunately I really didn’t know how to explain it to her.The best I could do was to say that it is a gathering ofIndian tribes who get together to enjoy each others company and that throughout the day she would see a lot of dancing and colorful costumes.The end result was that she still wasn’t really sure and opted to stay home.That made me all the more intent on attending and learning more.
Our entire day was one of wonder, learning and enjoyment.The first thing we learned was that the Pow Wow is the Indian’s way of expressing their Native American heritage.To the observer, this appears as entertainment or theatrics.The religious overtones are not apparent.Besides dancing and singing, one of the main purposes of the Pow Wow is to renew old friendships and also create new friendships.
We were provided with a brochure, created by the parks staff, that explains the Drums (consisting of a drum and singers), the Sacred Circle (Dance Arena) and the songs and dances.The Pow Wow even has it’s own etiquette that everyone is asked to adhere to.
It became quickly apparent that they share strong feelings toward our veterans.During the opening ceremonies they recognized their own veterans carrying flags.After their Flag Song (The Indian equivalent of the National Anthem) they invited all veterans into the Sacred Circle and honored everyone who had served in peace and during each war, conflict or peace action.The ceremony included a dance around the Circle, each veteran being presented with a handful of tobacco, many hand shakes and the words “Welcome Home brother”.As a 20 year vet I was deeply touched by those words because you could tell they were sincere.
A couple who participated, this year, were Pearl & Jimmy “Two Hawks” Beamer.They are licensed wildlife educators and rehabilitators who specialize in raptors.They had 2 beautiful Red Tail Hawks, pictured in this article.The male hawk had it’s right wing amputated after it hit a power line.Pearl told us that they weren’t sure it would make it but she wouldn’t let the vet give up.Now they have a male hawk who loves the ladies.He is know to almost curl up on a ladies arm and place his head on her shoulder.
It was obvious that there is a lot of fellowship shared and you could see that it was spreading to those attending as visitors.Young and old fell right into the spirit of the event.
This article wouldn’t be complete without mentioning the Friends of Occoneechee State Park who had their own vendors tent set up to help raise money for things needed within the park.I met Jim Wilkerson (President) and Mary Wilkerson (Vice President) who were manning the booth.We really appreciate every one of our Friends groups. Without them the parks would find it that much harder to operate.Pictured in this article are Patricia Rutledge, Lena Bowen, Jim Wilkerson and Mary Wilkerson.
I could go on and on about all the sights and sounds of the day but there just isn’t enough room to do that.Pictures help but don’t do it full justice either.You have to see a Pow Wow in person to grasp the full splendor that it provides.Find a Pow Wow in your area and find out for yourself.There are two that I am aware of.Cheroenhaka (Nottoway) Indian Pow Wow & Gathering on July 24 & 25 in Courland, VA and Nottoway Pow Wow on September 18 & 19 in Surry county VA.
So, how would I answer my granddaughter now?I’m still not sure but I have a lot more ammunition to form my answer with.