Baltimore pow wow revives connections

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WASHINGTON - The Baltimore American Indian Center has held 33 annual pow wows, but the Aug. 24 - 26 weekend event marked only its third consecutive year back in Baltimore city. If three is the number of pattern, that meant something to celebrate and the participants took advantage of it, putting on a festive and energetic outdoor display of Chesapeake-region Native culture despite temperatures that reached 107 degrees and kept turnout on the low side.

''Water, water for the dancers'' was a regular call of the master of ceremonies, who also issued frequent encouragements for the dancers and the audience to keep themselves hydrated.

Appropriately enough, Maryland Lt. Gov. Anthony Brown, a Democrat, brought global warming to mind as he spoke of Gov. Martin O'Malley's commitment to the environment. The O'Malley-Brown administration has taken its theme on the environment from the first Americans, he said: ''We do not inherit our land from our ancestors. We borrow it from our children.''

Plenty of children were on hand to stake their claim, including a fair number of infants in strollers, parked under shade trees but still within hearing distance of the pow wow drums. Their numbers, in heat that could best be described as wet and withering, seemed a bit inexplicable until one got the word ... the BAIC is consciously trying to revive the familial feeling of the old center, from years ago, when it was a neighborhood-style gathering place for Indian families, building up the store of memories and experience that contributes to a lasting sense of local community.

One of the youngsters at the pow wow was Dean Tonto Cox Jr., a budding artist who has taken after his father. While Dean Tonto Cox Sr. kept busy at a face painting booth, his son described his excitement at getting to exhibit his paintings at a recent Community Arts Exhibition of the Maryland Institute College of Arts in Baltimore. Ashley Minner, who will soon run the Native American programs of the public schools after assisting 30-year director Jeanette Walker, said the 8-year-old's paintings drew enough attention at the exhibit that they are being discussed for possible use in fund raising.

Minner offered another Cox of the coming generation, Darian, as an example of one young Lumbee who has gotten a chance to reconnect with the agrarian traditions of the tribe's past through the Baltimore Indian community. After outings to the property of Charles Locklear (''Mr. Charlie'' to the kids), where each youngster got to plant a crop and check up on its growth over time, Minner said he came back resistant to mowing the grass - ''You can't cut that. It's sacred.''

She said that next year, she'll incorporate the Native Community Gardens program into a nutritional program for Baltimore's Indian youth.

The Native programs in the public schools are administratively separate from the Baltimore American Indian Center, which hosted the pow wow that brought Minner, Walker, the Cox crew, Locklear and hundreds of other Baltimore-area Indians to one place on a Saturday afternoon in August. In a testament to community bonds Minner added, ''We're all the same people though.''