The family that dances together, stays together.
This, in essence, is what the Native American Family & Friends (NAFF) of Western Pennsylvania believe in as they launch their first pow wow slated on May 11 to 13, at the Patsy Hillman Park, in Hiller, Pennsylvania.
“We are family oriented. A member becomes family. We do outings and dinners together. When we honor a family member it comes from the heart,” said Bonnie Tarter, Cherokee and Choctaw. She is one of the founding members and spokesperson of the organization.
After being established as a group for over a decade, Tarter said the council decided that it was time to host a pow wow. “We’ve been around for 12 years. We want to keep the culture going,” she said.
“This is very significant. We put a lot of effort doing this and we wanted to make sure we had enough to put it together. We just don’t want a show. We want something that people will remember and learn from,” she said.
NAFF has called on the Redstone Living Historians as its co-host for the three-day event, which features the grand entry, a variety of pow wow dancing, drums, traditional flute playing, story telling, food and crafts.
“The veterans are the biggest part of the gathering. These guys deserve the honor for protecting us and giving their lives for us,” said Tarter.
The opening day, on the 11th, Friday, is a fun day. Tarter said this for people to get acquainted. The veterans will be there on all the three days for the full color guard and flag carrying. Sunday is in honor of Mothers. Tomahawk and Knife throwing are scheduled for Saturday and Sunday. There will be veterans on hand, a crucial part of the pow wow's celebration.
“We believe in traditions. They are not meant to be changed,” said Tarter, noting that the pow wow is a step in that direction.
NAFF is based in Republic, Pennsylvania, and has about 52 members from different states including Ohio, West Virginia and New York. NAFF offers educational classes on heritage and tradition, language, arts and crafts, regalia making, leather work, beading, singing, dancing, drumming, plants and herbs, family games, among others.
The group’s central focus is on the Lenape Indians that inhabited the area in the 1700s, but Tarter said they focus on a variety of American Indian cultures. Among their group are Cherokee, Shawnee, and Lenape Indians.
The inspiration to create NAFF came from Tarter’s grandfathers— Orville Tarter, on her father side and Ermel Johnson, on her mother’s side “We’ve been members of several groups but we did not like it. I didn’t feel like I fit,” said Tarter.
NAFF, she said, was formed and created as a family during a camping trip with the group. “We’ve been hanging around together long enough. Let us have a family.” It was grandmother Spring Blossom, their band mother, who came up with the name Native American Family and Friends.
The word family that defines the group is not taken lightly. Tarter said if a member needs her, even if he or she is 500 miles away she would go because that is what it means to be family.
“NAFF is a family not a group. The honor of one is the honor of all. The hurt of one is the hurt of all,” she said.
“We are a creator balanced family and strive to keep it that way. We open our hearts and listen with our hearts. We try to follow the Great Law in our every day living in the red world a well as in the white world,” said Tarter.