For the last 25 years an intertribal group in northwest Florida has been organizing a pow wow to teach children about their Native heritage, and every year the young ones come and bring their moms and dads.
That is one Friday in a three-day Thunderbird Intertribal Powwow, which this year is scheduled November 2 to 4, at the Niceville Mullet Festival Grounds, in the vicinity of Eglin Air Force Base.
The pow wow has grown to about 6,000 attendees every year and over 1,200 schoolchildren come for a special day program. This weekend marks the silver anniversary of the intertribal event.
“It is the largest children’s day program in Florida,” claims Glenn Farmer, chairman of the Thunderbird Intertribal Council, a non-profit organization that hosts the pow wow and whose mission is to promote cultural understanding and goodwill between Natives and non-Natives.
“We believe that if we do not teach our children our heritage it will all disappear. So we teach the local children that Native Americans did not die. They are still living,” said Farmer who visits the schools himself to invite the schoolchildren.
“We have two really good drums this year,” said Farmer, chairman of the Council for the last 25 years. “We have a junior head man and junior head lady and they have grown up in our pow wow.”
Farmer was referring to Christopher Fay, Creek, junior head man and Cheyenne Daniel, Haliwa-Saponi, junior head lady. Mike Custard and Sherry Blackbear, both Creek, are head man and head lady, respectively.
Other performers are the host drums: Na-Ma-Wo-Chi and Red Bird Juniors Singers; Ty Bell, Cherokee, master of ceremonies; Harley McGahee, Cherokee, arena director; Thunderbird Honor Guard, honor guard; and Ed Winddancer, Nanticoke, special children’s day performer.
“We invited back people who are special to us over the years and done good jobs. We enjoyed having them,” said Farmer.
The first day of the pow wow is a special day for children. From 9 a.m. to 2 p.m., they can enjoy hands-on demonstrations by local organizations, which include the Indian Temple Mound, Eglin Archeological and Valparaiso Heritage Museum.
Winddancer, the special children’s day performer, is an outstanding traditional dancer, said Farmer, adding that aside from dancing, there is story telling and crafts competition. Billy Whitefox plays the Native American flute.
“We want more people to come and dance. Enjoy the dance,” said Farmer. For its 25th silver anniversary, the Council has chosen the theme “Discover the Rhythm Dance.”
Similar to previous years, the dance competition will include men’s dances in northern traditional, southern straight, grass, fancy and women’s dances in buckskin, southern cloth and jingle. Dance categories also include those for seniors, juniors and tiny tots.
The prize money has yet to be set as it is dependent on the amount of money raised at the entrance gate. Last year, he said, the prize money was close to $5,000. Admission fees are at $3 for age 12 and younger and $5 for adults.
“Vendors and dancers come from all over,” said Farmer, noting that about a dozen tribes are represented, including Creek, Lakota, Lumbee, Potawatomi and Cherokee. There are about 25 craft vendors at the event.
The local community has also been very supportive of the pow wow, he said, noting donations from Quality Inn, Walmart and Eglin Air Force Base.
Farmer said the pow wow also gets Natives employed in the Air Force Base involved in their culture. And similar to what they did last year, there is a Veteran Mobile Counseling Center on site to provide Veterans’ benefit and health information.
The Air Force Base has played an important role in the growth of the pow wow. The first gatherings were held at their football field where there was no water and electric. After the Gulf War, with heightened security issues, the pow wow was moved outside of the property that does not need to be secured.
“The pow wow has grown. It is bigger than it was. More local people come to it,” said Farmer. “We will keep it traditional. We do not want to change a whole lot.”
For further information on attending the 25th Annual Thunderbird Intertribal Powwow, click here.