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Pennsylvania festival supports land purchase effort

By Michelle Park -- Reading Eagle, Pa.

LEESPORT, Pa. (MCT) - The pounding of drums and the steps of dancers in feathered headdresses were reminders to those at Blue Marsh Lake Recreation Area that American Indian culture beats on.

More than 400 people turned out Oct. 20 for the opening day of the first Native Dance and Friendship Festival.

Attendees could hear Native music, watch dancers and taste a variety of foods - buffalo meat, Indian tacos and frybread.

''These festivals that we have are how we keep our traditions alive,'' said Lindsay Nery, 22, who held drawings for original artwork at the event.

Her family is of Lenape heritage.

''A lot of people think we've faded away,'' Nery said. ''We really haven't. We've incorporated ourselves into society, but we still have our traditions.''

Sponsored by the Viola Whitewater Foundation, the pow wow also featured about a dozen vendors selling jewelry, clothing and more.

Festival proceeds supported the Lenape Homeland Project, an effort to purchase land for the Lenape Nation of Indians.

The Lenape people are indigenous to eastern Pennsylvania and other states, said Elizabeth Belk, a Lenape clan elder and festival coordinator.

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Some of the land purchased for the tribe will be used to erect a cultural center, Belk said.

''What we are trying to do is educate the public to the Native culture,'' Belk said. ''There's a lot of myths and falsehoods out there.''

For example, not all American Indians lived in tipis, she said. Some lived in wigwams, which are huts.

''I hope they gain some sort of respect and understanding of another beautiful culture,'' Belk added.

Many people of American Indian heritage praised the pow wow's authenticity.

LaNessa Stuck, who was born and raised on the Colville Indian Reservation in northern Washington, was impressed with the attention to detail in the historical context of the songs.

Her husband, Gerald, and she drove more than an hour from Newport, Perry County, with their three young children to the festival.

''It's needed, especially in this area,'' she said of events showcasing Native culture. ''They don't see it as much as they would out West.''

Copyright (c) 2007, Reading Eagle, Pa. Distributed by McClatchy-Tribune Information Services.