Skip to main content

Pennsylvania Pow Wow Promotes Diabetes Prevention

From a vendor’s point of view, Arvil Meisenhelter, of Lenape ancestry, thought that a pow wow that had an intertribal following in the Harrisburg area of Pennsylvania should be allowed to continue its tradition every year.

So instead of just selling Native crafts he got involved and organized the first Lawilowan American Indian Festival in March of 2008. This year, the event will be held on March 16, at the Shippensburg University Student Recreation Center in Shippensburg.

Lawilowan is a Lenape word that means "middle of winter."

Photo by Christal Moose

“Years ago Don Hockenberry had this. Over the years it grew and moved several times,” said Meisenhelter, referring to the founder who started the pow wow with Boy Scout Troop 71 in a church hall. He named it Red Creek Mid-Winter Festival.

“Don had always put on the Red Creek festival as a gift to the Indian people, a time to shake off the cold and inactivity of winter, get your regalia on, and move to the beat of the drum, the heartbeat of the Earth Mother,” Meisenhelter said.

Hockenberry, Seneca, passed on in 2009, a year after Meisenhelter and friend Noni Many Hawks Nickerson, a women’s traditional dancer, with Mohegan and Montauk roots, launched their first pow wow.

“I do it basically to keep it going. Don is a very close friend and family. He tried to teach the people what he could and what people wanted to know,” he said, adding that continuing the festival is one way to honor the founder.

Meisenhelter, who now is the sole organizer of the event, recalled that his friend advised him to dedicate the pow wow to a cause that he believed in. And while Hockenberry did it for the children, Meisenhelter decided to do it in support of diabetes prevention.

His mother passed away from diabetes and the disease strikes the Indian population and the children at a young age, he said.

Proceeds from this March festival, plus another one called Muddy Run Powwow, held in September at another location, are donated to the American Diabetes Association.

Last year, between the two pow wows, proceeds of about $2,000 went to the diabetes prevention cause.

Photo by Christal Moose

At the Lawilowan pow wow, proceeds come from vendors and admission fees, $5 for those between 7 and 65 years of age; free to others. He said there are about 20 to 25 vendors that sell mostly Native American crafts.

Some 400 to 450 dancers come to Shippensburg for the pow wow. Meisenhelter said about 1,000 attendees come from different parts of the state and as far away as Hawaii and Arizona.

There is no competition at the pow wow. The dances to be performed include traditional, grass, jingle and specialty dances if the participants are willing to do it.

Photo by Christal Moose

The Native performers at the pow wow come mostly from the York, Lancaster and Delaware area of Pennsylvania. Among them are White Buffalo, host drum; Southern Heart, guest drum; Hanna Jacobs, head lady dancer; Terry Strongheart, headman dancer and David White Buffalo, MC.

“Our pow wows are a celebration of our people’s survival, tenacity, creativity, humor, traditions, beliefs and dignity through the grace of the Creator,” said Meisenhelter.

He added, “It is our hope that we can build both the Lawilowan American Indian Festival and the Muddy Run Powwow into large, well-attended and well-thought-of events that allow us to continue to contribute as much as we possibly can to defeat diabetes, as well as educate the non-Indian public about our many cultures within the culture, and dispel the many negative stereotypes about the American Indian people, that still exist today.”

For more information about the Lawilowan American Indian Festival, click here.

Photo by Christal Moose