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Pow wow honors Penobscot activist

BOSTON - The North American Indian Center of Boston's Fifth Gathering of Peoples Pow Wow, held Sept. 22 and 23 in Jamaica Plain, honored John Sam Sapiel, a Penobscot elder who passed away in May 2007 and who is remembered for his lifelong activism, powerful prayers, and physical prowess.

Joanne Dunn, executive director of NAICOB, recognized and honored Sapiel's widow, Shirley Mills. Don Silva, NAICOB pow wow committee member and diabetes prevention counselor, presented Mills with a framed flag that referenced one of Sapiel's sayings about living the good way - the Indian way.

Dunn honored several other dedicated NAICOB members with Pendleton blankets, including Felice Little, Mescalero Apache and a retiring receptionist of NAICOB; Sandra McDonald, Mi'qmak and chairman of NAICOB's board of directors; Gloria Colon, Mi'qmak, and Duane Fennessey, Tohono O'odham, for their work on the pow wow committee; and Leslie Tuplin, Mi'qmak, chairman of the building committee.

NAICOB recently signed a 99-year lease with the commonwealth of Massachusetts so a permanent home is now available for its members. However, NAICOB had to give up 1.1 of its original 1.8 acres and either tear down a century-old building and re-build, or renovate. The building, a former detention center for women, was recently cited for violations that Tuplin was able to correct. The new owners of the sacred land adjacent to the building have been allowing NAICOB to continue to hold its pow wow there.

''We are working on capital fund raising and major renovations,'' Dunn told Indian Country Today. ''We could not be where we are without Leslie. She helps me determine what absolutely has to be done, in terms of code.''

Dunn also honored Kenneth Attocknie, a NAICOB member who contributed to the Native presence at Plimouth Plantation and who passed away at the age of 55 the week before.

''Please take note that Kenneth was a diabetic; he died alone on his reservation, in his trailer, on [a] Friday and was not found until Monday. Diabetes is in epidemic proportions. Please try to keep yourself healthy. That is what Kenneth would have told you. Kenneth advocated for us and sang honor songs. We will not forget him. We are losing our people. It is the time to help ourselves,'' Dunn said.

On Sept. 22, the opening prayer was sung by Tim Swallow, Lakota. Sterling Hollow Horn, Oglala Lakota and NAICOB's public relations director, danced the NAICOB flag into the circle. ''I hadn't been in the circle for many years,'' said Hollow Horn, who had been in the military and participated in the repatriation of articles held in Europe. ''I danced from the age of 8 to 22 and then stopped when I joined the military. When I danced in the flag, I felt like my feet never missed the beat of the drum. It was a humbling experience.''

Head male dancer was Andrew Tache and head lady dancer was Shyanne Little, Felice Little's granddaughter. This was Little's first time as a lead dancer. The host drum, Mystic River, formed in 1991 on the Mashantucket Pequot Reservation with extended members from 14 different tribes, has released nearly a dozen compact discs internationally. The guest drum, Quabbin Lake Singers, a Nipmuc family drum comprised of members of the Historical Nipmuc Tribe and whose drum keeper is Larry Spotted Crow Mann, has been to virtually every museum and college in the area and has the youngest pow wow singer in the circuit.

Master of Ceremonies David Pocknett, Mashpee Wampanoag and son-in-law of the Mills/Sapiels, kept the social and demonstration dances moving; Don Barnaby, Mi'qmak, and Don Silva, Ojibwa, affectionately known throughout the community as ''the two Dons,'' led dancers in strength and respect.

On Sept. 23, Attocknie's obituary was read by Wesley Thomas, who also gave a moving honoring song.