Skip to main content

Rhode Island pow wow draws thousands

PROVIDENCE, R.I. - The Rhode Island Indian Council holds an annual pow wow that attracts up to 10,000 people, with American Indians and indigenous peoples coming from all over North and South America.

The pow wow takes place on the third weekend of July, July 21 - 22 this year, at the Roget Williams Park in Providence from 10 a.m. - 6 p.m. each day.

The sacred fire is started at sunup on Saturday and is kept lit until the pow wow ends on Sunday. The grand entry begins at noon. The pow wow is free and open to the public.

''We have people come from Peru, Mexico, Guatemala and Colombia and other places in South America and from all over the U.S. and Canada. There are all kinds of events going on at Roger Williams Park at the same time, so over the weekend, 5,000 - 10,000 people attend the pow wow,'' said Chris Ortiz, a job developer at the Rhode Island Indian Council and the pow wow's main organizer.

While the pow wow is geared toward total fun, Ortiz, a Mashpee Wampanoag, said that part of its purpose is to educate the non-Native public.

''What we're trying to do is let the public know about the traditions of Native people and that we're still alive so that when they look at Indians, they're not just looking at guys in regalia, but that there are doctors and lawyers out there also,'' Ortiz said.

That's part of the Rhode Island Indian Council's mission, too, according to its Web site.

The council is an urban Indian center that serves American Indians in Rhode Island and Connecticut.

The pow wow was founded by William ''Big Toe'' Wilcox, Garrison E. ''Guy yen twaga'' Parker and Kenneth ''Spotted Eagle'' in 1978 as part of the Algonquin Indian School, an American Indian cultural program held by the council. Since then, the council's staff has promoted American Indian awareness at the annual pow wow where they and other American Indians talk about their culture and traditions.

All dancers are welcomed to the pow wow, where dancing is noncompetitive. There is also drumming and singing, storytelling, 35 vendors selling arts and crafts and other items, and lots of different foods with an emphasis on Native food.

''My cousin sells a lot of exotic food like frog's legs, buffalo burgers and moose meat,'' Ortiz said.

On both Saturday and Sunday, the pow wow begins at 10 a.m. when vendors' booths open. There is a smudging ceremony at 11 a.m. and the grand entry procession at noon, followed by Native dancing until 3 p.m. An intermission from 3 p.m. to 4 p.m. will feature the Mishquock Wuttamauog Red Earth Tobacco Dancers.

There is a second grand entry at 4 p.m., followed by another two hours of Native dancing.

For more information, contact Chris Ortiz at (401) 678-0577 or visit www.rhodeisland indiancouncil.org.