UPPER MARLBORO – To prepare for Native American Heritage month, Prince George’s County residents are immersed in the American Indian culture in an effort to learn more about the first people responsible for the growth of the United States of America. On Oct. 17 the 7th annual American Indian Festival was held at Patuxent River […]
UPPER MARLBORO – To prepare for Native American Heritage month, Prince George’s County residents are immersed in the American Indian culture in an effort to learn more about the first people responsible for the growth of the United States of America.
On Oct. 17 the 7th annual American Indian Festival was held at Patuxent River Park in Upper Marlboro to celebrate and honor Native American Indian heritage and culture. From noon to 6 p.m., the Maryland-National Capitol Parks and Planning Commission (M-NCPPC) presented a day of cultural interaction and educational activities to approximately 2,500 visitors.
The festival offered something for all ages and followed an authentic powwow format with activities including traditional drumming, singing and dancing in the arena. There are many diverse cultures within the Native American community, and the festival was on opportunity to learn more about the diversity of Native Americans.
“Most of our festival visitors were most interested in the fields of activities. Children, including scouting organization members, seem to especially love the tipi activities, games, archery, flint knapping, story-telling, and crafts and basket making areas. The native horsemanship exhibit and horse and pony rides were a hit too,” said Karen Marshall, event coordinator at Patuxent River Park. “There is always a large crowd around the Early Native Technologies demonstrations. The live Birds of Prey exhibit is also very popular.”
Those who wanted to leave with a piece of the culture bought raffle tickets for a chance to win a collectible “Evening Star” Pendleton Blanket, a collectible “Prairie Rush Hour” Pendleton Crib Blanket, or a hand-made Native flute by Redbird Flutes, and some other raffle items donated by various festival vendors.
“New this year, we had three different types of drums. They were medicine horse drummers and singers, Yapatoko Drum, and for the first time, The Zotigh Singers,” Marshall said. “Visitors learned to recognize the difference between southern and northern style drums and how the dancers dance differently to each style. We had a new storyteller join us this year who included drumming in her presentation.”
Native vendors sold items such as beaded jewelry, hand crafted Native flutes, Indian made paintings, children’s items and more.
“I enjoy being at this festival and seeing different cultures. I think its good culturally to expose a lot of people to it,” Robin Burrucker, owner of White Feather Renditions. “I wish there were a lot of people here to take advantage of what they offer, because you don’t see this every day and its special to the native Americans.”
Burrucker came to appreciate nature at an early age and said her great great grandmother was Native American, specifically Cherokee. She is able to maintain her spirituality and a close bond with her grandmother through painting the bird feathers that she collects.
“I like to paint nature and I think the art of it has passed through the generations in my family,” Burrucker said.
She cleans the feathers, paints them and then put crystals and beads on, to draw out the color and meaning of the animal.
“I think it helps us understand where they’ve come from and where they are now. It wasn’t a happy time for them when the other countries came. It’s nice to see they have held on to their traditions, languages, general culture and dress,” Burrucker said.
The festival was first held in 2009, during the month of November, which is also Native American Heritage Month, but M-NCPPC decided to move it to October so the event would not be competing with Native organization events in November.
Margaret “Muggy Do” Dickinson and Sirkku M. “Sky” Hiltunen, owner and founder of The Art and Drama Therapy Institute Inc., were also in attendance at the festival wearing American Indian attire and exploring each vendor’s tent. Muggy Do is black Indian while Dr. Sky is originally from Finland and a lover of American Indian culture.
“This is a celebration of renewal and the renaissance of native American people’s traditional ways of life, of communicating, of loving of caring and practicing high levels of nature and spirituality,” Dickinson said.
Hiltunen offered his perspective on the day as well.
“I was delighted to have been exposed to it through (Muggy Do), so we are holding up the traditions and appreciating the American Indian people as the originals of this country and an indigenous people who need to be respected, honored and celebrated. Not the pioneers who came over here,” Hiltunen said. “They did a lot of destruction and grabbing the native people from their land has been devastating to the country.”
The entertainer, Samy Davis Jr., made it possible for the two to meet 40 years ago in Finland. Since then they have started their own theater and arts program in Washington D.C. and Finland. Hiltunen founded and managed the first Art and Drama Therapy Institute, Inc., which was renamed as Therapy Theater Company, Inc. It is a nonprofit company that provided art and drama therapy services and produced innovative public Therapeutic Noh Theater performances featuring adults with intellectual and developmental disabilities.
“That’s why these kinds of festivals are important. Because they are renewals that are helping people to appreciate it from different walks of life,” Hiltunen said. “Their jewelry, regalia, powwow dances and traditional ways are here. You can see the beauty of the traditions from different tribes here.”
“By having this festival here, we are passing the baton of truth and it is overdue and has been distorted with native people and people of color in general,” Dickinson said. “We are all reclaiming our history and empowering ourselves and not allowing anything even the distortion of our history to demine us.”
Both agreed the festival translates the American Indian’s cultural importance in society to the younger generations who don’t always embrace traditions but are now being exposed to it.
“The festival is an amazing, visually stunning experience and culturally very important because it awakens you to see the beauty that was here and that was almost destroyed. Its spiritual and there’s so many people who try to emulate it because its so beautiful, full of wisdom beauty and spiritual insight. I always loved it and I still do,” Hiltunen said.