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Native American history and culture will be on full display in Harmar this weekend

| Saturday, June 8, 2013, 12:41 a.m.
Eric Felack | Valley News Dispatch
Dale 'White Panther' Fryer of New Cumberland, W. Va., holds his turtle club in his role as war chief of the Lenape People during setup of the Native American Gathering at the Syria Shrine in Harmar on Friday, June 7, 2013.

Native American history and culture will be on display in Harmar this weekend.

The first Western Pennsylvania Native American Association Native American Gathering begins at 11 a.m. Saturday at the Syria Shrine.

The gathering will be part celebration and part history lesson, according to its organizers.

“We want to be able to teach our culture to everyone who doesn't know it,” said Al Collins, whose Native American name is Coyoteheart. “We hope people have fun and learn.”

The gathering is being sponsored in conjunction with The Hillbilly Clan, a group within the Syria Shriners whose lone goal is to benefit the 22 Syria Shriners Children's Hospitals. “Normally, we don't charge anything for our functions, but we're charging $5 a carload for this,” said Collins, who is also a member of the Hillbilly Clan. “All the money goes to kids. That's why we're charging.”

The event will run Saturday and Sunday, beginning each day with a Grand Entry and ending with a closing circle at 6 p.m.

“People can stay as long as they want after 6, but all the actual closing ceremony will take place then,” Collins said.

Folks who attend event will be entertained by drum circles, a Native American dance competition, food and craft booths and a traveling museum.

“It's a living museum,” said White Panther, a chief of the Lenape people, who travels the country with the museum. “It's set-up with artifacts from al over the East.”

One of White Panther's most prized artifacts is a tea block that he claims was in one of cases of tea thrown into Boston Harbor, at the Boston Tea Party in 1773.

White Panther said that he and other Native Americans will be in full regalia at the gathering.

“It's called regalia,” he said, pointing to his Native American clothing. “It's not a costume.

“When you wear a costume, you use it to disguise who you are,” he said. “Our regalia tells the story of who we are.”

For the members of the Hillbilly Clan, the gathering holds a deeper meaning.

“Anything we can do to help children, we're all for,” said Lou Azzolini, a member of the Hillbilly Clan. “We really appreciate this.

“We're 100 percent behind them, and are really glad they're here.”

Azzolini said he hopes the gathering shows unity, not only between the two different organizations, but among everyone.

“No one's above each other,” he said. “There has to be respect.”

R.A. Monti is a freelance writer.

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