Thunder Mountain celebrates traditions
Pat Selinger and Shellie Reed hope this weekend's Thunder Mountain festival in Indiana County can fight some of the stereotypes linked to American-Indian life.
"A lot of people think we're all still living on The Rez," says Reed, using a nickname for the reservations that are homes to many American Indians.
But far from all American Indians live on reservations, she points out, and one of the big purposes of the Thunder Mountain Native American Festival & Pow Wow is illuminate current and traditional settings of American Indians for others who might be unfamiliar with them.
For instance, a Cherokee woman will be there displaying her eBay-like, online sales business.
"It's something most people don't expect to see at a pow wow," she says. "But we want to point out that we are alive and living in the 21st century."
She says there also will be music, dancing, living history displays and music featuring the work of about 30 vendors and 75 dancers. About 6,000 people are expected at this, the eighth event.
"Our mission is to educate," she says, "and help to beat the stereotypes."
One of the biggest parts of both days, however, will be the Grand Entry at noon, she says. That is when all the dancers and participants of the symbolic part of the show will enter the grounds.
Selinger, of Saltsburg, and Reed, of Lower Burrell, both are members of the Thunder Mountan Lenape Nation, the American-Indian group sponsoring the festival.
The Lenape (pronounced: Le-NA-pay) originally were loosely organized bands of hunter-gatherers that later began to lead a largely agricultural life in the lower Hudson Valley, near the Delaware River and near the western Long Island Sound.
They were known as Delaware Indians by Europeans, who ultimately crowded them west into Pennsylvania and as far as Oklahoma. There also are tribes in Colorado, Kansas, New Jersey and Ontario, Canada.
Because the Lenape focused their activities in individual, small communities, she says, they were not as well known at nations such as the Iroquois.
The Lenape were one of the first tribes to enter a treaty with the new United States government during the War for Independence and supplied the army with warriors and scouts in exchange for food and promise of a role in the new government.
Selinger says one of the striking aspects of Lenape life is the strong role women played. They took part in the politics of the tribe and had important roles in life at home.
The three clans this Lenape nation, the Turtle, Turkey and Wolf clans, also appoint a "mother" in a leadership role. Selinger is mother of the Turtle Clan.
Reed, the head female dancer at the event, says one of the main purposes of the festival is "to get people to come out and celebrate with us."
She likens that celebration to services in churches and points out that bearing elements of Lenape belief is similar to wearing religious items.
"I wear my medicine bag every day and it's just like wearing a Christian cross," she says.
Reed says when a festival is a success, it makes visitors want to come back.
"They say they are going back to their people," she says. Additional Information:
Thunder Mountain Native American Festival & Pow WowWhen: 10 a.m.-6 p.m. Saturday-Sunday
Admission: $3, free for age 11 and younger
Where: Skyline Drive, Saltsburg, Indiana County