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American Indian culture honored at Pow Wow

| Friday, Sept. 27, 2002

If only all history lessons were this much fun. This weekend's 24th annual Pow Wow, sponsored by the Council of Three Rivers American Indian Center, is a rousing family activity featuring dancers, singers, drummers, crafts demonstrations and native foods.

But to Tomi Sims, a local Seminole-Cherokee-Upper Cumberland Indian and one of the coordinators of the event, it's much more than that. Her pride in her heritage is apparent as she tells about the American Indian people who make this event come together.

"People enjoy the Pow Wow," Sims says. "Many come back every year. They're being educated about what American Indian culture really is rather than what the history books say it was."

The American Indian Center is at an old Nike Site facility in the village of Dorseyville in Indiana Township. The Center was opened in 1969 in Homewood as a gathering place for American Indian families in the Pittsburgh area who wanted to recapture their roots and become more aware of their rights, she says. In 1976, the center moved to its current headquarters.

When the Pow Wow was first held two years later, Sims says it was because her people felt "it was time to educate the public, to let them know who we are and how we live our lives." Sims says many misconceptions and misinformation have made their way into the history books. She feels it is the responsibility of her people to set the record straight.

Some of the native dances and demonstrations that take place at a Pow Wow help to teach people the importance of nature to the American Indian culture.

"The grass dance is a specialty dance that our men do," she says. "Traditional dances help us feel close to Mother Earth and tell the story of the hunt. Fancy dances are high-stepping dances that originated with our young. They approached the Council and said they wanted to be livelier with their dancing. The Council approved, as long as they kept in step with the drums."

During the event, American Indian performers invite the audience to participate in their dances.

American Indian traders from all over the United States display and sell authentic American Indian arts and crafts, ranging from pottery and quilts to baskets, jewelry and clothing. Traders, such as silversmiths and jewelry makers, show people the fine workmanship of the American Indians, she says. "We even have a trader who will make you a custom pair of moccasins out of deerskin or elk skin."

And Pow Wow food is unlike that of other festival fare, she says. Traditional American Indian dishes, such as buffalo burgers, homemade fry bread - a real crowd pleaser, we're told - and Indian chili, are available at food booths throughout the day.

Sims says it is important to her to show people genuine American Indian folklore, not that which is portrayed in movies and on television.

"You've heard of the Indians' rain dance?" she says. "There's no such thing. We may have had a ceremony where we prayed for rain. But a rain dance• It's all Hollywood."

And other supposed "customs," such as sending smoke signals and scalping anyone who crossed their paths, are more examples of American Indian misinformation, she says.

"TV has stereotyped Native Americans as savages," Sims says. "That's not what we're about. We're a peace-loving people. We believe the Earth is our mother, and we can never own it. We are caretakers of the land."

Sims' brother, Russell Sims, executive director of the Center, says he is pleased by the response of area families to past Pow Wows held at the Dorseyville site. One of his goals, he says, is to help others to recognize "that we are Native Americans and make an effort to understand and respect our ways and traditions."

The Pow Wow is important to the center, according to Russell Sims, in that "it is part of our economic development and helps to offset expenses and deliver services to our people." While he hopes to exceed the estimated 8,000 people who attended the event last year, Sims says attendance figures alone aren't that important. He welcomes the opportunity to teach others about his heritage.

"If only one person shows up," he says, "from an educational point of view, we're a big winner."

24th annual Pow Wow


  • Presented by the Council of Three Rivers American Indian Center
  • Noon to 7 p.m. Sat. and Sun.
  • $5 donation, $3 for senior citizens and those younger than 12
  • 120 Charles St., Dorseyville, Indiana Township
  • (412) 782-4457

    Pow Wow Schedule


    Noon: Gates open.

    12:45 p.m.: Welcoming ceremony.

    1 p.m.: Grand Entry procession in full regalia.

    1:15 p.m.: Intertribal dance.

    1:30 p.m.: Demonstrations of men's traditional, fancy and grass dances, and women's traditional, fancy and jingle dress dances.

    2:15 p.m.: Feature presentation by Iroquois dance group.

    3:15 p.m.: Intertribal dance.

    3:30 p.m.: Break and cultural demonstrations. Traders' booths open.

    4:15 p.m.: Grand entry.

    4:30 p.m.: Intertribal dance.

    4:45 p.m.: Dance demonstrations of men's traditional, fancy and grass dances, and women's traditional, fancy and jingle dress dances.

    5:30 p.m.: Feature presentation by Iroquois dancers.

    6:30 p.m.: Intertribal dance.

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