Maine tribe hosts inaugural powwow celebration

Indian Island, Maine (AP) 7-08

A weekend powwow that drew hundreds of community members and Indians from New England and Canada to this Penobscot River island near Old Town is expected to become an annual event.

The Penobscot Nation played host to the cultural celebration at the close of a week of meetings in which chiefs of more than 40 tribes discussed sovereignty issues, economic development opportunities, cultural options and environmental rights.

The powwow opened Saturday June 28 with a procession of dancers accompanied by traditional drumming and singing. The four main Algonquin tribes – Penobscot, Passamaquoddy, Micmac and Maliseet – were represented, along with others including the Wampanoag, Cree and Narragansett.

“My responsibility is to go out and be an ambassador for the Wabanaki Confederacy,” said Laura Priest, 22, one of the dancers representing the Penobscot tribe. Priest, whose Penobscot name Acesatake means “dragonfly,” wore an iridescent, beribboned turquoise and purple dress with matching leggings as she dipped and swirled as if she were taking wing.

The powwow, which also featured vendors with traditional American Indian crafts, attracted about 250 nondancing attendees, including Gay and John Kemp of Lynn, Mass.

“We go to powwows all over New England, every weekend, all summer long,” said Gay Kemp, who heard about the first-ever Indian Island event at a recent powwow in Durham, N.H.

“My father always said we were Penobscot,” she said, “so I decided to come find the Penobscots.”

Penobscot Chief Kirk Francis said the colorful powwow marked the end of “a powerful week of unification among the tribes.”

The Wabanaki Confederacy Conference passed a four-page resolution affirming tribal sovereignty and the right to self-government. The measure recognizes and supports the United Nations Declaration of Indigenous Rights.

The discussion followed the Penobscots’ decision to sever their relationship with the state following Gov. John Baldacci’s veto of a bill to allow the tribe to operate 100 slot machines at its high-stakes bingo hall on Indian Island.

Francis said that despite economic challenges and the tribe’s thorny relationship with the state, the Penobscots “have a lot to celebrate.”

He citing the tribe’s substantial land holdings in Maine, its stable membership of about 2,500 people and its rich cultural heritage. Francis said he expects that the summer powwow to become an annual summer ce Island.