Annual Powwow returns to Oakland Beach this weekend

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For the second consecutive summer, the Rhode Island Indian Council will bring its cultural showcase event of the year – the annual Powwow – to Oakland Beach in Warwick from July 21-22.

If you have no idea what a powwow is, you’re exactly the kind of person the Rhode Island Indian Council hopes will show up. The powwow is a two-day celebration of Native American culture intended to be shared with people from every other culture.

“A powwow is an opportunity for Native Americans to come together and celebrate their heritage, relatives, visit with one another and share cultural activities with non-Native Americans,” said Darrel Waldron, Director of the Rhode Island Indian Council and recently named Chief of the Wampanoag Tribe.

There will be booths set up to sell Native American handmade crafts, food and drinks, in addition to the traditional dances and drum circles that occur throughout the event. There is no entry fee, and everyone is encouraged to join in the activities. Vendors and booths open at 9 a.m. on both Saturday and Sunday, with the grand entry ceremony and dance beginning at noon.

Last year was the first year the powwow was held at Oakland Beach. It had previously been held at Roger Williams Park. Waldron said that last year’s event went wonderfully, especially since former Mayor Scott Avedisian joined in the festivities for a much more extended period of time than expected.

“He was like a little kid,” Waldron said, recollecting Avedisian’s nonstop grin throughout his time dancing along with others. “He was genuinely having fun.” Waldron invited new Mayor Joseph Solomon and Governor Gina Raimondo to attend this year.

The event has a little something for everyone, said Waldron, including a drum dance where pounds of candy are thrown into the center of a circle. Kids are allowed to pick up candy as soon as the drum beat stops but have to stop picking it up as soon as the drums pick up again. There will also be contests this year, with $100 prizes going for titles such as the best Eastern War Dance and best woven blanket.

“It’s a full family day,” Waldron said. “Families are encouraged to bring the little ones. There’s activities for all, and audience participation is greatly appreciation in welcome dances and round dances to promote friendship and unity.”

Promoting unity among Native Americans and non-Native Americans has been the goal of the Rhode Island Indian Council since it began in 1975. They are considered an urban Indian Center, as they have regional offices throughout New England, as well as in Delaware, New Jersey and New York.

They provide all manner of services to Native Americans looking for assistance. The Rhode Island Indian Council has made over $600,000 of prepaid college and job training tuition available to Tribally enrolled Native Americans, which Waldron said has helped provide tuition assistance to 15,000 Native Americans over the years.

“It seems like a small number, but to us it's huge,” Waldron said. “That's 15,000 people that did not have the funds or ability to get a degree without the support of the Indian Center.”

To Waldron, events like the powwow is an essential part of bringing more awareness to Americans who are unaware of the turmoil faced by the Native American population, which he says is never well publicized or recognized by outside forces such as the national media. He said there are about 6,000 Native Americans in Rhode Island at any given time, including those who have traveled to go to college here, representing about 100 different tribes.

“America has largely forgotten their first Americans and the struggles they go through,” Waldron said. “America, if they knew more, I know they would help more. It's always an education process, which takes a long time.”

Waldron said that Warwick has been a gracious and helpful host to the Council and looks forward to another spirited event this weekend.

“Warwick has been a wonderful host for us,” he said. “Everything has flowed easily from the parks department to the permitting and maintenance guys working with us. It has been wonderful.”

For more information on the Rhode Island Indian Council, call 401-781-1098.

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