BRADLEY, Maine — The normally tranquil woods around the Maine Forest and Logging Museum throbbed with the pounding of drums and the wailing of songs this weekend as American Indians from many regions gathered at the secluded site for a powwow.
Ceremonial drumming, singing, dancing and storytelling drew about 200 participants and spectators to the intertribal powwow. Vendors sold beaded jewelry, wooden flutes and dance costumes, while people chowed down on bean-hole beans, buffalo burgers, salmon steaks, succotash and “powwow tacos.”
Sweet wood smoke from a ceremonial fire mingled with the aroma of smoldering white sage used to drive away spiritual negativity.
“Smudging takes the negativity out of us before we go into the [dance] circle,” said firekeeper Michael Paczesny of Newport, a member of the Lakota Sioux and Menominee tribes. As firekeeper, Paczesney was responsible for keeping the small ceremonial fire beside the dance ring burning night and day during the powwow, which began Friday and will wrap up Sunday evening.
“If for any reason the fire would go out, the powwow would be over and the firekeeper would be banned,” Paczesney said. “It’s quite an honor to be asked to be the firekeeper.” Paczesney — sooty, sweaty, shirtless and clad in buckskin trousers — said he has served in the ceremonial role at more than 300 powwows. He brings ashes from all of his previous fires to add to each new fire, he said.
Preparing the ceremonial fire calls for meticulous attention to detail and ritual, Paczesney said. Women dug the shallow circular pit on Friday evening and laid tobacco on the stony soil within it. Saturday morning, a fire of sage and sweet grass was kindled on top of the tobacco to bless the fire ring.
“The tobacco carries our prayers to the Creator,” Paczesney said.
Arnold Neptune of the Penobscot Indian Nation served as the tribal elder at the event and also as its spiritual medicine man. Recently turned 80, Neptune needed a helper to steady him as he performed a blessing ceremony around the fire.
“We pray for the welfare of everyone, not just our friends,” Neptune said in a conversation after the blessing ceremony. “Everyone, regardless of their nationality, has the spirit of the Creator in them.”
Despite his physical frailty, Neptune, accompanied by his wife, Jane, showed considerable spring in his step in the dance circle. Powwows serve to renew and strengthen the cultural traditions that unite American Indian tribes, he said, while introducing non-Indians to the timeless, nature-centered values of the ancient cultures.
Tribes from all over the U.S. and Canada were represented at the weekend powwow, according to organizer Keith Richards of Garland. Richards, whose ancestors were members of the Narragansett Indian Tribe in Rhode Island, serves on the board of the Maine Forest and Logging Museum. The powwow may generate a small amount of money to benefit the nonprofit museum, he said, and could become an annual event at the historic site.
The next intertribal powwow in the Bangor area will take place over Labor Day weekend, Sept. 4, 5 and 6, in Newport. For more information, call 368-5287.