While standing at a food shack waiting for breakfast, I watched airplanes make vapor trails in the sky. Suddenly, a peace pipe formed. It was a sky sign for the 20th Austin Powwow! If you have never been, it is every first Saturday of November. There are storytellers, dancers in full garb, frybread and buffalo chili, corn, and many vendors with books, beads, and art work created by various Native Americans. It’s free and takes place at the Tony Berger Center from morning til night.
This year’s powwow was blessed by gorgeous weather, although a bit windy at times. I couldn’t stay as long as I normally do, so I barely saw any dancing. Instead, I spent most of my time in the storytelling tent.
The first storyteller was Sequoia, a patrilinear descendent of the famous Cherokee, Sequoia, who invented the Cherokee alphabet in 1821 and started the Cherokee / English newspaper, Cherokee Phoenix. He sang and told the story of ‘One Drop of Blood’. Next he revisited a funny story his grandmother told him that starts, “In the great forever that was, the forest dwellers all spoke Cherokee…” To hear these tales, visit http://youtu.be/zffxj-gEQ8oy and http://youtu.be/kgdVpAI-IG0
Last, told a scary story about going his friend daring him to go into a house they were sure was haunted. Slowly, they approached the spooky house and walked up the creaky steps. They opened the unlocked door and peeked in, using a lighter to reveal a casket leaning against the wall! After being goaded, Sequoia followed his friend into the pitch dark house, only using his small flame to lead the way. As it got hot in his hand, he had to continue on in the dark. Still, their curiosity got the best of them and they crept towards the casket, determined to discover what was stashed inside. Sequoia, being the braver (or more gullible) of the two, reached his hand out and recoiled as he touched a piece of fabric. His friend urged him to use the lighter again, so that they could see what it was. They took a deep breath as he flicked the flame up. Their eyes got big and the started laughing wildly at the pool table illuminated before them!
Following the entertaining Sequoia, was another Cherokee, Choogie Kingfisher, of the Ketoowah Band. He also made us laugh with his rendition of ‘The Rabbit Goes to Church’. Rabbit decides to go to church one day and try it out. As he pushes open the door, it squeaks, so that when he gets inside, everyone is turned around staring at him – a whole congregation of big, unwelcoming dog eyes. He looks to the back to see if there is a spot he can just sit in there, but it’s filled with dog tails hanging up so that they can sit more comfortably. Nervously, he tries to find a spot to sit down. Every time he squeezes into the end of a pew, the dogs squeeze him out into the aisle. Indignant, he storms out determined to get the dogs back.
Now rabbits are good at pulling pranks, so it didn’t take him long to plot his revenge. He rolled up a giant cigar, took it over to the church, lit it up, and blew the smoke in huge plumes through the door, yelling, “Fire! Fire!” All the dogs panicked and jumped up out of their seats grabbing any random tail as they raced outside. That’s why to this day dogs chase their tails to see if they’ve got their own and sniff each others’ to see if someone else has theirs!
One of the most fascinating First People dances is the hoop dance. It takes great coordination to pull off a performance. Ryan Harjo of the Creek Nation demonstrated and described several common configurations created with the hoops. He also played a courtship song on a mellow sounding cedar flute. The video can be seen here: http://youtu.be/1FrjIaFYOis
Finally, a Cherokee family, in traditional garb sang and described their clothing. The women were wearing “tear (pronounced tare) dresses”. They are worn for working in and were named such because they didn’t have scissors at the time they were first made. The fabric had to be torn instead. They are usually adorned with seven triangles symbolizing the the seven original clans of the Cherokee people, wolf, wild potato, paint, blue, long hair, bird, and deer. Sometimes there are 14 triangles to represent the Cherokee clans before they split apart and became the Iroquoian tribes.