Interior's first intertribal powwow could draw 6,000

Posted: Thursday, June 07, 2001

FAIRBANKS - Don "Standing Bear" Forest knew he would have to get permission from the Athabaskan community to hold an intertribal powwow on their turf.

So Forest, an Abenaki (New England) and MicMac (Eastern Canada) Native who has lived in Alaska almost 25 years, made a moose-hide pouch, filled it with sacred tobacco and brought it to his friend and local Native elder Richard Frank.

Frank took the pouch and passed it on to First Chief Peter John.

"He's the traditional chief and he's the one that we just have to honor and get the permission from," Frank said. "I had never done it before, so I just took it on down there and I told him the reason why I had taken it to him. He agreed that if it's educational with cultural ties, he had no problem with the powwow."

Frank contacted him a few weeks later with a message from John: The powwow will be good for all, especially young people.

That was the protocol it took to go ahead with the first annual Midnight Sun Intertribal Powwow, from July 6-8 at the Tanana Valley Fairgrounds, which is the first gathering of this kind to happen in the Interior.

Involved in the powwow will be 4,000 to 6,000 Native Americans, Alaska Natives and First Nation Peoples of Canada.

Denakkanaaga, an Interior Native elders group, is co-sponsoring the powwow, which will include drumming, dancing, talking circles, storytelling and the practicing of dozens of traditions.

A sacred fire will be kept lit throughout the powwow. The fire will have wood in it that was brought to Alaska from a sacred fire in Massachusetts. After the powwow, a piece of wood from that fire will be kept for the next year. This makes the fire symbolic of continuity, Forest said.

"Every powwow is different in its spirit and its flavor," he said. "A powwow is a traditional and spiritual family gathering. It is a time when members share stories, traditions and understandings. Through listening and understanding, the tribes as a whole become stronger."

Frank agreed. "It gives us unity and identity by trying to hang on to traditional things that were exercised in the past."

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