A pow wow in Nashville, Tennessee that draws 18,000 people in three days every October is a bond that keeps Native Americans in this southern state united as they gather to celebrate and share their culture with family, friends and tourists.
“In Tennessee we don’t have reservations. We don’t have recognized tribes. People from Tennessee want to learn about the Natives,” said Sally Wells, president of the Native American Indian Association of Tennessee (NAIA), host of the event.
The 31st Annual Fall Festival and Tennessee State Pow Wow, October 19 to 21, at Long Hunter State Park, is an intertribal production with dance competition prizes totaling $20,450 and a drum and singing contest offering $6,500 to winners.
The pow wow is also the staging ground for NAIA’s plan to build a $5 million multi-function center in Davidson County, Nashville. Wells said they will break ground in January next year and she expects it to be completed in two years.
The 6,500 square-foot Circle of Life Indian Cultural Center will serve as the association’s headquarters and pow wow grounds. Aside from administrative offices, it will house a community meeting room, research library and exhibit museum.
“The proposed layout of the conceptual site responds to the ancient spiritual concepts of the ‘Circle of Life.’ The configuration of the pow wow grounds—including the parking area—radiates out from
a center circle; the ceremonial central Drum,” said NAIA on its website.
“There is no Native museum here,” said Wells. Proceeds of the fall pow wow, estimated to net $25,000, will be used to fund their current services, as well as the construction of the museum.
“People come to Tennessee for jobs,” said Wells, who is a Choctaw from Mississippi. The association she leads, a nonprofit organization, with an all-Indian Board of Directors, seeks to meet the needs of Native residents.
The organization estimates that there are 10,000 American Indians who call Tennessee their home today. And because there is no federally recognized Indian population in Tennessee, NAIA is committed to represent the Indian residents.
NAIA provides job training and placement, educational services, cultural revitalization and emergency assistance. The pow wow, which coincides with October being the Native American Indian Month in Tennessee, is one way to honor their culture and heritage.
“The people that come and visit us, we thank them. We appreciate the people who come and support us,” said Wells, noting that visitors come from all over, including Alabama, Georgia and North Carolina.
This fall, international award-winning recording artist Arvel Bird will welcome visitors. A violinist and Native flutist, Bird is performing Celtic Fusion during the weekend that also features Native American arts and crafts, storytelling, Indian games and Indian tacos, chili, hominy and frybread.
Wells said the drum and singing contest, which was started last year, is returning. Contestants or at least 50 percent of the drum should be enrolled members of federal or state-recognized tribes. The first prize gets $3,000, second prize, $2,000, third prize, $1,000 and fourth prize, $500.
The dance competition is divided into five categories: men, ladies, boys, girls and junior and seniors. The dances to be featured include traditional, straight, fancy, fancy shawl, grass, cloth and jingle dress.
The competition will award the first, second and third place winners. Total prize for first place winners is $9,700, second prize, $6,800 and third prize, $3,950.
The dance and arena director for the pow wow is Marty Pinnecoose from Salem, Oregon. The Host Northern Drum and the Host Southern Drum will be picked from the competition.
The duties of the master of ceremonies will be shared by Winona Yellowhammer, from Franklin, Tennessee, and Tim Tallchief, from Jones, Oklahoma.
For further information on the pow wow, click here.