Excitement is building for the Thunder on the Beach Pow Wow, which will take place in Vero Beach, Florida from February 15 to 17. Now in its 10th consecutive year, the three-day event is expected to draw some 10,000 people to the Indian River County Fairground with a jam-packed schedule of activities and live performances by some of the Native community’s finest artists.
“We try to give a feeling of family to our pow wow, not just to the dancers and entertainers but to the guests as well,” said Jody Swiss, president of the nonprofit gathering. “We want everyone to enjoy and feel like a huge family gathering rather than just an event.”
Thunder on the Beach is one of the largest pow wows in Florida. Among its highlights are dancers representing about 40 tribes from all over the country, as well as from Canada. Some 300 Native American dancers and vendors join the public to share their culture.
The pow wow is largely the brainchild of chairwoman Dona Chesser, who relaunched it 10 years ago after it was discontinued by former organizers, and of Swiss, who joined the organization four years ago. Although Chesser has some Native American blood and Native culture has been part of her life while growing up, she is technically non-Native. Swiss, who grew up with Native Americans while living in New York and New Jersey, said that the organizers respect that distinction.
“We are an intertribal pow wow, put on for the benefit of Native Americans first and foremost; it is their pow wow, not ours,” he said. “We give them the opportunity to share their culture with non-Natives for the benefit of all.”
Last year, proceeds from the pow wow went to the Looks For Buffalo Foundation of Pine Ridge. That will be true again this year so that the elderly, children and those most in need of supplies in the South Dakota reservation will have adequate oil, electricity and food.
“Dona Chesser has had dozens of foster children in her home over the years as well as her own children. Dona has found that Native culture brings to children a freedom and sense of purpose they are longing for,” said Swiss.
The educational component of the gathering starts on Friday, February 15, with Kids’ Literacy Day. The fairgrounds gate opens at 8:30 a.m.; Ed Wind Dancer, MC for the day, will address the crowd at 9:30 a.m.
Children will be able to witness the winner of the princess competition, and the Crowning of the Princess is scheduled at 7:30 p.m. on Saturday February 16. Only the princess event is competitive; the pow wow dancing is not competitive.
The featured dances will be fancy, northern traditional, contemporary traditional, grass, women’s buckskin, southern ladies cloth, jingle and fancy shawl.
Also scheduled are 31 vendors, selling jewelry, flutes and other arts and crafts, as well as five food vendors who have been instructed to sell strictly Native products.
JJ Kent, the award-winning Native American recording artist and cultural speaker and educator, will headline the pow wow. Kent, who goes by his Lakota name Wicasa Ho’ Waste’ (Good Voice Man), was named flutist of the year at the 2009 Native American Music Awards. Also showing her talent in Native flute will be recording artist Sybille Hummingbird.
The pow wow is to be graced by knife-throwing legends Che Che White Cloud and Lash & Steel’s John Bailey, who is also a bullwhip specialist, as well as performer and storyteller Buffalo Bill Leighton. Others who are expected are Red Bird Jr., host drum; Thomas Zermeno, head man; Juanita Zermeno, head lady; Phillip Robertson, head vet; Wolf, head of security; Ron Colombe, MC and Billy Kipp, arena director.
Swiss singled out the volunteer performers and supporters for praise. “What we are doing may be unique— that there are so many who come our pow wow, and we cannot even afford to pay them,” he said. He also emphasized the educational nature of the gathering. “It is really a true gift,” he said. “Our pow wow’s mandate is to teach children and families what is no longer taught.”
Finally, Swiss acknowledged the ultimate source of the success of Thunder on the Beach: “The Creator. We come together in his name to bring an incredible event.”
Admission is $8 for adults, $4 for children over 6, and free for Native Americans.
For further information, visit ThunderOnTheBeachPowWow.net.