A Visit: 2018 Haliwa-Saponi PowWow


by: cathy foreman

Friday April 20, 2018 marked the opening of the 53rd Annual Haliwa-Saponi Pow Wow, Blooming of the Dogwood. This event is to commemorate the tribe’s recognition on April 15, 1965 by the State of North Carolina; thus the significance of the third weekend of April for the event.

Haliwa-Saponi occupy four counties in Northern North Carolina: Halifax, Nash, Warren and Franklin. The tribe is a close-knit community with traditions steeply entrenched in the very fabric of their lives. Walking through the tribal grounds, one can see just how proud each member is of their respective tribes and traditions.

The Haliwa-Saponi Pow Wow, a cultural festival of sorts, is the oldest and largest scale Pow Wow in North Carolina. It’s a three-day event consisting of dance, singing, competition, and arts and crafts. Native Americans come from as far north as Canada and as far west as California to participate in, and commune with other tribes.

After missing the powwow for several years, I decided to come back last year. This year I decided to bring my mother as well.  It wasn’t until our drive home, that we did a sort of recap of the day and all that we saw. Our conversation centered around one common factor we noticed …family. While she sat stationary, I roamed – yet we came away with the same sense of family. In our conversation, we mirrored what the other said as we discussed the sense of inclusiveness and familial bonding. At different points, we saw fathers with their sons, husbands with their wives and mothers with their little ones; taking the time to perfect, either with sewing or by strategically arranging pieces of their regalia before presentation. With the regalia, one notices the attention that goes into the beading detail. It is quite exquisite and intricate – so much so that it’s no wonder you witness the effort and patience taken with every nuance before they hit the ceremony grounds.

This year’s celebration appeared to be about “healing”.  Over the past year, from what I could gather, there was a bit of hardship for some members of the community ranging from sickness to fire. As part of the healing prayer, before a couple of the competitions, customs were performed. One in particular was the passing out of natural, untreated tobacco. For Native Americans, tobacco is not about smoking. It is used more for medicinal purposes along with other herbs, like smudging for example.  Smudging is a form of cleansing using the smoke of the burning herbs, warding off evil spirits and offering up prayers, which is what happened here. After the samples were handed to each dancer, in a small circle, the women performed a traditional dance in the spirit of healing.

For the average spectator, this event may seem more festival-like and cosmetic. I even heard some people refer to the regalia as costumes. This traditional garb is far more than a costume; it is their heritage, their culture and it is significant in regard to their truth, recognition, strength and survival. Calling it by anything else is an insult to each and every Native American.

The community itself is warm and inviting. You can walk up to anyone and ask questions about them, their tribe or regalia and they will take a picture with you, gladly.  We shouldn’t just attend events or celebrations just because it’s something to do. Take the time to research; beforehand or simply ask a question. You’ll find that it’s much easier than you think and like anyone, they would much rather you ask than remain ignorant of their culture.  They understand that a lot of people come as a spectator, but we should keep in mind that this is their culture and for them, it’s a sense of pride. Respect them and who they are.

Be sure to check out the video footage from Saturday.