FORT KENT - “Be an ambassador for your people,” Donat Cyr, told the crowd gathered at Fort Kent’s Riverside Park, on Saturday, July 2.
Cyr, Chief of the local Wesget Sipu Tribe, welcomed people to the group’s 13th annual Pow Wow and Gathering of Nations. The celebration took place over three days, from July 1 to 3, and organizers say it was well attended by local residents and friends of the tribe.
As part of his welcoming remarks, Cyr extolled the strong sense of community shared by all peoples of the St. John Valley, and how that goes hand in hand with sharing stories and family history. He and Master of Ceremonies Normand Bernard regularly invited those non-native people attending to ask questions.
The Grand Entrance procession included representatives of not only the Wesget Sipu, but other Native American groups as well, and was accompanied by a variety of flags such as Canada, the U.S., Quebec, POW-MIA, and Acadia. This diversity of peoples and places was evident throughout the event.
Mike Hamele, who originally hails from Rocky Boy, Montana, was attending as a member of the 2 Feathers Drum, based in the Augusta area. Hamele is a Sweetgrass Dancer, who has traveled all over the country, taking part in various celebrations and ceremonies.
“I’ve been doing this since I was ten years old,” Hamele said, whose entire family is also dancers. This was his first time to the Pow Wow in Fort Kent.
The regalia Hamele wore was representative of his Cree people, and specific to grass dancing. He explained that the many lengths of yarn attached to his clothes symbolizes the tall sweetgrass, and that dancers would stamp down large ceremonial areas in the grass, sprinkling sacred herbs, such as cedar, as a way to bless the ground.
For first-time attendees Steven Rusconi and Tricia Lachance, it was an opportunity to share traditions from other parts of New England. Rusconi, originally from Massachusetts, makes his and Lachance’s clothing by hand, and was in traditional Seneca regalia.
Lachance was in Mi’kmaq clothing from the 1600s, including headwear that few native women wear today. She is trying to encourage its use at more celebrations and gatherings.
“This has been great so far,” said the couple, who now live in Winslow.
Piper Morning Rain, from Old Orchard Beach was taking part in the dancing circle as well. This was her 2nd Wesget Sipu Pow Wow. Her regalia, while less elaborate than most others taking part, still told a personal story.
“I am part Scotch, part Irish, and part Native American. So there are things about my clothing that represents each of those,” Rain said.
Many people in traditional regalia, also had modern touches as part of their clothing. Hamele, for instance, had an American flag in hand while performing his sweet grass dance and while taking part in the veterans dance.
Donald Paul of Castle Hill was in his full traditional Spirit Bear warrior regalia for the entrance ceremonies. As a nod to important modern day social causes and history, Paul also wears ribbons and symbols for things such as AIDS awareness and Vietnam veterans. The cultural gathering included drumming groups from New Hampshire, Quebec, the County, and various locations throughout Maine. Each performed sacred songs for the entrance ceremonies, as well as songs throughout the day for those inside the dancing circle.
Cyr said it doesn’t matter to him if a person has only a small portion Native American ancestry, he welcomes their celebrating and sharing all parts of their heritage.
“It is an honor for me to go into schools, and talk with the young people,” Cyr said. He shares his traditional stories, and encourages them to be proud of their family history and share that with others.
“It’s a blessing,” Cyr said, referring to his multi-cultural heritage, of Native American and Acadian. “I cherish my ancestry, and I am lucky to have it all.”