Dancers from more than 50 Native American tribes paid tribute to ancestors with rhythmic twirls, pulsing beats and thundering drums during what Bill Harris, chief of the Catawba Indian Nation, called “a gathering of nations.”
Nearly 300 people assembled inside the Winthrop Coliseum on Saturday to watch, photograph and record dancers swarm together in a circle, chant in tribal languages and flaunt extravagant headdress during the Catawba Indian Nation’s third annual pow-wow.
It was a time that left Harris with a sense of pride.
“Look around, I’m standing in an auditorium filled with native people,” he said moments before show time. “It’s a wonderful feeling to get tribes together.”
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The dances hearken to each tribe’s ancestry, Harris said, and not all of the moves and beats are the same.
Since it began three years ago, the pow-wow has “grown immensely,” Harris told the audience.
“Open your hearts to the drum…open your eyes and look at the moves of the dancers…use your ears and listen to the singers and how they all harmonize,” he said.
Members of tribes from all over the United States, Mexico and Canada flocked to Rock Hill to take part in the ceremony.
One of them was Jared Reyes, 37, who spun and stomped the “Cherokee fancy dance” while wearing garb outfitted with orange and blue feathers.
The fancy dance is “expressive” and “contemporary,” first adopted in Oklahoma during the 1920s to celebrate soldiers returning home from World War I, said Reyes, a member of the Cherokee Tribe in Fort Bragg, N.C.
At his side was Kevin Chavis, an 18-year-old member of the Lumbee Tribe from Pembroke, N.C. Donning a black suit with colorful necklaces and animal-skin padding, Chavis bobbed his head and shook his feathers, mimicking the movements of a male prairie chicken during mating season.
“The prairie chicken dance…is a really fun dance,” he said.
During the grand entry, dancers from all the tribes circled the coliseum floor. Dance patterns switched when the drummers changed rhythm. At one point, dancers chanted to honor veterans, both men and women.
Minutes later, drum and dance competitions for $30,000 took off.
Planning for the pow-wow originally began 13 years ago. It’s taken nearly a decade to make the dream into a reality, said Ronnie Beck, the pow-wow’s organizer.
Working with York County to host the event during the annual Come-See-Me festival, the pow-wow attracts visitors that “fill hotels,” Beck said.
The pow-wow is currently the largest gathering of Native American tribes in South Carolina. It’s quickly becoming the largest gathering on the East Coast, Beck said.