BENNINGTON — The bass and hollering of drums and native songs echoed off of the buildings across from the Vermont Veterans' Home this weekend during the 11th annual Rock, Rattle & Drum Powwow.
More than 100 people attended the cultural event on Saturday — despite intense rain and storm warnings — and most visited after the Bennington Battle Day Parade on Sunday. Folks with a variety of license plates gathered on the grounds in the humidity to watch dancers with extravagant regalia stomp to the beat and float in circles under a large white tent, the arena.
Each day Grand Entry started at 1 p.m. when the dancers and veterans would march into the arena and share a prayer and honoring ceremony with pow wow songs. The pow wow is a time for Native Americans to come together and celebrate their culture through song, dance and story telling. Roger Longtoe Sheehan, Chief of the Elno Tribe, played two songs to welcome everyone to Abenaki nation territory.
Several vendors from all over the country sold handmade jewelry, woodwork, clothing and accessories. A few local organizations set up shop as well.
The Southern Vermont Natural History Museum brought a raven, a red tail hawk, a barred owl, a screech owl, an American kestrel bird, a rabbit, turtle and a snake, which was a popular spot for children. It's the first year Mike Clough and Stacy Babb have showed at the powwow. Clough said the organization has been pushing education outreach for the past six years.
"A big part of this is to encourage people to go outside and hunt or bird watch," Clough said. "A lot of people here are interested in wildlife."
Clough said they enjoyed hanging out with the vendors' children during the morning hours. During the Grand Entry, Clough and Babb were telling people to go watch the performances.
After Grand Entry, there was a blanket dance to collect donations to support the event, followed by an intertribal dance. Everyone was invited to dance in the arena, with the guidance of Head Man Dancer, Hector Rosa Lebeau, and his 20-year-old daughter and Head Woman Dancer, Kiana LeBeau. Hector Lebeau said that in past years, there are hundreds that participate in the social dances, but only a few did on Sunday. Co-director Fidel Moreno could be seen marching in place on the arena sidelines or in the social dances.
Families would occasionally stop the dancers if they were out of the arena to converse and get photos with them in their native outfits, most of which consisted of layers of feathers, colorful clothes and accessories made out of natural materials such as arrow heads or shells.
It was a first experience for Seth Bailey, Pauline Coorales and her 10-year-old son Logan.
"It's pretty cool," Bailey said. "I'm not Native American but I think my grandfather married someone who is."
"It looks really cool. They're unique," Logan Coorales said. "I actually learned about the [Native Americans] in Vermont in school."
Both pointed out the children's candy dance on the program that they were most excited for.
Near the entrance gate, the Veterans Outreach & Family Resource Center staff sat in the shade of their tent. Vietnam Veteran John Miner said the powwow is one of the group's fundraisers for the year.
"We've definitely made Bennington more aware of the veterans. You think people would know with the home here," he said. "It's cool to look at the native costumes and it's a great history lesson for kids."
— Makayla-Courtney McGeeney can be reached at (802)-447-7567, ext. 118.