“In Native American culture people with disabilities are thought to be touched by God,” says Ed Egan, executive director of the Trudeau Center. “They believe that people with disabilities were chosen by a greater being to carry a heavier cross and if we are open to them, we can learn about how to conduct ourselves and go through this world.”
That’s how Egan said Richard Fournier, the Master of Ceremonies for this weekend’s 21st Annual Powwow at the Trudeau Center, explained it to him 18 years ago.
“I was totally blown away because I had no idea,” Egan said.
Almost two decades later, this year’s celebration is still open to the public and will take place at the Trudeau Center at 3445 Post Road on Saturday and Sunday from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.
Both days will include more than 20 indoor vendors, which will be set up in the M. Thomas Larkin Recreation Building, located behind the center. Traders will have leather goods, sterling jewelry, authentic moccasins, beads, museum-style artifacts, T-shirts, sweaters and other novelties available for purchase.
The event will also feature pony rides and a bunny corral, as well as entertainment by the Split Feather Singers, the Wolf Cry Singers, the Soaring Eagle Singers and the Black Hawk Singers. Buffalo burgers, powwow tacos, reservation steak and other traditional food will be for sale by Then & Now Native Foods. Admission and parking is free.
“The powwow has historically brought people to the Trudeau Center that would not have been here otherwise and it’s evolved into a very family friendly, cultural event,” said Egan. “I don’t know of any other powwows held in Warwick. We are in Apponaug, so it’s unique. There is the awareness factor that takes place, too. The clients look forward to it every year.”
Fournier, whose nationalities include Mi’kmaq, Mohawk and Abenaki, said he and the other vendors enjoy visiting the clients, as well. He has traveled to Warwick from Manchester, N.H. for the cultural powwow for the last 20 years.
“We do it for the clients at the Trudeau Center,” he said. “It’s a way of helping the center because they enjoy the dancing and interaction. We gain a lot, too, because we learn about one another.”
Fournier said traditional powwows originally took place with groups of like-minded people who gathered to exchange goods and meet new people. Young men and women went to find ideal spouses.
“Originally, powwows were gatherings of people and not necessary mixtures of groups,” he said. “The French used to call them rendezvous. Guys meet girls they may want to marry. The vending part is so people can trade or sell their products. Now, with it being a public event, it’s basically done to show that we still exist, we can still have a good time and we can still enjoy ourselves. We can get together with people of like minds and communicate to keep the culture alive and moving.”
The drum ceremony begins each day at noon with a grand entry. Native Americans ask guests to stand and remove their hats. They honor any military veterans in the audience and perform a dedication song. Once the drumbeats begin to pound, Fournier will invite everyone to the dancing circle for a powwow dance.
“I’ll be keeping people involved and directing the drum,” said Fournier. “The format is abbreviated than what you might get at another powwow mainly because this is for the clients. It’s not for the natives that are there. There are some specific dances natives do that clients don’t understand but they are dancing from the heart. They do their own thing, and in reality some of them are better at it than we are. It’s always a great time and a lot of fun.”
The host drum will be provided by the Vermont-based group the Split Feather Singers. Egan said clients often bring their walkers with them into the drum circle.
“What sets it apart from other powwows is that at a traditional powwow, there are a lot of rules and rituals,” he said. “There are a lot of dos and don’ts. At ours, there aren’t any. If someone with a disability joins the dance circle and dances in the opposite direction that would be frowned upon at a regular powwow. Here, it’s OK. If a person with a disability went up to hit the drum, that’s fine. We’ve got a grass field and a 40 by 60 canopy tent. You can just feel the thunderous beat of the drum.”
When the event was conceived, it was intended to be a fundraiser. Egan and his staff were planning an autumn craft show and as a means to add more venders they added a Native American component to it.
“We were able to attract seven or eight venders to the show and it was so different that it was a hit,” said Egan. “The second year, we said, ‘Let’s just go with the Powwow theme.’ There was a lot of support for the concept and over the years, we became friends with the traders that want to support the cause.”
He said venders and consumers travel from New Hampshire, Vermont, Pennsylvania, Massachusetts and New York to participate in the event. After two decades, the clients, particularly from the residential programs, love attending.
“Most of them really enjoy it and we have a really great time with them,” Fournier said. “Ed always tells us, ‘The clients have been asking for the last 12 months when the next Powwow is going to be.’ We’ve had great weather this month so I’m hoping it will be a great weekend.”
In addition the to the powwow, the Trudeau Center is looking forward to another event this week, as the Trudeau Tigers receive an award as part of the Special Olympics Awards Banquet on Thursday at the West Valley Inn. The reception begins at 5:30 p.m.
“Our team is getting one of the top awards that night,” said Egan.
For more information about the powwow, contact Egan at email@example.com.