Celebrating home

Sovereignty and native traditions celebrated at Wampanoag annual Powwow.


The essence of a powwow is community. Tribes from all over the country come together to share food, healing, dancing, culture, medicine, and oral history, Narragansett Indian Tribe dancer John Thomas III explained. All were on display this weekend in Aquinnah for the Wampanoag Tribe of Gay Head (Aquinnah) annual Powwow. 

The Powwow, which was moved from the Aquinnah Circle on Saturday to the tribal Community Center due to weather, began with the Grand Entry, featuring a parade-style entry of tribal and community leaders carrying flags, and performing opening dances and songs. Jason Baird, medicine man of the Wampanoag Tribe of Gay Head (Aquinnah), cleansed the room and dancers with burning herbs from the sacred smudge pot. Veterans, retired and active duty, were then honored. 

Cheryl Andrews-Maltais, chairwoman of the Wampanoag Tribe of Gay Head (Aquinnah), welcomed and thanked everyone for making it despite the weather. Tribe members and leaders from all over the country came: Mashpee Wampanoag Tribe, Mi’kmaq Tribe in Nova Scotia, Uintah and Ouray Indian Reservation in Utah, Schaghticoke Tribe in Connecticut, Indian Township, Maine, Jatibonicu Taino Tribal Nation of Borikén (Puerto Rico), Narragansett Indian Tribe in Rhode Island, Pequot Tribe in Connecticut, and the Haida Tribe in Alaska. Andrews-Maltais later told The Times how happy she was with the turnout, praising the “intrepid travelers” from coast to coast that made it to Aquinnah. 

The theme of this year’s Powwow was sovereignty. In her welcome address, Andrews-Maltais touched on what that means: “Sovereignty means a lot of things to a lot of people, but particularly for us as indigenous peoples of these lands. We’ve all lived off these lands at one time or another. In our sustenance, in our ability to gather, hunt, and fish to feed our families and to feed our communities is one of the quintessential things that distinguishes us as native peoples.” 

The Powwow honored two Massachusetts Environmental Police officers, Lt. Col. Anthony Abdal-Khabir, retired, and Major Patrick Moran. Andrew-Maltais said they “have gone above and beyond not only recognizing but working with Bret [Stearns] (Wampanoag Tribe of Gay Head indirect services administrator, and former natural resources director) and Tyler [Moreis] (rribal ranger) to really appreciate, understand, and respect the work that they do with us with regard to our fishing and hunting rights.” Major Moran and Lt. Col. Abdal-Khabir were given plaques commemorating their work, as well as clay preserved by Durwood Vanderhoop from the Aquinnah Cliffs, a very special gift, Stearns said. 

On Sunday, the weather cleared and the Powwow was moved to Aquinnah Circle, where more dancing, songs, and traditions were celebrated under the blue skies of Aquinnah.