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Cherokee and Filipino descent

June 7 2010 at 6:21 AM
AW  (Login CherokeeVote)
John's Place Users

For many American Indian people, a powwow is an integral part of Native culture that celebrates music and dance in a social setting. Arguably, these celebrations could not happen without the contributions of Native drum groups. To dancers and attendees, the music played by the group supplies the mood and a vehicle to dance. To the drum group, being asked to perform at a powwow is an honor.

So when Four Rivers Native American Drum had the opportunity to play for the Virginia Beach Parks and Recreation Powwow and perform for around 10,000 people as a drop-in drum; they jumped at the chance.

Michael Cloud-Butler, Ojibwe, second singer and drummer for the group has a long history with the Virginia Beach powwow.

Way back in the 90s when this first began, I was a powwow-goer. I was a drum keeper for the Eastern Sky Drum. During the years we had together, we attended every powwow they had over here.

And though the Virginia Beach powwow has had to change locations a number of times due to logistics such as parking and crowd control, Cloud-Butler has remained a dedicated attendee. As a prior member of Eastern Sky and current member of Four Rivers Native American Drum, Cloud-Butler has played at many regional powwows including the Mount Trashmore event.

Cloud-Butler remembers his first interactions with Four Rivers, I was called about three years ago to come and help Bob Jondreau. Jamestown and Virginia were going to celebrate their 400th anniversary. He asked if I wanted to sing and help out, I have been here ever since.

Jondreau, Ojibwa/Chippewa, is the leader and keeper of the drum. I love the people. I love the way the drum has brought people together. The drum does not care if the people are recovering from anything; as long as they remain fighting their ghosts, they are welcomed to the drum.

Four Rivers Native American Drum started in the mid 1990s with just four drummers and singers and has grown to 19 members. The group played without a name at their first five powwows and locals referred to them as the no-name drum. They eventually named themselves Four Rivers because of their location on the Virginia Peninsula. In order for members to perform at an event, they must cross one of the four rivers that surround them.

One of the distinctions of the group is its Native diversity.

Robert Narcomey, Seminole/Navajo, who has been with the group for more than four years, has more than just a background in Native drum. He has also been an activist with the American Indian Movement and has appeared in films. I was asked by Martha (Spencer an elder and spiritual advisor to the group) and I said okay. I just never left.

Sylvia Nery-Strickland has been a singer with Four Rivers since 2007. Of Cherokee and Filipino descent, she has lived in Virginia long enough to remember not being able to tell anyone she was Indian. Her grandmothers words They do not like Indians around here.

Relocation due to popularity

For the past 10 years, the Virginia Beach Department of Parks and Recreation has been hosting its annual inter-tribal powwow to the delight of the Hampton Roads area public. The popularity of the powwow has caused them to relocate to the infamous Mount Trashmore.

I have been involved with the Parks and Rec powwow for the past 10 years, said Recreation Specialist Deborah Vick. This is our first year to Mount Trashmore; we have been to Red Wing Park for the past nine years.

The reason for the move said Vick, was that the previous location could no longer support the amount of people at the event. Vick estimated the number of attendees would be about 10,000.

Mount Trashmore is a unique location in that several years ago, Virginia Beach city officials voted to close a landfill and cover it with earth thus the birth of a mountain on top of trash. Mount Trashmore is the highest point in Virginia Beach.

Nery-Strickland, who was not allowed to sit at the counter at Woolworths as a child because of her brown skin and mixed heritage, certainly feels things have come a long way. She finds refuge singing with Four Rivers. While around our drum, we are one and we are there for the right reasons. What beautiful spirits we have around our drum, those seen and those unseen.

As a resident of Virginia Beach, she had a powwow close to home. It was wonderful not to have to travel so far and to come home and have a little after party. Generally we travel three or four hours to go to a powwow. This is the only one we have in Virginia Beach.

In fact, since Nery-Strickland and Cloud-Butler also sit on the Virginia Beach Resort Advisory Commission, they are doing everything they can to create an annual Virginia Beach oceanfront powwow and possibly another city sponsored powwow in neighboring Norfolk.

According to Cloud-Butler, the city of Virginia Beach has done a great job considering a bit of a learning curve. When the city started, they knew very little about Native American culture it takes several years to learn everything. It was a comfortable feeling today and to have visited several times as a drum group it is like a hometown powwow because we live here.

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