Annual pow wow in Atmore

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Annual pow wow in Atmore

Poarch Creek Tribe hosts show of color, culture for Thanksgiving

Photo by Joshua Olson
Members of the Poarch Creek Indians perform an ancestral dance for the Inter-Tribal Competition during the Thanksgiving Pow Wow in Atmore, Alabama.

By Joshua Olson

The Poarch Band of Creek Indians held their annual Thanksgiving Pow Wow in Atmore, Alabama Thursday and Friday, Nov. 23 and 24, opening the reservation to the public for the 47th time.

The Thanksgiving Pow Wow, which began in 1971 as an annual homecoming celebration for tribal members, has grown into a radiant spectacle over the years.

The Poarch Creek tribe plays host to more than 20 Native American Nations from all over the country, each bringing beautifully crafted and colorful authentic dress, tribal dancers and a slew of vendors offering anything from turquoise jewelry to handmade period weapons, crafts and quilts.

The Pow Wow itself centers around an ancestral dance competition spanning near the entirety of the two-day festival, in addition to the drumming competition and the crowning of the Poarch Creek Indian princesses. Contest winners were rewarded $92,000 in total prize money ranging from $200 to $12,000 for each winner.

Spectators from all walks of life were given a unique opportunity to learn the historical significance of these rituals and the cultural meanings behind the breathtaking garb. Echoes from the past were heard throughout the park as two very different cultures blended seamlessly to ring in the holiday season. Saturated in vibrant tones, the gentle faces of a little-known culture pass by one after another, reminding us to remember what they have endured.

“I think it brings more community awareness of the tribe,” says Poarch Creek native Sara Mills. “People go to the casinos, but they really don’t know what’s behind it.” PSC environmental science major, Mills and the Alabama Department of Environmental Management (ADEM) were promoting recycling at the Pow Wow for the very first year.

Aside from the competitions and dress, the Thanksgiving Pow Wow is always about the food.

Photo by Joshua Olson
A Poarch Creek Tribe member watches the Inter-Tribal Dance Contest at the Thanksgiving Pow Wow.

Tribe and non-tribe members alike were offered buffalo burgers and roasted ear corn, alongside the traditional turkey and dressings provided by community churches. The dense lines to the traditional open flame grills remained constant for nearly the entire festival, while the inviting aroma of oak-wood fires waffled over the crowds.

According to Atmore News, the event hosted some 16,000 people, with 10,000 pouring in on Thanksgiving Day alone. The line of incoming cars stretched nearly two miles down Jack Springs Road just in front of the reservation grounds.

The festivities began early Thursday morning with a 5K “Turkey Trot” and the opening ceremonies just before noon.

Performances by Oklahoma Creek Stomp Dancers, TriCommunity Dancers and tribal song recording group Medicine Tail highlighted the first day’s activities. The Inter-Tribal Dance Contest continued well into the evening.

Gates opened at 10am Friday to allow patrons to file in before the Grand Entry around noon. Much of the day was dedicated to a second round of dance competitions.

The Poarch Creek Thanksgiving Pow Wow was an overwhelming success in its 47th edition, successfully bridging the gap between yesterday and today. For one important tribe member, the event will always strike a much more simplistic chord.

“For me personally, it’s a big ole family reunion,” Seville McGhee proudly proclaims. “I haven’t seen some of these people in years.”

McGee is the great, great, great niece of Chief Calvin McGhee, chosen in 1950 as the first formal leader of the tribe. “He really is responsible for getting the ball rolling on national recognition.”