By Jeff Noble / Staff writer
Once you left Corbin and turned off KY 25W headed toward Williamsburg, the sound led you to the site.
For those who came to the Kentucky Native American Heritage Museum’s 4th Annual Pow Wow, held Saturday and Sunday, the pounding of the tom-tom was the welcoming signal.
The license plates were proof of that. From Pennsylvania and Pulaski County. From Florida and Frankfort. Some proudly proclaimed their heritage like the Montana plate on the back of an SUV, stating their ancestry with the Blackfoot Nation.
When they got to the field where the pow wow was held, the drums got louder, accompanied by a soothing pipe and Native American singing. A crowd gathered around a roped-off circle, where dancing was taking place.
It was called “the Secret Circle.” And inside the circle, Osceola Mullin, his wife, their son were dancing to the music. Another Native American joined in the dance, as did a few people from the crowd.
Mullin noted his family visits similar pow wows in different parts of the country every year. But the visits vary, and can range from seven to eight times a year, to as many as 20 times another year.
“My wife and I lead the dancers into the Secret Circle for a Native American dance. I’ve been doing it all my life. It’s traditional and spiritual to me. We’ve always enjoyed it. Singing and dancing? It’s part of our heritage,” said Mullin, who lives in North Carolina and is a member of the Lumbee Nation.
There would be more songs and dancing the remainder of the pow wow. But for now, the midday Saturday sky was threatening. The remnants of what was Hurricane Isaac were floating into the air, and the tropical mugginess was being felt by all.
The emcee alluded to the humidity when he announced, “We’re gonna take a break and leave the reservation to get a drink of water.”
Many who were gathered round the circle did just that. Others grabbed a bite to eat at a tent called “Native Smoke,” where Buffalo Burgers, Barbecue Pork Sandwiches, and Fried Oreos were the short orders of the day.
Still more visitors went to see the native arts and crafts that dotted parts of the field’s outer circle. At Tim and Janet Emmett’s tent, business was brisk during the break from dancing. The pow wow has special meaning for the couple from Glasgow, located in the south-central part of the state. Tim’s native name is “Standing Bear,” while Janet’s known as “Dancing Turtle.”
“We have Native American descendants. My husband’s descendants were Cherokee, and his great-grandmother walked the “Trail of Tears.” She survived. I’m learning more everyday about the Native American heritage. Not just the good times, but the pain they went through,” Janet said during a break from selling their items, which are mostly handmade.
In 2006, a documentary film was made about the forcible removal and relocating of people from the Cherokee tribe from the southeastern states to territories west of the Mississippi River. Part of the trail passed through Hopkinsville in the western part of Kentucky. That action, and the film, were known as the “Trail of Tears.”
Janet’s husband saw the movie.
“After he saw that, he said to me, “I might not be here if that happened to my great-grandmother.’ It makes him want to hold up the heritage even more,” she added.
A customer came by with her two small children. She was attracted to the crafts being shown, such as handmade jewelry, pipes, and especially some things hanging down from the tent’s top.
Janet said they’re called “dreamcatchers.” And they’re very popular items with visitors.
“It’s like it says. It’s a tree limb that has been pulled into a circle. It has a web, just like a spider web. The web catches the bad dreams, and the circle is open for the good dreams. It’s kind of a life story, because the person can add pieces of their
accomplishments in life into the circle,” Janet pointed out.
As it turned out, the customer, Rhonda Jones, of Corbin, was looking for a dreamcatcher. “My four-year-old daughter has a friend who’s having bad dreams, and we wanted to get her friend one,” Jones said.
She found the dreamcatcher she was looking for, and struck up a conversation with Janet while her children looked at other items displayed on the tent’s table.
“We’ve seen a lot of neat stuff. The dancers, the tomahawk display, and the live entertainment. It’s a neat experience. We’ve learned a lot about the traditions today,” Jones added.
And, as Janet Emmett put it, maybe a lot of others who made the visit to the pow wow did so, too. On a weekend of heavy traffic, threatening rains, and $3.99 a gallon gas prices, the sound leading them to the site soothed their souls.
“When we come here, we come down. To a much slower pace. More relaxed, and certainly more reflective. We’re catching life as it comes. One day at a time,” she said.