tampabay.com

Spirit People keep ancient ritual alive

The local intertribal group honors its new gathering place with a three-day powwow featuring ceremonies and dancing.

By JULIA KUMARI DRAPKIN
Published October 1, 2006


On the autumnal equinox two Fridays ago,  as the sun set over J.B. Starkey’s ranch, the sounds of singing and the steady beat of the host drum replaced the pulse of cicadas.

Dancers in buckskins and feathers, tribal elders and Vietnam veterans carrying flags gathered at the eastern entrance of the sacred circle for grand entry during the first powwow of the Spirit People of America, a local intertribal group.
With a gourd of burning sage, Meriel Deer Speaks Softly smudged everyone, cleansing each entrant in a bath of sweet smoke.

“We do that for blessing,” said Deer Speaks Softly. “I sage a person from head to toe, and even the bottom of their feet. When I do that, I am offering them a prayer for safe journey.”

For the last three years, the Spirit People of America have smudged before entering their sacred circle, where they dance, sing and tell stories on the first Saturday of every month. They used to gather on a wooded five acres in Trilby, until the owners, also tribe members, moved away this spring.

In search of a new home, the tribe had a gathering in March at Starkey Wilderness Park, gaining the attention of the Starkey family, who invited the tribe to the Flatwoods Adventures ranch in Odessa.

The tribe, which has about 40 active members, agreed to become part of the ranch’s educational program, teaching children, senior groups and other visitors about the indigenous people who originally inhabited the land.

On Sept. 22, the Spirit People saged at their new home, honoring a new gathering place with a three-day kickoff powwow. They talked about building a village and teaching people about their tribal culture, which draws heavily on Cherokee and Lakota tradition.

“We are all teachers, and we are also students by learning from our ancestors, from our elders,” said Rob Lambert, whose American Indian name is Buffalo Eagle, chief of the Spirit People of America. “This is the beginning, where the awareness and information can get out to many people in the communities and that we are also part of the community.”