tampabay.com

In the spirit of fun, education

By EBONY WINDOM
Published May 3, 2007


Sheryll Kremer had always heard tales about her Cherokee ancestors. Her mother had traced family roots back about a century to a union between a Cherokee woman and German man in rural South Carolina.

Kremer, 51, says she's always been proud of her American Indian heritage.

So, in January, when Kremer learned about a historical lecture hosted by an American Indian group known as Spirit People, she decided to take part.

It changed her life, she says.

Kremer started attending the group's monthly meetings. In January, she became a member.

"This feels like family, " Kremer said, referring to the Spirit People. "It's a spiritual way of living. It touches my soul. It completes me."

Kremer is looking forward to her first big event with the group - a three-day spring powwow starting Friday.

The event could draw nearly 3, 000 people to the J.B. Starkey Ranch in Trinity, just north of the Pinellas-Pasco county line. Previous powwows have drawn participants from Pinellas as well as from other parts of the bay area and beyond.

"We have quite a few members who live in Largo as well as St. Petersburg, " says Clearwater's Pam "Waterbird" Davison, 46, the group's spiritual adviser. "We actually have quite a few members who live in Pinellas County."

Spirit People is an eclectic mix of folks from various American Indian tribes who gather monthly for praying, singing and drumming.

It formed about five years ago with a handful of people. At first they would meet at a member's home on a horse ranch in Trilby. The group grew quickly and relocated to a patch of forest at J.B. Starkey Ranch. More than 100 people show up each month for meetings.

For Spirit People, sanctuary is the great outdoors, nestled among towering pines and sprawling oaks. Their choir is the squawk of cranes, herons and eagles.

The land on which they gather is a sacred space, because the ground is blessed beforehand, Davison says.

Many Spirit People members are not full-blooded American Indians. Davison is part Cherokee, Creek and Choctaw. She was raised Southern Baptist but as an adult "decided to follow the traditions of my people, " Davison says.

Now, she can speak a bit of Cherokee and is married to the group's chief, Robert Lambert, who is known as Buffalo Eagle.

Some members are not at all American Indian by blood, Davison points out. But "all who come in a good way are welcome."

Organizers say last fall's powwow drew about 3, 000 people. And the big spring event is creating a buzz among Indian circles in the Southeast and beyond, Davison says. Visitors are expected from as far away as Canada.

"A powwow is kind of like a family reunion, " Davison said. "We all get together to sing, dance, drum. We honor our great spirits, mother earth. We honor our veterans, our children and our elders."

The gathering is meant to create a peaceful space where "there's no prejudice. Everyone is there to have a good time, " said Justin "Healing Water" Lamert, Davison's stepson, who plans to fly in from Canada for the event.

As with the lectures Spirit People offer to churches, schools and organizations, the group hopes to use this powwow as a way to educate others about American Indian heritage.

Participants can get a feel for traditions as Spirit People transform part of Starkey Ranch into a 1700's Indian village, complete with teepees. Folks will demonstrate how to create hand-woven baskets and beaded jewelry. Others will string together leather for moccasins and medicine bags.

Folks can sample American Indian fare such as fry bread, Indian tacos, and buffalo and venison stew.

Dancers dressed in brilliantly colored, beaded and feathered regalia will take part in the highlight of the event, the grand entry.

New member Kremer is anxious about the event, her first. She'll be taking several days off from her nursing job to attend. And she plans to pitch a tent and camp out on-site so she doesn't miss a minute of the powwow.

IF YOU GO

Three-day event

Spirit People of America will host a three-day powwow starting Friday. The event is free to the public. Parking costs $5. Proceeds will benefit J.B. Starkey Ranch and Spirit People of America. Alcohol and weapons are not allowed. For information, visit www.spiritpeople.org or call Pam Davison at (727) 773-2161.