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Cultures, traditions mix at pow wow

The 10th annual event includes dance performances, tours, displays and handmade arts and crafts.


© St. Petersburg Times, published May 12, 2001

[Times photo: Douglas R. Clifford]
Aztec dancer Xicoatl Arturo Vargas, 50, of Mexico City performs a fire dance Friday as an offering to the sun during a performance for the Mother's Day pow wow at Withlacoochee River State Park.
DADE CITY -- Nicholas Juanis, 6, wasn't afraid when Arturo Vargas slid the side of a knife across the boy's cheek.

"The knife was hot," Nicholas said afterward.

Nicholas and Sara Miller, 9, volunteered for the re-enactment of an ancient Aztec death dance Friday morning during the 10th annual Mother's Day Native American Pow Wow.

The ritual and a fire dance were part of the entertainment that Vargas and his Aztec dancers put on during the festivities at the Withlacoochee River Park in Dade City.

The pow wow is an exchange of cultures and traditions and a coming together of friends and families.

Special dance performances, tours of the Creek village and the Fort Dade replica, displays, handmade arts and crafts, American Indian food, Plains Indian tepees and grand entry and closing ceremonies are all part of the three-day celebration that began Friday.

People are encouraged to bring lawn chairs and spend the day. Primitive camping also is available.

Featured guests at the pow wow include Otto Mahsetky and the Lords of the Plains Drum; Debbie Deputy, who reigns as Head Lady; and William Cypress who reigns as the Head Man.

For the opening ceremonies, Bill Armstrong is serving as the master of ceremonies and Earl "Yona" Taylor and the All Nations Color Guard will carry the flags into the arena.

Custom leather apparel by Betty Denehy, known as Leather Betty, is one of the exhibits featured. Others include weaving by Sandra Lowery and artwork by Rex Begaye.

Fubar, a Florida cougar, and his trainer, Vince Lowe, are making an appearance. The West Wind Riders, a horseback drill team, will perform each morning.

Several busloads of children came Friday and were treated to Vargas and the Aztec dancers, from Mexico City.

Sara Miller said she was a little scared during the death dance, during which she lay on the ground while Vargas danced around her, but thought it was fun. "He tickled my stomach with his feathers," she said.

Vargas wore a tall headdress created with the pheasant feathers.

Later in the presentation, Vargas did a fire dance, putting out the fire with his feet. Tom Schipper and wolf hybrids from Wolf Song Animal Refuge are also at the pow wow. Schipper will answer questions about breeding, ownership and the special care of the animals.

"It takes a special person to own one of these animals," said Schipper. "They are not for everyone."

As the sun came up Friday morning, the two wolf hybrids woke campers with their howls.

"It was wonderful," said Pat Evans, a vendor from Hudson. "What a great way to welcome a new day."

Saturday night, after the dances conclude, an American Indian auction is scheduled.

Annette Fantasia of Altoona is donating one of her dream rags, worn on the head, that she made out of black glass beads, hand-dyed bone and pheasant feathers.

She and her husband are selling their dream catchers, creations made out of grapevines and other objects from nature including feathers, bones and sinew.

"Any art is open to interpretation, and dream catchers lend themselves to be interpreted," she said.

On Sunday at 1 p.m., Mahsetky will honor the mothers in attendance with a special song.

Proceeds from the three-day event will benefit the park and help maintain and add to the village.

The driving force behind the village and the pow wow for the past 10 years has been Trilby resident Mittie Wood.

This year will be her last.

"It's not that I want to quit and it's not that it is not a success," she said. "I just need time with my mama."

LeEstes Hamm, 78, will undergo her third surgery for cancer later this month and Wood says she needs to take care of her. She probably will take her mother home to Alabama when her mother is able to travel.

So for future pow wows, someone other than Wood will tell stories, lead the children in games and give tours of the village within the park.

"She's the backbone of the pow wow and the Mountain Man Rendezvous," said Sam Scarborough, a park ranger. "It will almost be like losing an arm when we lose her."

- Michelle Jones covers central Pasco community news. She can be reached at (813) 226-3459.

If you go

WHAT: Mother's Day Native American Pow Wow.

WHERE: Withlacoochee River Park, Dade City (take U.S. 301 to the County Road 98 truck route to River Drive, follow the pow wow signs to the park). (352) 521-3012.

WHEN: From 9 a.m. to 11 p.m. today and from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Sunday.

COST: $2 for adults; free for children younger than 12.

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