Follow the drumbeats, the hum of singing and the waft of food up to the Aquinnah Circle this weekend as the Wampanoag Tribe of Gay Head (Aquinnah) celebrates their 25th anniversary of federal recognition at their eight annual powwow.
Festivities take place Saturday and Sunday from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., with The Grand Entry, a procession of tribal members from across the New England area, starting at noon on Saturday.
The Vineyard tribe’s powwow marks the end of an extensive Southeastern Massachusetts powwow circuit, and historic preservation officer for the tribe Bettina Washington said the Aquinnah gathering is one of the more relaxed celebrations.
“We’re an old fashion powwow and non-competitive,” she said. “A lot of people go to powwows every weekend, but at this one you get to come and sit down, relax, dance for the joy of dancing, and be with people to share your culture.”
While the Vineyard powwow is one of the only gatherings without a dance contest, Ms. Washington promises there will be plenty of dancing.
Saturday begins with a demonstration by Thomas Fantasia on a hand drum, an increasingly popular competition instrument smaller than the traditional power drums used at powwows, and a display of other traditional instruments including the water drum.
A brief oral history of the Vineyard tribe’s origins will precede the Grand Entry, detailing “how we got here, this is how we came to Aquinnah, this is why the cliffs look they way they do and give people a sense of the area”, Ms. Washington said.
Members from the Pequot, Narraganset, Herring Pond Wampanoags and Mashpee Wampanoags tribes, including Chief Vernon “Silent Drum” Lopez of the Mashpee Wampanoags will attend.
“We’re very honored he’s coming,” Ms. Washington said.
Other special guests include a group of elders from the Pequot tribe and elders from Narraganset and Mashpee.
“We’re really looking forward to having all of the elders in one place,” Ms. Washington said.
Sunday will take a more somber tone as powwow participants honor tribal members who died in the previous year. A special memorial will be dedicated to Gladys Widdiss, a longtime tribal leader who chaired the tribe for nearly 10 years and died in June. It was during Mrs. Widdis’s tenure that the tribe won federal recognition. The Vineyard and Mashpee Wampanoag tribes are the only federally recognized tribes in the state.
“She was an instrumental member of the community,” said Ms. Washington.