St. Pete DNA a Big Success
By Peter B. Gallagher
ST. PETERSBURG - Hundreds of American Indian dancers, drummers, performers and artisans gathered at Vinoy Park, on the shores of beautiful Tampa Bay, the last weekend in January, to take part in Discover Native America 1996 -- largest gathering of American Indians in these parts since illmannered explorer Panfdo de Narvaez landed here in the 16th century.
A crowd upwards of 25,000 children, adults and seniors visited the site over the four days of festival and powwow to view a stunning display of American Indian arts and crafts as well as the music and dance performances. "It was a very successfid event," said Chairman James E. Bilk of the Seminole Tribe of Florida, cosponsor of the event with the City of St. Petersburg. "It was very satisfying to show all the `wannabees' in the area what the real Indians look and act like."
The Chairman was referring to a questionable population of self-proclaimed Indian activists who call the Tampa Bay area home. They take part in American Indian-styled discussions and protests and often contract with school systems and historical societies for paid programs that are considered fraudulent by federally recognized American Indian tribes. "You can always tell who they are, by the way they talk and act. They think they are getting away with it, but they forget we can smell a skunk when he walks by," said Billie, who is one of the `wannabee's, favorite targets due to his refusal to recognize these "Indians" and their causes.
In fact, the group's constant harassment of a Columbus statue near the Vmoy Park site was cause for some worry by City officials: "You don't expect saydaing to happen to the statue during this event, do you?" worried Harry Rosenthal, the City's "Risk Management" expert. The Tribe was required to take out $2 million wostli of liability insurance for this event, a policy dutifully ordered up by Personnel's Vernon Tiger in Hollywood.
"The City of St. Petersburg was a great partner in this event. I was surprised. We've had these DNA events in other towns, but they never seemed to catch on like this one did here," said Billie, who performed with his band several times over the four-day show. "St. Petersburg is a class town. The American Indians were treated very well here. I don't think there was any trouble reported whatsoever."
Well, Seminole Ronnie Billie was cited by police for possessing a bear claw from a threatened species. The Chairman also gave praise to B. J. Whitecloud, the Seminole Tribal member who produced the show. "It was her first time doing something like this and I think she made it through fine," said the Chief (who is also her father). "She asked me to do it and I said go ahead, but I was ready to pull the plug at any time. I thought this might be the last one, but we'd like to do it in St. Pete next year if they will have us back."
The Chairman said he will write a letter to David Fischer, Mayor of St. Petersburg to both thank the City and explore the possibility of a second DNA show in January of 1997. Fischer, and the City Council, passed a resolution praising the Seminole Tribe and welcoming the American Indians to town.
More than 200 Tribes (including Canada, Peru and Mexico) were represented at the Powwow, said Whitecloud, who brought in a troupe of dancers to appear in several local events to "drum" up-publicity for the powwow, prior to the event. The dancers appeared several times at the St. Petersburg Pier, took part in the Martin Luther King Candlelight celebration at the Bayfront Center Mahaffey Theatre, appeared before the Southside Fundamental Middle School assembly and at a local Pizza Hut, among other appearances. "I think we got a lot of exposure," said Whitecloud, who along with powwow director Wanda McCall, put up the performers at their houses in Hollywood. "We were in and out of our dancing clothes for two weeks."
The weatherman cooperated with the Sit. ,Petersburg DNA event, putting slightly chilly temperatures with mostly sunny skies on Saturday and Sunday, the two largest days of attendance. Impressed with his first powwow was singer/songwriter John Hartford, who gave a sunset concert on Saturday: "Man, I neatly like that drum. Those guys can really sing. I went up there and checked it out and I was surprised all those guys are singing the exact same thing. It's a haunting feeling standing right there in the middle of it all."
'Among the favorites were the fabulous Aztec Fire Dancers, from Mexico City and the mysterious Apache Crown Dancers. Both groups did their unusual acts to the roar of the appreciative crowd, several. times. The Wild Wayno Peruvian Folk orchestra, from Peru, was a crowd favorite from their impromptu setup near the DNA Marketplace vendor area. And, as usual, gator wrestler Richard Bowers drew a huge audience each time he demonstrated his prowess with the scaly monster. Color guard Steven Bowers, Mitchell Cypress, Jacob Storm and Paul Bowers, Sr. were on duty the entire weekend.
Fiddlm' Erik Hokkanen from Austin, Texas was joined by crusty newcomer Raiford Starke for several shows on both the Main Powwow and smaller Performance Stages. Both joined Chief Jim Billie, Miccosukee Lee Tiger and Panama Ron Huff for their sets on the big Seminole Tribe of Florida stage. Flutist 'Will Pluimmer of Cherokee opened the program each morning with his melodic woodwind chants.
Powwow Director Wanda McCall offered special thanks for the hard work of the head staff: Arena Directors Terry Fiddler (Eagle Butte, S.D.) and Delbert Wapass (Thunderchild, Saskatchewan, Canada), Arena Directors Dale Old Horn (Crow Agency, Montana) and Eric Tootoosis (Poundmaker, Saskatchewan, Canada).