At Cypress powwow, Native Americans connect with their roots
When J.R. Lonelodge dances in his traditional Arapaho and Cheyenne regalia, he carries the power of the buffalo and the weight of his tribes with him.
The fur around his ankles, representing the strength of the four-legged creature, and the bells around his knees, meant to intimidate opposing warriors, decorate the elaborate costume that bounced in streaks of neon yellow and blue as Lonelodge performed war dances Sunday during the Texas Championship Pow Wow in Cypress.
For the second time this month, the 6-foot-2 Houstonian donned his regalia for a powwow — he was in Winnipeg, Canada, last week. They were among the many opportunities Lonelodge, 31, has taken to celebrate the centuries-old traditions of his ancestors, which are unfamiliar to most Americans.
But while a circuit of North American powwows and a close-knit community, spurred in part by Internet forums like www.powwows.com, have made some Native Americans more involved in their traditions, others in the scattered community are distant and assimilated into American popular culture.
Events like the two-day powwow at Traders Village serve to strengthen the connection between Native Americans and the traditions of their ancestors, said Deanna Bates, 53, of Houston.
Bates, a descendent of the Sac & Fox and Caddo tribes of Oklahoma, said she came to dance at the event to "keep our heritage alive" for future generations.
"To be honest with you, most people don't think Indians exist anymore," Bates said. "And when I say 'Indian' they think I'm from Pakistan or something."
0.8% of U.S. population
About 0.8 percent of Americans identified themselves as American Indian or Alaskan Native in the 2000 Census, the highest percentage ever recorded, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. And about 119,000 Native Americans live in Texas, about 0.5 percent of the state population, also the highest figure on record.
While population figures have grown, many who identify as Native Americans are likely of mixed backgrounds and are not as connected with their traditions as their parents or grandparents, said attendees who hoped the rituals on display would be preserved.
"It needs to be carried on to our grandkids, and hopefully their kids will keep it up," said Robert Crooks, 62, of the Choctaw-Apache tribe.
Crooks, of Crosby, attended his first powwow 20 years ago and brought his 13-year-old granddaughter to the event Sunday.
The two were among the more than 100 dancers who participated in the competition, although they had planned to come as spectators, Crooks said.
The deep, persistent drum beat from the center of the powwow arena tugged too strongly at Crooks' heart to keep him off his feet and out of his traditional headdress, which he wore Sunday as he danced around the arena.
Six men sitting around a 26-inch drum set the cadence, beating as dancers tapped their feet and bounced around the arena to the wavering song from the musical group.
The beat of the drum, which represents a connection between nature and humanity, holds special significance, Crooks said.
"When the drum starts beating it empowers you," he said.
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