When the first European settlers landed in Maryland, the area of Howard County was a no-man's-land for Native Americans, a buffer zone for warring tribes, archaeologists at the Maryland State Office of Archaeology theorize.
The area has remained devoid of resident Indian tribes since then, but this weekend marks the third year that Indians from across the United States and Canada will converge on the Howard County Fairgrounds in West Friendship for their annual Howard County Powwow.
The powwow begins this afternoon with more than 100 Indian dancers in native regalia parading around the arena. The dance exhibitions, contests and storytelling will continue through Sunday. And this year, one of the models and consultants for Walt Disney's Pocahontas, Shirley "Little Dove" Custalow, a Mattaponi from Virginia, will talk about the movie and the life and times of Pocahontas.
The absence of Indian tribes in Howard County is why Barry Richardson, president of Pow-wow Inc., chose to set up camp here.
"I like to go to places where people don't know a lot about Indian people," said Mr. Richardson of North Carolina, a member of the Haliwa-Saponi tribe. "That's why I like doing this in Howard County. And people there are real receptive to different ideas and different cultures."
Powwows are a time for Native Americans to gather and learn about each other's cultures, said Natalie Proctor, director of the Maryland Indian Heritage Society and member of one of Maryland's few remaining indigenous tribes, the Piscataway.
Many different Indian organizations sponsor powwows throughout the year all over the United States. Mr. Richardson's organization sponsors about 12 a year along the East Coast. Some Native Americans spend weekends on the "Powwow Trail," hitting major powwows in New York, Washington, Maryland, North Carolina and California.
The gatherings also are open to the public to help end stereotypes concerning Indians, Ms. Proctor said. "We don't all look alike. We don't all live in tepees. We don't all wear war bonnets. There's so many things you're taught in school that are wrong. It's just not true of us."
So while Western Plains Indians are competing with North Carolina and Maryland Indians for $7,500 in prize money in various events, non-Indians can sample buffalo burgers, buffalo stew, Navajo tacos and Indian fry bread, and listen to stories like those of legend-weaver Kat Littleturtle.
She and her husband, Ray, travel the powwow trail spreading Indian culture. "The powwow is very much a way to touch the heartbeat of the Indian culture that is not Hollywood," she said.
"[Non-Indians] come to a powwow and they see Indians dancing, and it gives them a touch of the spirit. The beat of the drum never changes. It can give them a sense of what it was like 500 years ago."
Powwow times are 4 p.m. to 9 p.m. today, 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. Saturday, and 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. Sunday. Admission is $7 for adults and $4 for children and seniors.
Proceeds from this event will be reinvested into sponsoring future powwows by Pow-wow Inc.