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The Dartmouth
June 16, 2024 | Latest Issue
The Dartmouth

'First Things First' celebrates Native American culture

Anyone looking forward to the 25th Annual Pow Wow this weekend will want to attend the Native American story-telling, dance and music performance at the Hopkins Center for the Arts this Friday night at 7 p.m. at "First Things First: Native American Storytellers of New England."

The performance will carry on the oral tradition of New England Native Americans by alternating traditional myths and stories with more modern narratives.

Included in the performance are artists relating the creation stories and other fables from various peoples such as the Passamaquody, Abenaki, Penobscot and Narragansett. They will also relate their personal stories of contemporary native experience. These stories are connected through traditional dances, chants and music, featuring hoop drums and rattles.

Artists Wolfsong, Jesse Bruchac, John Bear Mitchell, Paulla Dove Jennings and Anne Wood come from different states and backgrounds, but share the inspiration underlying the spirit of the event.

During the 17th Century, Kluskap, the Algonquin culture-hero, protested to the English king about the English settlers' destruction of Algonquin lands. He felt that if both settlers and Natives could listen to each other's histories, they could start to resolve their differences and act in union. "First things first," he said.

"First we must try to talk and explain." But, instead of listening, the king sent Kluskap away and continued to destroy forests and rivers. By citing this story, the group suggests that the time for mutual understanding has come and encourages people of all cultures to discuss their experiences. Like Kluskap, First Things First hopes to present a knowledge of Native American culture which will promote tolerance.

This knowledge is easily accessible as entertainment. Wolfsong and Bruchac are both Vermont natives and descendants of the Abenaki people and are renowned for their storytelling. Wolfsong has dedicated himself to storytelling since 1992 and has performed at the Hudson River Revival and the Northern Appalachian Storytelling Festival.

In addition to winning first place in the Native American Storytelling competition at the Indian Summer Festival, Jesse Bruchac has also performed traditional Abenaki music in concert with The Grateful Dead and Bob Dylan. He plays the flute and the hand-drum with his family in the DawnLand Singers.

Each of the artists is well-respected in his field. John Bear Mitchell is descended from two centuries of storytellers and has recorded for Storytime Theater and the Arts and Entertainment Cable Network. Jennings has performed at Brown University and the Carnegie Institute and is currently the curator of the Tomaquog Indian Museum.

The dance aspect is performed mainly by Wood, who gives a repertoire in the Penobscot tradition. Her talents are especially featured in the Eagle Dance, which was traditionally performed by men. Throughout the twentieth century, women of Wood's family have been performing the dance, and she has inherited it as part of her individual family tradition.

Each artist brings a personal history of experience, lessons of family tradition and the beauties unique to his heritage to the celebration.

The performance will be held in Alumni Hall, -- tickets for "First Things First" are $3.50 for Dartmouth students and $7.50 for the public. This fee includes a discussion following the performance, led by Dillon Bustin, the group's curator.