Hands-on cultural learning a hit at The Gathering

Elizabeth Dreamerwings Ortiz, of Edinburg, leads a group of students in the snake dance during The Gathering, a Native American festival at the Clarke County Fairgrounds, on Friday morning in Berryville. The festival continues this weekend. Rich Cooley/Daily

BERRYVILLE – After sitting and watching dancer demonstrations at The Gathering, kids jumped at the chance to join the circle to the steady tattoo of drums and chanting.

The multi-faceted harvest festival and cultural celebration held a kid’s day at the Clarke County Fairgrounds on Friday with special programs to give children a hands-on education about the cultures and traditions of Native Americans both past and present.

Chris (Comeswithclouds) White and Rene White (Feather), of Bluemont, organized the event through their nonprofit church Sanctuary on the Trail. Dennis Banks and Dennis Zotigh serve as co-masters of ceremony for the event and Andrew Tyler serves as master of ceremony for the kid’s festival.

Second and third grade students from Powhatan School in Boyce came on a field trip to learn from living history demonstrators at the event and experience different facets of native cultures. Rene White said other private school and home-schooled students had expressed interest in attending the event.

Elizabeth Dreamerwings Ortiz and Penny Stone danced for the children gathered on Friday and invited them to share in their dance. The two visit schools and powwows as part of Dreamer Life Wings Ministries to demonstrate and teach.

Jimmy Thunder, of Crewe, hits his drum during the Gathering Festival on Friday morning at the Clarke County Fairgrounds in Berryviille. Rich Cooley/Daily

Together with Tyler and the drummers, Ortiz and Stone spoke with kids about the drumming, dancing and meanings behind both. Children even got to listen to an impromptu drumming tribute to “Mighty Mouse.”

Ortiz, who lives in Edinburg, said she’d be glad to see The Gathering bring Native American events and education back to the area after a similar event near New Market ceased.

“Just to see an American Indian, let alone to watch them dance and interact with them … a lot of powwows are very very large and the kids sometimes don’t get to do the one-on-one personalization with the dancers,” she said.

“You can read anything in a book, but to experience it says a thousand words,” Stone said.

Rose Powhatan, an educator and co-founder of the Powhatan Museum in D.C., spoke to groups of children about the Pamunkey tribe of Virginia from which she is descended. After greeting them in Algonquian, she explained the cultural facets of native Virginians both past and present.

Jason Druvenak, president of North American Bushcraft School in Hedgesville, West Virginia, demonstrates the art of primitive fire making to a group of youngsters during The Gathering on Friday at the Clarke County Fairgrounds in Berryville. Rich Cooley/Daily

“I try to give them an overview of the language, the fact that we’re God-centered people, what ‘attan-akamik’ means – which means our fertile country, giving thanks to God for making things and nature to support life,” she said.

Powhatan said it’s easy to draw parallels between Native American concepts and commonplace modern things and phenomena, likening the use of a microphone to the talking stick.

“I try to tie in things like culture and tradition with the now because all too often, people expect us stereotypically to look and act exactly the way our ancestors did 400 or 300 years ago,” she said.

Oritz also said that visibility and understanding in the modern age is a vital component to The Gathering’s mission.

“The goal of the entire elder group is awareness to not just our cultures, but awareness as in that it’s here – we’re not just a relic, we’re not an artifact sitting in a museum,” she said.


• 9 a.m. to 7 p.m. Saturday and 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. Sunday at Clarke County Fairgrounds in Berryville.

• Tickets are $5.

• Contact info4TheGathering@gmail.com.

Contact staff writer Rachel Mahoney at 540-465-5137 ext. 164, or rmahoney@nvdaily.com