Teepee constructed to welcome native cultures

Chris (Comeswithclouds) White, of Bluemont, walks around a teepee he designed and constructed at Clermont Farm at the intersection of East Main Street and Va. 7 in Berryville. The teepee is being used to help advertise The Gathering, a festival that includes Kidz Harvest Fest, Harvest Dance and the Virginia Gourd Festival Oct. 30-Nov. 1. Rich Cooley/Daily

BERRYVILLE – Those headed into Berryville for the upcoming harvest and cultural festival The Gathering will be greeted by a 24-foot tall teepee that organizers finished setting up this week at a corner of Clermont Farm.

Chris (Comeswithclouds) White and Rene White (Feather) serve the Native American Church of Virginia as the CEO and president respectively. Through the nonprofit Sanctuary on the Trail, the Whites planned The Gathering as a celebration of Native American culture that will be held at the Clarke County Fairgrounds from Oct. 30 to Nov. 1.

The Whites decided to construct a teepee as a beacon for the event. Chris White said that because he is of the woodland Cherokee tribe, he sought out instruction for proper teepee construction from a Navajo man.

“We had talked about something that would be pan-Native American, that everybody would recognize by just the visual occurrence of it,” he said.

The first step was laying the structure through finding 13 straight trees and then stripping or “skinning” the trees with the assistance of engineer Patrick Skelley. White said the resulting poles symbolize the 12 tribes of Israel or the 12 disciples and the 13th, which lays the covering tarp, represents Jesus.

“Thirteen is an important number in Native American culture,” he said. “In a natural ear of corn there is 13 rows, on a turtle’s shell there are 13 scales, there are 13 moons in a year.”

Next, White patterned out the teepee tarp from materials he repurposed, knowing he would need to create a unique design that held the “vision of the owner.” He chose to cover the tarp with symbols of black, red, yellow and white people in line with the colors traditionally associated with compass directions, receiving painting help from other volunteers in the community.

The Whites said they hope to host an elder’s council meeting in the teepee with Dennis Banks. Banks, who helped to found the American Indian Movement, will serve as co-master of ceremonies at the event alongside historian and Smithsonian cultural specialist Dennis Zotigh.

Rene White said she’s anticipating anywhere from 5,000 to 10,000 attendees, judging from similar gatherings and powwows around the nation.

“There hasn’t been, from what I can tell, a lot of Native American ceremonial things happening here for a long time,” she said.

She said that representatives from all 11 tribes within Virginia will most likely be in attendance, along with four chiefs who have announced they will come. Other Native Americans may come in from as far away as Utah and New Mexico, making the harvest dance on Oct. 31 and Nov. 1 a pageant of inter-tribal dance and a non-competitive variation of typical powwows.

Any attendee can contribute an item for the Saturday evening fundraiser or donate $35 to The Gathering for a tribal map that depicts the continental U.S. before Columbus had reached the Americas.

“This map takes into account what tribes want to be called, and our goal is to get this map into every school in Virginia,” White said. “We have the opportunity now to create a new history.”

One of the objectives listed on the event’s website is to increase emphasis on Native American history topics within the SOLs. White said the festival will give insight into current Native American culture and contributions rather than constantly thinking of Native Americans in the past tense. So far, White said she has around 150 students signed up for children’s programs – mostly private school and home-schooled students.

“We can help teachers and students supplement what they’re being taught in school,” she said. “They can actually see a teepee, meet an Indian person; not just read about one.”

Many vendors and classes at The Gathering will focus on using gourds as natural resources for multiple functions. Native American tribes would use gourds as food, medicine, instruments, containers and as part of prayer sticks.

White said she hopes The Gathering can continue to provide opportunities to reconnect with the land and increase Native American visibility in the years to come.

“It’s been like wildfire in that people have caught the spirit of The Gathering,” she said.

Learn more about the Native American Church at http://tinyurl.com/q9nk9vj and The Gathering at http://tinyurl.com/o3ekra7.

IF YOU GO: Oct. 30 through Nov. 1 at Clarke County Fairgrounds in Berryville. Tickets are $5, available in advance at various locations listed on http://tinyurl.com/pn2sehs. Contact info4TheGathering@gmail.com.

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