For nearly 50 years, people have gathered on the Thursday and Friday of Thanksgiving on the Poarch Creek Indian Reservation near Atmore, Alabama, for the annual Poarch Creek Pow Wow. What started as a homecoming for friends and family has grown into an event that attracts hundreds of traditional dancers from across the U.S. and thousands of spectators who come to watch the colorful dance competitions and enjoy the traditional foods and crafts.

“We originally wanted to accomplish several things,” said Mallory C. Rolin, planning and events assistant with the Poarch Band of Creek Indians. “It was a gathering for the Tribal community, their families and friends, and it was to draw attention and recognition to the fact that there were—and are—still Native Americans in Alabama.”

The Poarch Band of Creek Indians is the only federally recognized Indian tribe in Alabama, operating as a sovereign nation with its own government. They are descendants of a segment of the original Creek Nation, which once covered almost all of Alabama and Georgia. Unlike many eastern Indian tribes, the Poarch Creeks were not removed from their tribal lands and for almost 200 years have lived in and around Poarch, Alabama.

The Pow Wow is a great way for the public to learn about Creek traditions, said Sharon Delmar, tribal liaison. “The living history demonstrators and dance exhibitors portray what a ‘modern day’ Native American, a Poarch Creek or Creek person in general, would have been like traditionally. The Pow Wow style of dancing is based upon the cultures of different tribes and practiced all across Native American country, not specifically Creek, traditionally.”

Important to the Pow Wow (and a delight to the spectators) are the small children who are obviously eager to follow in the footsteps of their elders while learning more about their own culture, much of which has been lost over the years. “As they grow, immersed in their traditions and cultures, they are taught to remain respectful and obedient, and to be well-rounded and well-mannered children into young adults. They are taught to not only dance for themselves, but for their friends, family, community, ancestors, future generations, and nation,” Delmar said.

Many Pow Wow dancers travel and compete in events across the country year around. “To these dancers, it’s not just an event, it’s a lifestyle,” Rolin said. “The dancers’ regalia directly reflects and represents the style of dance that the dancer is participating in. Dancers add their own twist and flair to help portray their personalities.” The Poarch Creek Pow Wow awards more than $75,000 in prizes in various categories of dance and drumming competition.

Proceeds from the event benefit the greater community, Delmar said. “The Tribe is very blessed and proud to be able to give back to various organizations such as schools, churches, and charities. Creek people have always been the type to help and care about the well-being of each other and their fellow man.”

The annual Poarch Creek Pow Wow is Thursday and Friday of Thanksgiving week. Visit www.poarchcreekindians-nsn.gov or “like” Poarch Creek Indian Annual Pow Wow on Facebook to learn more. The Poarch Creek Reservation is eight miles northwest of Atmore, Alabama, at I-65 exit 54.

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