Makayla Richardson's little feet roasted inside her moccasins yesterday.
The 4-year-old from Warrenton, N.C., was one of dozens outfitted in authentic Native American regalia -- designed especially for dancing -- in the sticky midday humidity at the Howard County Fairgrounds.
Although the temperature may have shortened some tempers, it wasn't enough to hold back Makayla and thousands of others from doing what they came to do: celebrate their heritage through the arts.
After all, Makayla, a Haliwa-Saponi tribe member, began dance classes nearly as soon as she was born, said her mother, Jacqueline Richardson, 30. Her repertoire includes the jingle, the traditional and the fancy-style dances. Her favorite is the dance of the butterfly, which is what she performed yesterday for spectators and merchants gathered around a circular patch of grass.
About 25 tribes were represented at the two-day Native American powwow. Among them were the Iroquois, Piscataway, Chickahominy, Rappahannock, Hopi, Aztec, Cherokee, Sioux, Lumbee and Navajo.
The Haliwa-Saponi tribe is based in Hollister, N.C., and has 3,800 members. For the past 12 years, members have helped organize this event, said Archie Lynch, the Haliwa-Saponi tribal administrator.
Powwows like the one this weekend provide a chance to entertain, educate and dispel stereotypes about Native Americans, Lynch said.
"We're not all the same," he said, referring to the various tribes. "We have a lot of things in common, but a lot of things are different, too."
For example, many people think that all Indians ride horses, Lynch said.
"They think that we all shoot bows and arrows and live in the woods," he said. "That's still out there, believe it or not."
There's also the myth that all the Native American tribes in the East were annihilated, Lynch said. "It's so far from the truth. A lot of the tribes just stopped fighting and started adapting to mainstream society. The tribes that refused to assimilate aren't here anymore."
Traditionally, a powwow was a chance for tribes to come together to dance, sing and trade goods such as animal skins, said Keith Colston, 32, of Baltimore, who was master of ceremonies yesterday.
"It was for sharing cultures, customs and ways," he said.
Over time, Native American tribes began trading such items as knives, salt and sugar with Europeans, Colston said.
Under the shade of tents yesterday, dozens of vendors offered everything from raccoon tails to buffalo stew. Jewelry items made of amber, deer bone and clay were for sale, as well as "dream catchers" of all sizes and colors. Legend has it that, hung over a baby's cradle, the decorated netlike dream catcher seizes a little one's bad dreams but lets through good dreams. When the sun comes up, the bad dreams disappear.
Elwood Tyler, 64, of Clinton, N.C., said sales of his handmade dancing staffs and other items were down, which he attributed to too many vendors. His staffs are made of wooden sticks with deer feet and horns or whole turtle shells, for example, attached at the ends.
Just how does he acquire those body parts?
"The hunters [where I live] bring me the deer horns and feet," he said. Referring to another vendor, he added, "Me and that guy there are the only ones who make our own stuff."
All eyes were on the dancers when they paraded into the grassy arena dressed in decorative feathers, porcupine quills, horsehair and leather. Dancers of all ages moved to the rhythms of a group of drummers seated under a line of tents.
"You have to listen to the drummers and concentrate," said Jacqueline Richardson. "Once the drums start picking it up, you pick it up. Once the drum stops, you stop."
Powwows such as this are "a way of life" for Colston and other Native Americans, he said. Colston, a member of the Tuscarora nation, said he works by day for the federal Head Start program. He wears his hair short except for a thick brown braid that hangs down his back. It is a cultural sign of strength, he said.
The powwow is "not a hobby," he said. "It's like going to church. You don't act up and cut up in the pulpit. Here, you don't do that. You're respectful."
"We'd be here regardless of whether the crowd was here or not," he said.