Richmond Powwow to remember the lost, forgotten

·5 min read

Sep. 22—Blake Vickers

The Richmond Powwow returns for its 28th year this weekend.

This year the powwow will be absent a very special guest.

Larry Sellers — an Osage, Cherokee, and Lakota ceremonial leader and actor who played an important role in the celebration — passed away last December.

Along with paying tribute to a lost friend, the Powwow will also take time to memorialize missing and murdered indigenous women as well as Native American children who never returned from boarding school.

Sellers played the role of Cloud Dancing on "Dr. Quinn, Medicine Woman."

Richmond Powwow Vice Chair Janet Quigg said the powwow will pay tribute to Sellers this weekend.

"It's going to be a little heartbreaking this year without his presence," Quigg said. "We will have, with his family's permission, an empty chair at the powwow with his native blanket and picture displayed."

Quigg said Sellers had a great impact on her.

"He has been an instrumental figure in my life... I'm so grateful for him... We will go on and we will do it. His motto was 'one heart, one mind.' We will try to keep our ego in check and remember who we are as a people and I think that is what's going to get us through," Quigg said.

Sellers attended the Richmond Powwow for seven years. In an interview with the Register last year, Sellers spoke about the importance of kindness and his own cultural sensibilities.

"I speak about traditional values and culture and how to incorporate that into modern life... Something we have lost in America, especially in politics, is simple human kindness," Sellers said. "Our sense of responsibility is different than a lot of the Euro-Christian sense of responsibility, which centers around power and control. With us, it is just something you do for the whole. Each individual has a responsibility to live their life as a good human being."

In a 2016 study, the National Crime Information Center reported there were 5,712 reports of missing American Indian and Native Alaskan women and girls. According to that study, the US Department of Justice only listed 116 cases.

"One thing I want to emphasize too, is we are going to be focusing on the missing and murdered women on the reservations. Our t-shirts depict this as well. We're going to have a speaker on this on Sunday morning. She is going to be going into detail on how difficult this is for these women to be missing and murdered or the culprits never prosecuted. It's happening today," Quigg said.

Starting in 1860, over 400 Native American Boarding Schools spanned across 37 states. According to the Indigenous Foundation, they housed over 60,000 native children. The schools were established by the Bureau of Indian Affairs.

Attendance at the schools was mandatory for the children, with or without consent. They would be given Anglo-American names and new clothing, kerosene baths, and new haircuts. They were also converted to Christianity in efforts to assimilate them into American society. No matter how proficient they were in speaking it, the children at their boarding schools were also forced to speak English.

In April, a federal report from the Interior Department revealed that over 500 students died while in attendance at the boarding schools. That number is expected to grow.

In tribute to those lost, there will be an image of a moccasin on the back of this year's powwow t-shirts. Quigg said it will be symbolic of the children that never came home from the boarding schools.

"There were many. We're also going to be talking about that on Sunday morning. They're probably wont be a dry eye when it's over. This happened, and we want the public to hear this and understand that this went on. I know the boarding schools was a long time ago, but it happened and it impacted many families. How would you like for your child to be took to this boarding school, have their hair cut and never speak their own language. It was totally trying to erase the Native American and transform him into a white individual," Quigg said.

On Friday, the powwow will host several schools and many homeschool children will visit as part of School Day. Speaking of schools, the powwow will also see the return of an original partner.

"We're going to have the children help erect a teepee and there is going to be Cherokee Marbles (a billiard style game created by the tribe) introduced this time. Eastern Kentucky University (EKU) has come back into the fold. They were with us when we began the event in 1994. They are coming back and helping us again, which we are very grateful for," Quigg said.

Despite how somber this year's powwow will be in theme, Quigg assured that it will be an uplifting celebration.

There will be authentic Native American crafts like turquoise jewelry and beading. There will also be authentic Native American fry bread available for attendees. A petting zoo will also be present.

"There will be some laughter. We will have a candy dance for the kids. We may have a broom dance, we will have grand entry... We're tying to build a community, instead of being divisive, we will come together to make this world a better place," Quigg said. "If you've never been to this event, come and get out of your comfort zone. Maybe just see a Native American.. See what it's like to walk in our shoes. They've had tragedies and struggles, and they have earned their right in history. We need to acknowledge that right. They've been through enough... This is a traditional powwow. This is a homecoming."

Anthem Medicaid is the primary sponsor of the event. Members of the Cherokee and Piqua Shawnee nations will be taking part in the powwow, as well.

Admission price for event is $5 for adults and $2 for children. The celebration is held at Battlefield Park.