I met Jerry Strong Heart this past weekend at the Teaching Our Traditions powwow sponsored by the All Nations Veterans Council. I’ve been attending Powwows now in one form or another for my entire adult life, but that’s a story for another time. I try to attend several a year, but I’ve slipped the past few years. The last one was a couple years ago in Virginia. Saturday was a beautiful day and powwow perfect – not cold, not raining and not beastly hot. It also wasn’t packed, which probably had something to do with the $11 admission fee to the park where the powwow was held, plus the $5 powwow admission fee and the challenge of finding the location down dirt backroads. But it’s difficult to find a place to hold something as large as a powwow with hundreds of people, or more, attending.
I arrived on Saturday, a little late, but just in time for Grand Entry.
Grand Entry is a very solemn occasion, honoring veterans and those currently serving in the military, those who have gone before and fallen, our ancestors, and just about anything you can honor in the Native community and lifeways. Generally only veterans dance in the Grand Entry, and the dancing is quite subdued and somber relative to the dancing later which is often quite animated. At this powwow, there was one female veteran dancing as well. That has been a relatively new phenomenon in the past few years, but there are more and more female veterans and I’m glad to see them being recognized.
This is where I first spotted Jerry Strong Heart. Jerry was a little late to the dance too, as he was probably busy in his booth, so he’s not in the photo. Jerry was different than everyone else. After the main group had passed, Jerry’s wiry little frame could be seen running up to join the end of the procession. He entered the dance circle and sort of danced like a spring, joyfully in his purple t-shirt, bouncing from place to place. I so wish I had a picture of Jerry’s joyful, spirited dancing, but I was simply enjoying the moment, as, it appears, was Jerry. Jerry is a veteran, in case you were wondering, and quite proud of it. At powwows, everyone thanks veterans for their service.
Other than the dancing and the drum, which were absolutely wonderful, for me, an integral part of the powwow is the interaction with other Native descendants.
At some powwows, only tribally enrolled people are allowed to participate as dancers or as vendors, which often served to create two classes of people. This powwow is more inclusive than exclusive and encourages those of mixed heritage to participate. After all, you still carry Native ancestry whether you’re tribally enrolled or not and those wishing to honor that heritage are welcomed.
I met two extremely interesting people among the vendors, and I’d like to share a little about both of them with you. Today’s blog will be about Jerry Strong Heart.
Jerry is a rock man and a storyteller. But that’s not what I noticed first about Jerry or his booth. It was this sign.
Now this is an amazing sign to see, especially that last part. The next thing I noticed was a children’s “box” on Jerry’s table that said “Adults Not Allowed” and “Adults, Do Not Touch.” Kids can play in that box and purchase anything out of it, 3 for $1. Kids love it. Jerry says there are so many things kids can’t touch and can’t do, so he wanted something just for them.
I knew Jerry was different and I liked him immediately. Plus, I’m a rock person too and any genealogist is also the family storyteller, or tends to be. I sat and visited with Jerry for awhile and we discovered we also share Micmac ancestry, so we are likely related at some distant point in time. Jerry is also Mohawk.
While I was talking to Jerry, the Intertribal dance began. Not having any regalia with me, that is the only dance I could participate in. Intertribal dances are designed to be inclusive, for people who want to dance for the spiritual aspects, not competitively, for those who aren’t “dressed for the occasion” and to introduce children to dancing. Again, very inclusive. When I was in Virginia last year at their powwow, they specifically said they were not having any intertribal dances.
So I asked Jerry if I could leave all my belongings with him in the booth, including my purse, and of course, he said yes. We put my things under the table with his little doggie and off I went, without a second thought. Where else in this day and age could you do that?
After the dance, I returned to find Jerry deeply engrossed in a discussion with someone about the rocks and minerals he has for sale. His “grandson in spirit” was sitting busily beading and the breeze was blowing gently. We three sat and ate kettle corn together and visited before I bought a miniature Iroquois basket from the 1930s or 1940s and a rock, of course. Jerry tells me the rock is Amazonite although the color is quite unusual.
Jerry is a storyteller, and I have included a story written by Jerry and only edited slightly:) I have substituted a phrase for a proper body part name in order to keep the story family friendly.
For those who don’t know, traditionally, only males can play or even touch the drum at powwows and Native celebrations although that has been slowing changing for the last 20 years or so, but very slowly so. Jerry doesn’t just look and think outside the box, he lives outside the box. Here is Jerry’s story.
A Story of the Drum~*~
I was at a powwow up in Maine with my Uncle John/John a Mickmac Elder Council member~*~We met two Women on friday night~*~and made friends~*~Sat morning i walked over to the Grand Father Drum~*~one of the women was standing there~*~I walked up to her and said what’s happening; cause she had a long face~*~She said Jerry I need a male body part - they won’t let me play the drum without one~*~A very natural statement came out of me~*~I said oh, be careful what you pray for you might get it* Nothing in my life caused me more trouble than my male body part Barr None~*~I will loan you mine but I don*t recommend it~*~We had this Tribal laugh~*~I just spoke to her need without thinking~*~I took her over to Uncle John and said; Uncle the powers that be will not let this woman play the drum without a male body part~*~ Will you loan her yours~*~ Another huge laugh happened~*~John took her over to the drum, used his Influence and she played the drum~*~When I went back the next year there was an all woman’s drum~*~Now those women are playing the Drum all over the country in an all woman’s drum~*~Tragedy into comedy broke down a wall~*~That old Patriarchal BS is breaking down~*~ When the Heart Leads; The Love Happens…
And that is how our traditions and cultures change and evolve, one person at a time.
Jerry is a kind and gentle spirit, blowing in life from place to place where the wind and a whim takes him, living in the moment. I hope to see him again someday and hear more of his stories, but in the meantime, he can be found at Facebook under the name Jerry Strong Heart, of course.