As part of Native American Heritage Month celebrations, Cumberland County Schools is hosting its first Exhibition Pow Wow for both Native and non-Native students.
It's open only to students, but Thursday’s exhibition will feature multiple styles of traditional dancing, flute music, storytelling and a hoop dancer to showcase cultures represented by CCS students from different Native American tribes, including the Lumbee, Coharie, Choctaw Nation of Oklahoma, Navajo Nation and Great Sioux Nation.
The powwow is a part of CCS’ grant-funded Indian Education, a federal program that supports Indigenous students in their education and connects them to resources including attendance monitoring, academic enrichment and financial assistance with college applications and exams.
“It's very exciting to just be able to give this opportunity, not only to my Native American students, but to just students in general to see that there are several ways that we can share and teach our culture on a mass scale,” said Candace Rebels, CCS’ Indian Education program coordinator.
Rebels is also a citizen of the Lumbee Tribe of North Carolina, the largest tribe in the state and east of the Mississippi River, with more than 54,000 members, according to 2020 U.S. census data. North Carolina has eight tribes, seven of which are recognized by the state, and one which is fully federally recognized. Cumberland County is home to over 5,500 Indigenous people who hail from different tribes; 1,100 of them are students at CCS, according to the Indian Education program.
“It's important for Cumberland County students to understand who their peers are and who the students are that they are sitting next to in class, because a lot of students don't know that there's Native Americans in their class,” Rebels said.
The idea for the event came forward after the small Indian Education staff of eight struggled to keep up with the number of requests from schools to integrate smaller exhibitions and demonstrations of Indigenous cultures as part of the curriculum.
“Fourth grade … curriculum focuses on Native Americans and within North Carolina,” Rebels said. “So we wanted to showcase the rich history that North Carolina has for Native Americans across the state.”
As part of the exhibition, CCS students of all ages will be given the opportunity to participate in the powwow. Kenly McLaurin, a 15-year-old Lumbee citizen, is one of those students.
McLaurin is a sophomore at Cape Fear High School and will perform in the exhibition as a jingle dancer, a form of traditional dancing that features regalia worn by the performer intended to make noise, or jingle, through movement.
“I'm very excited because I've always loved expressing my culture, and especially to those that may not know as much as I do,” she said.
McLaurin has been dancing with the Cumberland County Culture Class, a weekly program that aims to teach Indigenous people about their cultures, for five years after her mom pushed her to become more involved in their culture.
“I will continue performing as long as I can because my main goal in life is to continue thriving in my Native culture and continue advocating for my Native culture for as long as I can,” McLaurin said.
Other community members from the culture class will be performing alongside students.
McLaurin said she wants to show the 3,500 students expected at the event Thursday that her culture is still alive and well, and not something that only existed in the past.
“We're humans just like everyone else, but we still carry on the traditions and beliefs in our culture as well,” McLaurin said.
The event will take place Thursday morning at the Crown Complex.
Contact Char Morrison at email@example.com.