Unlike DC, pride, respect and camaraderie on full display at Abenaki Powwow

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Tribal elders share a dance in the ring on Saturday during the New Hampshire Abenaki Powwow at Mi-Te-Jo Campground in Milton. The powwow continues today with another grand entry at noon. (Rochester Voice photos)

MILTON - On a day that ended one of the most divisive, ugly episodes in recent American politics, many Native Americans at this weekend's Abenaki New Hampshire Powwow in Milton see their country's leaders lacking something their culture holds sacred: respect.

Hundreds of Native Americans from all over New England and New York gathered at the Mi-Te-Jo Campground on Saturday as they have for 22 years to celebrate their extended family, their heritage and their culture.

As tribe elders, leaders and parade dignitaries prepared to enter the center ring during the Grand Entry on Saturday, one by one they gently waved aromatic sage smoke into their faces in a purification ritual.

Cliff Williams, left, of Mohawk heritage, and Don Hilt, an Abenaki, share a moment during Saturday's New Hampshire Abenaki Powwow at Mi-Te-Jo Campground in Milton.

Then, to the pulsating of multiple drums and chanting of young braves, they moved clockwise around the ring in a methodic, synchronized dance.

Among the first to enter was Lance Sleeper of Tilton, a proud member of the Pentacook Tribe. Sleeper, whose tribe is affiliated with the Abenaki, called the confirmation process of now-Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh "a circus."

"What an embarrassment," Sleeper said of the back-to-back televised hearings of Kavanaugh and his accuser of sexual misconduct, Christine Blasey Ford. "He had never been accused of this before, and to have the accuser be on TV? What a circus. It should have all been done in a private setting."

Gary Hayes, the powwow's master of ceremonies, introduces the next dance at the New Hampshire Abenaki Powwow on Saturday in Milton.

Sleeper said he hoped that Kavanaugh would be confirmed, which he was just a few hours later.

Don Hilts, whose forebears were members of a Skowhegan, Maine, Abenaki tribe, said he was also in support of Kavanaugh's reaching the High Court. Believing that he would be voted in, he said, "Now it's time to turn the page" to a more civil atmosphere in Washington. "It's all about respect," he said. "Right now it's in short supply."

When the two entered the ring for the Grand Entry around noon, American, Veterans and POW/MIA flags were held high along with Abenaki colors as well.

Many vendors ringed the field selling everything Native American, from jewelry and clothes to Native American food.

Native American women walk together in the ring at the New Hampshire Abenaki Powwow at Mi-Te-Jo Campground in Milton on Saturday.

Gary Hayes, the powwow's master of ceremonies, said the Abenaki are part of the Wabanaki Confederacy, which comprises five New England, New York and Eastern Canada tribes: Abenaki, Micmac, Maliseet, Penobscot and Passamaquoddy.

Hayes, a Vermont Abenaki, called which dances would be performed as the afternoon progressed. Some honored elders, others women and veterans.

Throughout the afternoon the Native American themes of family and respect resonated as clearly as the sunshine on this sparkling autumn day in Milton.

Cliff Williams, 13 generations removed from his Native American forebears, still honors his roots from a Mohawk tribe in New York.

Part of the Iroquois Nation that spread from Ohio to the western shore of Lake Champlain, he said his tribe resided in Eastern New York and was known as the "Keepers of the Eastern Gate."

From Grafton and now in his sixth year of coming to the Milton powwow, Williams said the Native American culture is all about respecting the elders.

"We come here to pay respect to our forebears and our elders," he said.

He added his disgust with the politics currently on display in the nation's capital.

"They need to remember they work for us, not we for them," he said. "If any of us worked in our job like they do in theirs, we'd be fired.

"There's something missing today: respect and learning from elders, they are the wise ones."

The powwow continues today with a full day of activities, including the Grand Entry again at noon.

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