Except for the names of some sports teams, few hints of the American Indians who once lived here can be found in Madison County.

The nearly 1,000 elementary students who took part in the Richmond Powwow at Battlefield Park on Friday got to meet people of American Indian heritage and learn about their culture.

The images and information about American Indians found in the entertainment world are often inaccurate, said Osceola Red Shirt of Burlington, N.C., who spoke to the students.

Red Shirt explained the tribal dances members of the Cherokee tribe from North Carolina performed.

American Indian dancing never was about entertainment until Buffalo Bill Cody employed native dancers for his Wild West Show and took them on tours of the United States and Europe, Red Shirt said.

“The dances were a form of storytelling,” he said.

Cody, however, wanted to entertain paying customers and had his dancers perform kicks and jumps, turning flips and doing cartwheels to entertain the crowds.

“The dancers thought it was funny, because those moves were not part of traditional dance,” Red Shirt said.

When the moves proved to be crowd pleasers, the dancers embellished them even more for cheers and applause.

Another misconception about the tribes is that they were subject to one chief who acted as a dictator.

“A tribe might select one chief to be its spokesman,” he said, “but the tribes were ruled by democratic councils.”

Tribes had two councils, one made up of men and another made up of women, Red Shirt said.

“They were equal, and the tribe took no action unless both councils agreed,” he said.

“We Indians respect our women because they give us life,” Red Shirt said. “We call the Earth, Mother Earth, because it gives us life.”

In addition to watching the dances and listening to Red Shirt’s presentation, the students visited a potter, listened to a storyteller and visited a teepee.

Today and tomorrow, Cherokee Daniel Tramper, a national champion hoop dancer, will join the powwow dancers.

The gates will open at 10 a.m., with grand entries at noon and 6 p.m.

On Sunday, the gates open at 11 a.m., with a grand entry at 12:30 p.m. The event closes at 4:30 p.m.

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