With quick strokes of his brush, Art Ellis, an Algonquin, put finishing touches Wednesday on a large wooden gate that the Keepers of the Circle group hopes will welcome hundreds of people this weekend to its first official powwow.
The gate represents the eastern entry into the spiritual heart of the 2.6-acre property on Route 5S in Rotterdam Junction, now owned by American Indians for the first time in centuries.
To members of the Keepers, the circle is sacred ground, representing the continuous flow of life. Come Saturday, they will light a fire within the circle and will keep it burning until the powwow ends sometime Sunday, said Tim Christian, president of the Keepers board of directors.
“The sacred fire pit signifies the light of life. We will have people there all day and all night, keeping it burning during the event,” Christian said. “When the fire goes out, the powwow is over.”
The powwow’s hours are 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. on Saturday and Sunday. It will include American Indian dancing, storytelling, drumming and food. At least 21 vendors from throughout the country are scheduled to attend, selling a variety of American Indian items. The museum will be open as well.
The powwow is the Keepers’ main fundraiser this year, and members hope to raise enough money to cover the nonprofit organization’s expenses for some time, said Director Jessica LaPan.
The Keepers signed the deed for the land in March, assuming full ownership from Schenectady County. With the land, came bills for utilities and other needs. Prior to the sale, the county covered most of the bills and periodically maintained the property.
The county purchased the 29-acre parcel for $171,000 in 2000 but gave the Keepers control over it. The Keepers of the Circle was supposed to develop and offer programs to promote American Indian culture and the historical aspects of the Mohawk River. None of this occurred because of infighting.
Last year, the county agreed to give Keepers 2.6 acres and the 17th century Bradt farmhouse and to sell the remaining 27 acres to the Schenectady County Historical Society for $180,000. The society needs the land to build a year-round educational center on the Mabee Farm, which it owns and which is adjacent to the Keepers’ property.
Since taking over the property, Keepers volunteers have repaired the house’s foundation and parts of its crumbling structure, painted the formerly white house red and meticulously maintained the grounds, even planting a garden.
In addition, Keepers has stepped up efforts to integrate the multicultural education center into the community. To date, it has held 24 outreach programs and provides periodic education events, Christian said. It also operates a food pantry that assists approximately 45 people each week.
Their efforts have paid off in many ways, LaPan said. The Rotterdam Junction Volunteer Fire Department and the local U.S. Post Office sponsored food collection events for the pantry and the county provided the Keepers with a $1,000 tourism grant toward the Powwow.
The work isn’t over, Christian said. In the future, Keepers wants to build a replica longhouse on the grounds and bring in different American Indian speakers three times a month to teach drumming, singing and dancing.
“I am proud of the membership here. They are doing their jobs, doing outreach to the community and now the community is reaching back,” Christian said. “The old Keepers are now the new Keepers.”