Mawio'mi of Tribes

Posted Wednesday, August 24, 2011 in Features

Mawio'mi of Tribes

Mawio'mi Chief Rick Getchell

by Christopher Bouchard

CARIBOU – Ancient tribal traditions were being faithfully upheld at the 17th annual Mawio’mi of Tribes on Aug 19-21. Full-blooded American Indians held drum circles at the center of the event, with guests from all walks of life joining in. A sacred fire was lit. Sweat-lodge ceremonies for spiritual cleansing were held deep in the woods, and every day 5 p.m. a large feast took place.

“It’s a celebration,” said Rick Getchell, leader of the Micmac tribe. “We do annual planning all year long, and make up a budget for accommodations. We want to make efforts to get the community together more, and we plan on maintaining our culture and heritage.”

Getchell was elected leader of the Aroostook Band of Micmacs in 1997 when he was only 24 years old, making him the youngest leader they’ve had. He admits that leadership is certainly not an easy task.

“What’s hard about leadership is that true leaders have to have a vision to move in the future, but at the same time they have to focus on maintaining the present,” he said.

John Dennis, the cultural director for the Micmac tribe, says that much of the Micmac culture is hidden in their language.

“Puwowim means ‘shaman’,” Dennis said, “so the word Powwow really refers to a gathering of shamans. The word Mawio’mi means a gathering, and we have many different tribes gathered together here today.”

The festivities all took place on the Micmac reservation in Caribou.

“What we have here are food vendors and artisans,” Dennis said. “The artists are very crafty. A lot of time went into their creations.  It’s not the kind of thing you’d see at a flea market or a yard sale. We also have the sacred fire, which is lit for four days. The Firekeeper needs to take care of the fire, which is like an altar; it’s a place where people go and pray. We teach that you must respect the fire, as it can keep you warm, but it can also burn you.”

“I’ve found myself in the fire,” said Derrick Estabook, a Firekeeper in training. “I’m still learning, but I know that if you disrespect the fire, it will disrespect you.”

The sweat-lodge ceremonies were held deep in the woods of the Micmac reservation, and were led by Norman Bernard.

“There are four sections inside the sweat lodge,” Bernard explained, “and they represent the four elements: earth, water, fire, and air.  They also represent the four stages of life: newborn, adolescent, young adult, and elder.”

The sweat lodge is a dome-shaped structure made of sticks and covered with several layers of blankets, making it dark inside. Lava rocks are heated and placed at the center of the lodge while the ceremony is taking place. The purpose of the ceremony is to pray and heal.

“We call the sweat lodge ‘The Womb of Mother Earth,' as it is very dark and warm inside,” Bernard said. “Some have even said that when they leave the darkness of the lodge and step into the light, it feels like they’re being born again.”

The festival ended on Sunday, but the individuals involved in its orchestration feel that this will certainly not be the last Mawio’mi.

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