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'Drums on the Conococheague: Then and Now' celebrates Native American cultures

'Drums on the Conococheague: Then and Now' celebrates Native American cultures

WELSH RUN, Pa. — Debbie "Turtle" Swartz wants those who attend Conococheague Settlement's Native American powwow "Drums on the Conococheague: Then and Now" this weekend to "learn some history."

The event will take place at the settlement, which is part of Conococheague Institute for the Study of Cultural Heritage, off Bain Road in Welsh Run. The powwow runs from 9 a.m. to 8 p.m. Saturday, Sept. 9, and 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. Sunday, Sept. 10. The Grand Entry will be at noon both days. 

One of the event's biggest highlights is a narrated reenactment that will show a French and Indian War skirmish. Native Americans, who famously fought with the French against the British troops, will attack and capture English settlers. The reenactment will be at 1 p.m. Saturday and Sunday. 

"We'll be burning the building and taking captives. And then we'll take them back to the native village and then we will trade back so we get goods and they can get the captives," she said, noting that there will be about 30 to 40 reenactors participating in the mock skirmish. "That makes this pretty unique for a powwow."

Swartz said for this event there will be several tribes represented including Cherokee, Shawnee, Delaware, and Mohawk.

The reenactment will portray something that often would happen in the early frontiers. Swartz said often when the Native Americans would capture settlers, women would often "adopt" the person into the tribe if she lost a husband or child as a way to fill a "hole" in the village.

"Captives were brought in and some were adopted," she said.

Swartz, who has been adopted by the Cherokee and Shawnee nations, said during these early frontier days most captives wouldn't want to return to society for a number of reasons, especially if that person was a female.

One reason was that often in certain nations, Native Indian females held more power within their tribes compared to white women of the time.

"In the 18th century, women didn't own anything. If you were native, you owned it all if you were a female," she said.

Also, those who thought of returning didn't want to because society would have labeled the women "tainted because they lived with savages," she said.

Although the reenactment is a huge event, Swartz said the powwow will feature the Medicine Horse Singers and Potamac Dancers who will perform traditional drumming, dancing, and singers.

One aspect Swartz is looking forward to is the Aztec Dancers who dance with fire. They will perform two times each day.

"I think that's pretty amazing," she said.

There will also be traditional foods and vendors. 

Swartz said the powwow is a learning experience. 

"It's important the history," she said. "The kids aren't getting taught very much history in school these days. If you don't learn from history, you just repeat it. "

And, she said, it also highlights the spiritual side of Native Americans.

"The powwow itself is so that we can praise the Creator for what he's done for us; the fact we're still around; for the fact that we're able to dance, physically, and to show him our thanks for him," she said. 

She said the groups are "looking forward to sharing our history and culture with the public, and that they can learn what the natives are all about."

That means that Natives are "like any other people," she said. "We have some history, and we are joyful at powwow and we're celebrating our heritage."

If you go ... 

WHAT: “Drums on the Conococheague: Then and Now”
WHEN:  9 a.m. to 8 p.m. Saturday, Sept. 9; 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. Sunday, Sept. 10; grand entry at noon each day 
WHERE: Conococheague Institute, Museums, Library and Gardens, 12995 Bain Road, Mercersburg, Pa.
COST: $5; free for ages 15 and younger. 

Powwow schedule



  • 11:30 a.m. — Aztec Dancers
  • Noon — Grand entry
  • 1 p.m. — Potamac Dancers
  • 2 pm. — Reenactment
  • 3 p.m. — Dancing
  • 4 p.m. — Drumming
  • 5:30 p.m. — Aztec Dancers
  • 8 p.m. — Event closes


  • 11:30 a.m. — Aztec Dancers
  • Noon - Grand entry 
  • 1 p.m. — Reenactment
  • 2 p.m. — Dancing
  • 3 p.m. — Aztec Dancers     
  • 3:45 p.m. — Honor guard removes flags
  • 4 p.m. — Event closes 

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