When I first started attending the Massachusetts Center for Native American Awareness (MCNAA) pow-wows, I had no idea what went on behind the scenes. I just knew that I enjoyed every aspect of being at the pow-wow including being among the people, watching the dancing, listening to the music, sampling the food, and strolling through the vendor booths. I would just go, set up my chair somewhere near the circle, and watch.
Not long after I started attending MCNAA’s pow-wows, I felt compelled to do more. I’d made and brought some baked goods to share with the MCNAA volunteers and dancers, but I hadn’t fully stepped into what would become a very fulfilling volunteer role for me. I was actually reluctant to offer too much help at first because I thought they might wonder why I was being so helpful. An odd thing to think now that I know how much help MCNAA needs and appreciates, but it’s kind of how my mind works.
As the years passed, I went from making baked goods, to helping with a few setup things on the weekend of the pow-wow, to going to the grounds on Friday morning to help set up the area for the pow-wow and then volunteering in the booth during the pow-wow weekend. The main reason I went out to Massachusetts during Memorial Day weekend this year and the past couple years was to help MCNAA as much as possible with the Spring Planting Moon Pow-Wow. I always find it to be a very rewarding experience and as anyone who knows me understands, I love being useful!
To help with setup this year, I headed down to Marshfield, MA from Seabrook, NH in the morning. I knew from previous years that there would be a lot of traffic due to the holiday weekend, especially the further south I went because people were heading down to Cape Cod. As I had nothing pressing holding me in Seabrook, I headed down earlier than necessary to the Marshfield Fairgrounds where the pow-wow was taking place. Even with the slowdowns of traffic I encountered around Boston and as I neared the Cape Cod access, I arrived at the grounds an hour earlier than I was expected to be there.
It was a beautiful, breezy day on that Friday, but quickly becoming rather hot and humid. I’d thoroughly sprayed myself with sunblock to avoid getting burned and was stocked up on water and Gatorade to stay hydrated during the day’s work. I parked my car in the shade at the fairgrounds and finished eating the breakfast sandwich I’d grabbed from Dunkin’ Donuts in Seabrook. The Marshfield Fairgrounds have permanent outbuildings setup for food during the Marshfield Fair and a few larger buildings around, one with a nice little pond and waterfall out front. There’s ample parking at the grounds and the restrooms are quite large and always clean.
Although I was there earlier than expected, I was not the first to arrive, as one of the board members who lived nearby was already there. I chatted with him and one of the vendors who always arrives early until the rest of the MCNAA board members arrived with the Uhaul full of pow-wow necessities. In hindsight, I wished I’d gone to help load the Uhaul because I obviously had time and it’s usually only a few people loading it up, most of them MCNAA board members. Perhaps next year I’ll think of that sooner.
This year on the grounds a mother fox had decided to have her babies under one of the outbuildings and there were signs up telling people to keep out. I saw the mother fox once during my time there, but never saw the babies. I love foxes and considered them a good omen and sign of good luck, so I knew it was going to be a great weekend.
Setting up for an MCNAA pow-wow requires setting up the canopy the drum groups play under, putting up the dance Circle, assembling the canopies for the MCNAA booth, and making sure the vendors know where to set up when they arrive. Vendors arrive all throughout the day to set up and there’s a master map showing their spots, although many of them have the same spots every year and know where to go.
One of the biggest things to set up is the drum canopy because it’s so long and tall, but myself, a board member, and another volunteer got it set up in record time this year. Although I’ve been helping with setup for a couple of years, I was called a “newbie” a few times this year, which actually made me feel good because this newbie learns her way around pretty fast!
Once the drum canopy was set up, I helped with the dance Circle. There’s always a discussion about how large the Circle should be and it usually goes from too small to too big or vice versa before it’s just right. I just help by carrying stakes or rope because I’m not that great at pounding the wood stakes into the ground. By the time I was done helping with that, the other volunteers and board members already had the MCNAA canopies set up and the folding tables out and in the usual pile until they were needed the next day. I paused to eat some of the lunch wrap I’d bought at the store that morning and drink some Gatorade before looking to see where I was needed next.
I then spent some time trying to help set up the canopy that goes at the main gate to the pow-wow, but we didn’t have much luck because the canopy was on its last legs. After that, I hung around with the board members as more vendors came and we chatted about various things. It was quite hot by that time and I spent some time in the air-conditioned Uhaul enjoying the cool air and shade. Although I was hot, tired, and sweaty, I was happy because I was being useful.
Volunteering my time to help the MCNAA always makes me feel so fulfilled, wanted, and needed. It’s always a rather small crew setting up the pow-wows, despite various requests for volunteers before the events. I come all the way from the Finger Lakes of Upstate New York to help them out for their pow-wows and it’s always well worth the trip. I truly wish more people would come to volunteer with set up and/or during the pow-wows, but I don’t know what the magic spell is to make that happen.
I know that people are busy with this, that, and the other thing, but I also sometimes think that everyone just expects “someone else” to do what needs to be done. I think this because I used to be one of those people. But now that I volunteer regularly for the MCNAA pow-wows and whatever else I can help with, I know that I’ll never think that way again. There is always a need for help and if a shy, semi-introverted girl like myself can put myself out there into unfamiliar territory, so can anyone else. I promise it’s a truly rewarding experience that renews the spirit, energizes the soul, and warms the heart.
If you’re interested in volunteering for the MCNAA (no matter where you live), visit this Volunteer Opportunities page on the MCNAA website. The MCNAA needs grant writers, office volunteers, volunteers for special events, volunteers to serve on the MCNAA fundraising committee, and volunteers to serve on the pow-wow committee. Native and non-Native are welcome to help!