Santa Rosa Creeks Celebrate Annual Pow Wow

Nov 15, 2018

Native Americans from around the country are in Milton this weekend, joining the Santa Rosa County Creeks for their 28th annual pow-wow.

The event comes this year, as the tribe is seeking federal recognition.

“In the whole of the United States there are, I think, 566 federally-recognized tribes; it’s a quite arduous process to get the recognition,” said Dan “Sky Horse” Helms, tribal Vice Chief of the Santa Rosa County Creeks.

That arduous journey, he says, can be done in three avenues – an application to the Bureau of Indian Affairs; filing a lawsuit seeking federal recognition, or seeking an act of Congress.

“Of the 566 tribes, only 17 were given federal recognition through the Bureau of Indian Affairs process,” Helms said. “The average length of time to complete that process is 60 years. So you’d almost think that they didn’t want you to be federally recognized.”

The Santa Rosa Creeks are now in the process of putting together documentation and other requirements needed to be recognized by Uncle Sam. Helms says at this point, they’re not sure which avenue they’ll use.

“We’re investigating that right now,” says Helms. “One of the big things is [the feds] want you to show continuous tribal activity or evidence of you being a tribe for over 100 years. There are about seven points [they] require for federal recognition. That one is the hardest one to do.”

The tribe is also looking at possible recognition by the State of Florida, for which there is no official process.

Dan "Sky Horse" Helms, Vice Chief of the Santa Rosa County Creeks.
Credit Dave Dunwoody, WUWF Public Media

As that work continues, the Santa Rosa Creeks’ annual pow-wow is set for Saturday and Sunday on their 93-acre Tribal Grounds on Willard Norris Road in Milton, 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. both days. It’s free and open to the public.

“What they can expect at the pow-wow is Native American dancing and singing with the drum,” Helms said. “Billy White Fox, the Grammy Award-winning Native American flute player; [and] Sheldon Sundown from the Seneca Nation in New York will be coming down to do a  demonstration dance.”

About 10,000 people attended last year’s Pow-wow. Along with the music and dances, they feasted on roasted corn and Indian fry bread, and watched time-honored rituals such as “smudging” — receiving smoke from a burning combination of white sage, tobacco, and sweet grass. Helping with the smudging last year was Standing Wolf — aka Eddie Milstead.

“The purpose behind the smudging is to get rid of all the evil and the bad, and bring in the good,” said Milstead. “Everything you touch, you pick something up, whether it be bad or good. This is a way to get rid of all the bad.”

Meanwhile, work continues on the 4,000 square foot Native American cultural center on-site. Vice Chief Dan Helms says they’re 98 percent finished with the building.

“The only remaining things – which we wanted to get done before pow wow but just didn’t work out for us – is the painting of the ceiling and the staining of the concrete floor,” said Helms. “That’s going to be done within the next two weeks, and then we’ll be ready to start setting up our Native American museum with other 3,000 artifacts.”

Participants march at the 2017 Santa Rosa Creeks' Pow Wow.
Credit Dave Dunwoody, WUWF Public Media

The center will also house a genealogy resource center and general activities room. It’s being funded by a pair of $100,000 grants from the IMPACT 100 organization. Helms believes this — and gaining federal recognition — are major steps in preserving Native American culture and history.

“We say that we are ‘People of One Fire’ – one cause, one purpose.” Helms says. “And that is to keep our culture from just disappearing – the language being one of the more important things that we’re trying to preserve.”

“Because when a language dies, a culture dies.”