DEVENS – “Oh Lord, Creator of Mother Earth and the Universe, I have opened my eyes to another day,” said Johnny “Paleface” Sarmiento of Granby, age 95 who served in World War II, the Korean and Vietnam Wars. Sarmiento’s prayer opened the 2-day, inter-tribal powwow on Devens last weekend.
“Please help me by taking away all that is negative,” said Sarmiento. “Take away my impatience, intolerance, resentment, denials, anxiety and any other things that are negative within me.”
Such spiritual cleansing has become a life journey for Tim Durrin of Great Barrington. Durrin is a Fitchburg native who also has many relatives in Lunenburg. Durrin and his family participated in the gathering to honor his ancestor’s Micmac tribal roots.
A 2003 graduate of Montachusett Technical High School, Durrin enlisted in the Army and served in the 101st Airborne Division, 372nd Transportation Company. From 2004 to 2005, Durrin served in Iraq.
Among other atrocities, Durrin lost two fellow soldiers to suicide, and a third unit member who was killed by a roadside bomb. “Every day we were being attacked,” said Durrin.
“Don’t make me cry,” said Durrin’s aunt, Chere “Morningsun” Piermarini of Fitchburg. “He’s been through a lot in his young life. But we all dream and live.”
Durrin returned stateside and began self-medicating to try, in vain, of dealing with his post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Following a stint in rehabilitation, Durrin turned both to meditation and back to his Native American roots.
Durrin attended the Kripalu Yoga Center in Lenox, MA where he participated in Harvard University medical research into the effects of trauma and optimal living. Durrin said through yoga he became “open minded and began doing what I could to heal.”
Via the Kripalu Center, Academy Award winning independent film producer Pamela Tanner Boll met Durrin and decided to weave threads about his recovery and discovery process into her latest production which has a working title “A Small Good Thing.” The film focuses on the mind/body/spirit connection, which is where Durrin’s story works in, as well as spotlighting people reconnecting with the land and making connections to things larger than oneself.
Boll co-executive produced the film, “Born into Brothels: The Kids of Calcutta’s Red Light District” which won an Oscar in 2004 for Best Documentary feature. Boll directed and produced the film “Who Does She Think She is?” which aired on most PBS television stations last year.
On Saturday, as the country paused to commemorate Armed Services Day, Boll and her Mystic Artists Film Production Company of Winchester, MA shadowed Durrin at the powwow. Boll called Durrin an amazing young man.
“Eighteen and off to war,” said Boll. “Doing the right thing. He went to Iraq. He had some trouble coming back.” Boll said she was heartened to hear Durrin’s story and noted Durrin completed his undergraduate degree in spirituality at Burlington College in Vermont and is fast approaching his Master’s Degree in the field of holistic and environmental psychology.
Hundreds were present for the powwow. Most, including Durrin, were in garb which paid homage to their ancestry.
Dozens danced around a fire set in the field aside the Native American Museum on Antietam Street. Cameras rolled as Durrin donned a headpiece with a tall feather and plumage of animal bristles atop his head. Durrin also wore a set of tail feathers which bobbed as he moved.
Durrin danced at times with his aunt. Durrin’s grandfather, Andre “Grey Wolf” Forest of Lunenburg was seated nearby. In July, Boll will follow Durrin to Two Rivers, Alaska where she’ll film Durrin’s visit with his uncle, Don “Standing Bear” Forest.
Durrin also danced Saturday with his lifelong friend James “Storm Horse” Sandborn of Boxboro. Sandborn said he and Durrin attended powwows together as children. Sandborn said that while some float away from the powwow gatherings during their teen years (what Sandborn called the “coolness gap”) many ultimately return as adults to again partake in Native American community celebrations.
The circle of dancers moves clockwise. Veterans are invited in to dance around the fire. Durrin is among them.
Then the announcer asks the veterans to move in a counter clockwise direction to honor and remember Native American soldiers who did not return from battle. Durrin reverses direction and bumps fists with passers buy in the circle, paying homage to both his ancestry and his fellow soldiers killed in service to the nation.
Follow Mary Arata at twitter.com/maryearata.