FALMOUTH — As the 96th annual Mashpee Wampanoag Powwow kicked off its second day Saturday at the Cape Cod Fairgrounds, hundreds of tribe members honored their eldest members, described as the foundation of the tribe.

Following the theme of this year’s powwow, “Honoring Our Traditions,” tribal leaders Saturday praised the oldest members of the community.

“Our elders are the foundation of our tribal community,” said Cedric Cromwell, the tribe’s chairman, during a recognition ceremony. “They’ve done so much work on the front lines to maintain who we are. Our elders are the people that pass down traditions and knowledge.”

The tribe has several members in their 90s, Cromwell said, the oldest two being Wilhelmina Tobey and Helen Edwards, both 97. Family members of both women accepted gifts from the tribe and a song and dance were performed in their honor.

The tribe’s chief, Vernon “Silent Drum” Lopez, is 95 and served in the military at the Battle of Normandy. Amelia Bingham, 94, was traveling around Europe and helped incorporate the tribal council in the 1960s, she said. Both were at the ceremony and were honored for their dedication to the tribe.

“If you see a tribal elder, welcome them, love them, hug them. They paved the way for this great town and this great nation,” Cromwell said.

The elders help preserve the Wampanoag language and history, Cromwell added, and helped the tribe keep true to its traditions when members were pushed more and more toward assimilation.

“They help us remember what it is to be a Mashpee Wampanoag,” he said.

On Saturday, Bingham remembered powwows of the past.

“The early powwows, back in the 1930s, they were very small,” she said. “It was like a family reunion.”

Tribe members often worked in cities, and the powwows gave everyone an opportunity to get together.

Another ceremony is planned Monday to honor members who are in their 90s, said Brian Weeden, chairman of the tribe’s powwow committee.

A tenet of the tribe is to always take care of the elders, Weeden said. They are always offered the first dances and the first chance to eat.

They can remember times before the tribe had a school or even streetlights, Weeden said. Their past struggle can help guide the tribe through their current hardships.

“They are the backbone to our nation,” Weeden said.