The sounds of drums beating and singing drifted over the trees Saturday afternoon, September 1, as more than 100 men, women, and children of all tribes gathered in their regalia inside the arena at the Shinnecock Indian Nation’s Southampton reservation for the tribe’s 72nd annual Powwow.
Highlights of the four-day event, which kicked off on Friday night, included the tribe leading representatives from visiting nations into the arena during the grand entry procession. The opening ceremony included a tribute to veterans, a dance interpretation of “The Lord’s Prayer” choreographed by Princess Elizabeth CheeChee Haile, and a welcome to visitors. Other events throughout the weekend included drum and dance contests, a tiny tots exhibition, an over-50 showcase, and a two-step dance, the only time you will see a male and female partnered — touching — in the form of dance. There were also special performances by Hawaiian dancers, Native American artists Arvel Bird, and the Cody Blackbird Band.
“What this is, is a gathering of nations,” explained Wayne Douglas, a Cherokee Indian who has a house on the Shinnecock Reservation. Douglas explained that in the grand entry sequence, the nation always honors the flags, making sure they come in first, and the dancers second.
“What we do here is we celebrate our traditions, our ways. That is what a Powwow really is,” he said.
The Jemenez Pueblo Dancers of Walatowa, the Pueblo Famous of Jemez, one of 23 tribes in the state of New Mexico, drove a little over 30 hours straight to the Powwow for the second year in a row.
“All of our dances are either paying respect to either the elements, the air, the water, the earth, the animals, or the spirit of the ancestors that we just bring with us,” said Juanita Christine Toledo. “It’s always a form of prayer.”
Eleven-year-old dancer Kayley Austin, who travels along the East Coast attending powwows with her brother, Jessie, 10, when they are not in school, has been dancing competitively for the past five years. Austin helped her father make her regalia — not a costume — a pink dress with geometric v-shaped lines symbolizing the claws of a wolf, her spirit animal, and this year competed in the shawl and fancy dances.
But the Powwow was not all about singing and dancing. There was also a lot of food that was shared with visitors.
Food vendors treated hungry visitors to traditional Native American dishes such as fry bread, dressing it up with powdered sugar and honey, succotash, Indian pudding, and corn fritters with maple syrup. More eclectic fare included Aztec corn, buffalo hot dogs, elk burgers, and venison sausage. But the most popular dishes served up were Indian Tacos, consisting of fry bread with chili, cheese, lettuce, and tomato, mint iced tea, and for dessert, Hawaiian shave ice of every flavor.
The Powwow also attracted dozens of vendors, from around North and South America selling Native goods such as blankets, dream catchers, staffs, figurines, and musical instruments such as rattles made of turtle shells and wooden flutes.
“It’s a good powwow. There is a lot of cultural stuff. People come to learn about the traditions of Native Americans, the dancing, the singing, the culture,” said Sicanni, a vendor and musician of the Inca Nation in Peru, who has been attending for about 16 years.
Ultimately, Douglas explained, the Powwow was about unity and love — embracing all visitors. “By you being here, you are really a part of us, not just a spectator,” he said.