American Indian history is intertwined with Long Island’s own story, and this summer, three tribal nations will once again celebrate with the traditional powwow — a gathering that is filled with music, dance, food and crafts designed to be shared with friends and neighbors.
Tribal nations from all over the country follow a circuit of meetups all over the country, so organizers say to expect members from around 100 tribal nations to be at these events; some will participate, and others are there to serve the food and sell handmade jewelry and other crafts.
UNDERSTANDING THE DANCE AND MUSIC
The highlight of these events is always the dancing. Throughout history, that was how the different tribes would come together.
“So, 300 years ago, these events went on all the time,” says Tony "Moon Hawk" Langhorn from the Paumanauke Nation in Babylon. “If someone got sick, or if a family gathered, or if there was some type of event, someone was getting married, there was a powwow.”
Accompanied by the rhythmic pounding of the drums, and the harmonized shouts and cries, the dancers compete in groups — from women, men, teens, seniors and sometimes even toddlers — for cash prizes and bragging rights.
“In the competition, the dance and regalia have to be flawless,” says Beverly Jensen, a member of the Shinnecock Nation in Southampton.
The Grand Entry, a spectacular display of music and dance with a large number of the members from all over the country participating, is held each day, usually an hour or two after the gates open.
In some dances, the performers act out animal themes, Langhorn says. Others might be based on healing, such as one that will be done at the Shinnecock Nation Powwow as a recovery from alcoholism. “It’s pretty profound,” says Jensen.
The Thunderbird American Powwow plans to do a dance mostly performed in the western part of the country called the “Gourd Dance” in its afternoon sessions. “It was meditatively done by warriors to help them assimilate back to society,” says Solomon Mendelsohn, 75, a 20-year member who lives in Brooklyn.
ABOUT THE REGALIA
The colorful handmade robes and shawls worn by the performers are as much a part of the history as the dance itself. Although there aren’t necessarily certain colors for each tribal nation, many are passed down from generation to generation. “I have one handed down from my mother and father,” Langhorn says, and he plans to give them to his children.
FOOD AND CRAFTS
Dozens of vendors will showcase American Indian-inspired jewelry, books and clothing, and lots of food choices, from American Indian fry bread to hamburgers and hot dogs. No alcohol, though.
Organizers agree that powwows are celebrations meant to be shared with the community. But there are a few things they want participants to know that will make for a happy experience for everyone.
- HANDS OFF Please don’t touch the regalia. Although they are beautiful, the clothing is extremely important to the wearer and shouldn’t be manhandled.
- PARTICIPATE At certain points in the performance, audience members will be invited to join in, but until then, please don’t “break the circle.”
- LISTEN Heed the emcee’s instructions. There may be times, perhaps during more somber ceremonial dances, where picture-taking may be discouraged.
But mostly, organizers say, enjoy these unique events on our own island.
“It’s a real immersion into a Native American culture,” says Mendelsohn. “It’s educational as well as entertaining.”
UPCOMING LONG ISLAND POWWOWS
WHEN | WHERE 6-10 p.m. Friday, July 26; 10 a.m.-10 p.m. Saturday and 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Sunday at Queens County Farm Museum, 73-50 Little Neck Pkwy., Floral Park
ADMISSION $10 ($5 ages 12 and younger); $16 weekend pass adults, $7 12 and under. Discounts available online.
WHEN | WHERE 10 a.m.-10 p.m. Aug. 10 and 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Aug. 11 (grand entry at noon) at Babylon Town Hall, 200 E. Sunrise Hwy., Lindenhurst
INFO 631-587-3696, paumanauke.org
ADMISSION $10 ($5 ages 12-16, free younger than 12)
WHEN | WHERE 3-11 p.m. Friday, 10 a.m.-10 p.m. Saturday and Sunday. 10 a.m.-6 p.m. Monday (only afternoon show), Aug. 30-Sept. 2 at the Shinnecock Reservation, West Gate Rd., Southampton. Grand entry at 7 p.m. Friday, noon and 7 p.m. Saturday and Sunday, and noon Monday.
INFO 631-283-6143, shinnecockindianpowwow.com
ADMISSION $15 ($10 ages 5-12)
A previous version of this story omitted the dates for the Paumanauke powow.