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Hundreds come to watch Shinnecock powwow

Dancers performed from dozens of Native American tribes,

Dancers performed from dozens of Native American tribes, many in colorful regalia, at the Shinnecock Indian Nation's annual powwow over the Labor Day weekend on the tribe's reservation near Southampton. (Sep. 1, 2012) Credit: Daniel Brennan

MilesPeters stood bare-chested Saturday having just performed the rhythmic dance of the Mashpee Wampanoag tribe, as the steady thumping of drums continued behind him for the other dancers.

He held the feather of an eagle in one hand, because it was sacred, he said, and he wore metal bands on his upper arms, because "we like to look good up there."

The stage was full of dancers from dozens of American Indian tribes, many in colorful regalia, at the Shinnecock Indian Nation's annual powwow over the Labor Day weekend on the tribe's reservation in Southampton. Some wore feathers from hawks; others, from pheasants or peacocks.

Powwow means a gathering, said Beverly Jensen, the tribe's spokeswoman.

Hundreds watched the dancers and listened to the drums and sometimes guttural and other times plaintive singing on the stage.

They savored fare from the many booths that advertised such treats as "snapping turtle soup" and "buffalo on a stick." Other stands sold clam chowder. The Shinnecock name means "the people of the stony shore" after all, Jensen said.

Though it was advertised as the 66th annual powwow, the Shinnecocks have been having them for thousands of years, Jensen said.

"But in 1946, somebody said, 'Let's start counting.' Really, it's probably the 2,016th powwow," she said.

For a people with a history as rich and as tragic as American Indians', the gathering was for many a celebration of the survival of a culture and the opportunity to experience a way of life of generations before them.

"It's one of the few places where you are allowed to freely express our culture," said Peters, 21, whose tribe is from Cape Cod and who lives in Mashpee, Mass.

David Weeden, a fellow tribal member from Mashpee, stood in deerskin moccasins and loin cloth, a red-tailed hawk feather in his long hair and a turtle shell on the side of his elbow.

"I wear regular clothes, drive a car, go to work," Weeden, 40, said. But the powwow, he said, brings a feeling not found in his regular life.

"You get in a circle with all the other dancers and you put all that energy together and the sound of the drums and your spirit feels alive. It feeds your soul," he said.

Jeanne Senft-Fenkl, 65, of Shelter Island, has come to the powwow every year for 20 years.

"I love the drums. I just love the spirit," she said.

Gail Revis, who also goes by Chief Running Water of the Setalcott tribe in Setauket, wore traditional beads around her neck for loved ones who have died.

"Seeing so many people who still believe in the old ways warms my heart."

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