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Shinnecock Indian Powwow in Southampton draws large crowds

Dancers in native dress perform at the 69th

Dancers in native dress perform at the 69th annual Shinnecock Indian Pow Wow at the Shinnecock Reservation in Southampton, Saturday Sept. 5th, 2015. Credit: Veronique Louis

Performers covered head to toe in beads, feathers and patterns signifying their tribes danced and celebrated tirelessly throughout the afternoon Saturday as hundreds of people watched.

The echoes of chants and drumbeats could be heard from the dusty parking lot more than a half-mile away.

Members of the Shinnecock Indian Nation, hosting its 69th annual Powwow this weekend at the Southampton reservation, also sold traditional food, jewelry and clothing -- and remembered a beloved elder who died last month at 85.

Elizabeth Thunderbird Haile, known as Princess Chee Chee, created a dance to celebrate the tribe's Lord's Prayer 69 years ago, and performed it at the very first Powwow. Saturday, her granddaughters and grandnieces performed it in her honor.

"She was very, very important to many people, as a teacher of everything. Life, art, culture . . . everything," said Edythe Collins, 26, one of the grandnieces who performed. "It's an honor that we were all able to be taught by her while she was still here."

Despite Haile's absence, the mood was celebratory. Children as young as toddlers, dressed in feathers and fringe, danced in the grass arena.

Boys and girls competed in traditional dances: boys swinging shields and pumping arms skyward; girls twirling in semicircles, color-drenched shawls catching the sun.

Jason Lamb, 26, who lives in Kent, Connecticut, and belongs to the Schaghticoke Tribal Nation, said he's been dancing at East Coast powwows since he was a child. His two children, ages 4 and 6, are now part of the tradition.

"I've been dancing my whole life," Lamb said. "It's important for me to have them do the same thing."

Cindy Kamp, 32, a music teacher from Hampton Bays, said she brings what she learns at the celebration each year back to her classroom.

"I like to come and learn about the different cultures," she said. "It's different every time."

The festivities continue through Labor Day.

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