Midday sun lit the silk and feather-festooned costumes to a height of brilliance on the Shinnecock Indian Reservation, as the unrelenting drums and building howl of traditional song opened the tribe's 63rd annual Pow Wow Saturday.
In the shade of giant oaks, families in T-shirts and shorts mingled with tribal members in clanging dance wear. Scores of booths hawking Indian jewelry, moccasins, and traditional food ringed the outer perimeter of the Pow Wow grounds, where the scent of wood smoke mingled with that of fry-bread and buffalo burgers. Tens of thousands crowded the raised dance platform for the grand entrance of the dancers.
There was much to celebrate.
On the eve of this weekend's annual Pow Wow, trustees of the Shinnecock Indian Nation met Gov. David A. Paterson in the hope of gaining his support as a decision on the tribe's federal recognition nears. Paterson has previously said he was "monitoring" the tribe's request but remained noncommittal in talks about a tribal casino.
"We're hopeful that the state supports the federal recognition of the tribe and looks forward to working together," said tribal chairman Randy King, who traveled with fellow trustees Fred Bess and Gordell Wright to Albany Thursday. The tribe says recognition would boost access to badly needed housing, education and health care, and allow a casino on the reservation.
Paterson spokesman Morgan Hook Saturday confirmed the meeting but declined to be more specific. Paterson is "supportive of the economic development involved in building some of these casinos. He is looking at multiple locations in the Catskills," for instance, Hook said.
"We're ready to talk," Bess said, noting a Shinnecock casino would provide revenue and jobs needed for the state and the tribe.
Researchers from the federal Bureau of Indian Affairs are due on the reservation from Tuesday through Sunday to interview tribal members in preparation for a Dec. 15 ruling on recognition, said Roberta Hunter, chair of the Shinnecock's federal recognition committee. "I'm very positive about where we are," she said.
But federal recognition and casinos were not on the agenda for this year's Pow Wow, a decidedly nonpolitical festival of traditional food and culture.
Tribes from across the nation gathered on the 800-acre Shinnecock reservation to compete in dance and song contests, and to renew old bonds. "It's a place to meet and build extended families," trustee Wright said.
Tribal elder Harry Williams, 85, known as Chief War Hawk, opened the ceremony by recounting the origins of the Pow Wow, revived by the late chief Thunderbird 63 years ago. His daughter, Elizabeth Haile, 79, danced the Lord's Prayer with three of her nieces and a granddaughter. "The tribe has claimed the Pow Wow as our gemstone of the year," she said later, at the family's booth, in the shade nearby Presbyterian church.
Denise Anderson, a tribal member who lives in Australia but returns for Pow Wow when she can, worked a booth of traditional food with her two sisters and mother. The menu: Shinnecock-raised oysters, Samp, a traditional white corn and bean dish, "three-sister stew," and blueberry slump - dumplings covered in blueberry sauce. "We catch up with people we haven't seen," she said.
For visitors it's a rare chance to see the pageantry and pride of the Shinnecocks, whose Algonquin ancestors predate European settlers.
"There's nothing really like it on Long Island," said Todd Grasberg, who drove to the event from Bellerose, Queens.
The three-day fundraising event at the Southampton reservation continues through Monday night.