For many American Indians, the 40th annual Paumanauke Pow Wow in Copiague on Saturday was a chance to celebrate their culture and reclaim their place in society.
“We’re still here. We’re not in the novels and the books of the 1800s and the 1700s,” said Moses “Redfeather” Laniohan, 40, of Patchogue. “We’re still here, just like many other nations of the world.”
The festive event resumed after a two-year hiatus due to the pandemic, thrilling visitors and participants alike. Several dancers at Tanner Park wore colorful regalia, feathered headpieces and breastplates made of animal bones while the Red Thunderbear band played drums.
Laniohan, whose family is part-Apache, was one of several traditional dancers.
“It helps me as an individual ... I am always trying to find out more about who my family was and it really helps connect to the tribes locally because we all help each other out and it’s all about keeping the culture alive,” Laniohan said.
The powwow, which also features vendors selling crafts, jewelry and clothing, will continue Sunday. It helps fund educational scholarships and cultural programs in the Town of Babylon, according to Horace Lucas, of the Cherokee tribe and vice president of the nonprofit Paumanauke Native American Festival Inc.
Wearing a feather bustle and headband, 2-year-old Zachary Langevin delighted the audience as he performed for the first time. Zachary’s mother, Natalie Moore-Lopez, 38, of Queens, said she was in high school when she learned she was American Indian and wants to make sure he is exposed to their customs at a young age.
“I didn’t grow up with the culture. My dad’s family hid that they were native because if you were native, you were sent to Indian school. And so we were always raised thinking we were Mexican,” Moore-Lopez said.
Her grandmother eventually revealed the family was connected to the Tohono O'odham tribe in Arizona.
“For me, it’s been a discovery so I want them to grow up with it, instead of having to learn it as an adult,” she added.
During his animated performance, William Artinger, 32, of Brooklyn, wore elaborate, handcrafted floral-beaded regalia, a feather bustle and feathered headpiece. His two sons, ages 6 and 9, also participated.
But like others in attendance said, the cultural celebration also has a deeper meaning.
“There have been so many wrongdoings and so much complicated history that needs to be fixed and if people think we don’t exist, then those rights don’t exist and we disappear,” said Artinger, who is connected to the Ojibway and Cherokee clans.
“We’re still here, we still exist. We’re not something else and we all don’t live in teepees.”