By Rebecca Henely
A spectacle of bright colors, feathers and dancing returned to the borough as the Queens Farm Museum hosted the 34th annual Thunderbird Grand Mid-Summer Pow-Wow this weekend.
Members of American Indian tribes from as far away as Central America to as close as Long Island took part in the cultural festival that has become a Glen Oaks mainstay. From Friday night until Sunday afternoon, the event featured bonfires, traditional dancing and vendors who sold food, jewelry and other wares from many different tribes.
“It’s bringing all my native people together,” said 37-year-old Jason Johnson, a member of the Long Island-based Shinnecock tribe, who danced during the powwow.
Kitty Mullen, treasurer for Thunderbird, said the organization has been hosting powwows for almost 50 years. The Queens Farm is an ideal location because residents can get there through public transportation, but it is far enough away from most of the noise of the city.
“It really gives you a full outdoor park feeling,” Mullen said.
Between the dancers and the vendors, about 40 different tribes were represented at the powwow. She said the event raises money for scholarships for American Indian students across the country. The scholarships have helped students become doctors and lawyers but also enabled them go into trade schools.
“We really help people all across the board,” she said.
The event featured many powwows, dances done in a circle around smoking campfires. Participants ranged from young children to adult men and women.
“I’ve been dancing like this since I was 6,” said Danny Reese, 38, a member of the Ojibwe/Chippewa tribe. “I’ve been around this my whole life.”
Reese said he is a veteran of Desert Storm, and the outfit he wore during the dance not only reflected his status as a warrior but also members of his family.
Another veteran, 31-year-old Patrick Little Wolf from the Tuscarora tribe, said his dancing was dedicated both to the soldiers and his 11- and 7-year-old daughters, who he called “my princesses.”
“You never dance for yourself,” Little Wolf said, “You always dance for others.”
Little Wolf’s wife, Emelie Jeffries, of the Occaneechi tribe, also participated in the powwow as a women’s traditional dancer. She said that in the Eastern woodland tribes, the society is matriarchal. When the first settlers came from Europe and spoke to the men of the tribe in councils but not the women, the men of the tribe would report back to the women what the European men said afterward.
“The women are highly revered in native culture,” Jeffries said.
As a teacher of native culture, Jeffries said she finds some people still hold stereotypes about how Indians behave from negative portrayals on television. She said the powwows expose people to true native culture and keep the traditions of the tribes alive for the next generations.
“I think they show that we’re still a nation that still is a big part of society,” she said.
Reach reporter Rebecca Henely by e-mail at [email protected] or by phone at 718-260-4564.