By Sadef Ali Kully
The 37th annual Native American Thunderbird Pow Wow was performed at the Queens County Farm Museum in Floral Park last weekend. Thousands of visitors were on hand as Native American culture and history were demonstrated through the traditional dance competition.
The city’s oldest and largest powwow featured three days of intertribal dance competitions performed by nearly 40 tribes.
“These dances have a heritage and are still being done today. We explain what each dance means so they understand that it is not a bunch of people just dancing,” said Louis Mofsie, the director and founding member of the Thunderbird American Indian Dancers, a New York-based multi-ethnic dance troupe.
Mofsie, who is from the Hopi and Winnebago tribes, said the Thunderbird American Indian Dancers have performed in elementary schools, high schools and colleges all over the city and across the nation.
The powwow, which in the Narragansett language means “spiritual leader,” usually includes a feast and dancing among women, men, teens and children as they compete while wearing bright, ornate and symbolic regalia.
“Whether you know it or not, you have participated in the Indian spiritual experience. It is faith, faith and devotion,” Mofsie said.
Each dance symbolized Native American history. In the warrior dance, men attired in warbonnets adorned with feathers and holding war clubs cautiously stepped on the ground to the beat of the drums. As the beat gradually became louder, the men lowered their bodies closer to the ground, to represent gaining on the beast during their hunt.
The women’s traditional shawl dance embodied majesty and restraint as they walked to the beat of the drums in a circle attired in beaded yokes and dresses and carrying an ornate shawl placed across their left forearms. Their right hands were placed on the curve of their waists and as the drums became louder their necks became longer and they seemed to float across the grass as they moved.
Mofsie said the powwow is much more than just a social gathering. It is a way to honor the spiritual connection to their Native American ancestors and traditions.
The 37th Thunderbird Powwow also included vendors selling items ranging from CDs of Native American music to turquoise jewelry in the stands. There were also food trucks offering buffalo meat burgers and fry bread, a flat dough fried or deep-fried, which is eaten alone or with toppings such as honey or jam.
Reach Reporter Sadef Ali Kully by e-mail at skull