NORTH STONINGTON -- Here in the heart of Connecticut's expanding Indian Country, Michael Porter was whirling and hopping Thursday afternoon, shaking his feathers in a colorful blur.
A rare sight for 21st century Connecticut maybe, but Porter's deft
fancy dance is not unusual at the 10th annual
festival, sponsored by the Mashantucket Pequot Indian
tribe. Schemitzun - named for a traditional native feast celebrating
the first ripening corn - brings together Indians from hundreds of
tribes to celebrate food, crafts, music and dance.
It gives everyone a chance to look at how Indians share their
culture, said Porter, a Mashantucket dancer who will be a senior
at Ledyard High School this fall.
At a time when a lack of understanding between Indians and the outside world seems to be on the rise, the Mashantuckets are throwing what amounts to a big, noisy state fair and hanging out the welcome sign. First and foremost, the event is a chance for Indians to come together at a traditional powwow, organizers say. But it's also an opportunity for others to take a peak inside the long history of native Americans.
On the site of a former hilltop farm, a few miles from Foxwoods Resort Casino, there's an Oneida Indian selling handmade deerskin evening gowns. Drummers and dancers are performing ancient rituals. There's real wampum for sale, as well as fish tacos, fry bread, buffalo burgers and CDs by an Indian rapper. In the rodeo corral, toothpick-thin Indian cowboys in gaudy chaps ride bona fide bucking bulls.
It is perhaps no more incongruous than Indians opening the world's largest casino in a state where a few years ago relatively few even knew there were Indian tribes.
It's important for us to have an opportunity to gather and
celebrate who we are with other Indian people, said Michael
J. Thomas, a member of the Mashantucket tribal council and powwow
committee chairman. For Connecticut, which is wrestling with the
growth of casino gambling and the increasing prominence of Indian
tribes, it also serves an additional purpose, he said.
It gives an opportunity for the average people in New London County
and the rest of Connecticut to see that we are not very different from
Indians all over North America, said Thomas, who serves as tribal
Curtis Hamilton agreed. Hamilton, a Pawnee from Oklahoma, said he goes
to dozens of Indian powwows, but Schemitzun stands out as the best on
the East Coast. Hamilton is the burly leader of
drumming group performing at the powwow and a Grammy nominee last
People seem a lot more interested in Native American culture these
days, said Hamilton, 26, whose nine band members beat a single
large drum they call
In this part of Connecticut, Indians probably haven't been this big a story since the violent Indian wars of the 1600s, when Puritans sought to wipe them out. In addition to the casinos operated by the Mohegans and Mashantuckets, the historical Eastern Pequots - whose reservation is next door to Schemitzun - are eager to open their own casino in southeastern Connecticut.
Both the Eastern Pequots and the Mashantuckets are bitterly opposed by local elected leaders and anti-gambling groups. Thursday, Thomas again faced a barrage of reporters' questions over whether his tribe truly descends from the once mighty Pequots.
It's an endless stream of madness, Thomas said of those who
challenge the lineage of the Pequots, a tribe once erroneously thought
to be virtually extinct.
Folks don't realize that we are
evolving as a people.
Schemitzun 2002 continues through Sunday, from 10 a.m. to 11 p.m. Admission is $8 for adults, $4 for senior citizens, and $2 for children. The festival, which includes a daily rodeo, traditional dance competitions, food, crafts and carnival rides, takes place on Wintechog Hill Road in North Stonington, just beyond Foxwoods. For more information call 800-224-CORN.