In many ways, the Shinnecock Indian Powwow feels like a family reunion for the dancers, singers and attendees who gather each summer on the tribe’s Southampton grounds.
The 77th powwow, a celebration of Native American traditions and cultures, continued for its second day Saturday under warm, sunny skies with several thousand people in attendance.
Christian Weaver, 46, said he’d attended the powwow all his life. A Shinnecock native, he carried a bow and shield for the Eastern War dance. He now lives in Washington D.C., he said, and his parents and siblings live in Atlanta.
The powwow is a chance for the family to reunite.
“I wouldn’t miss it for the world,” he said.
The powwow brings together tribes from across North America, such as the Cree from Canada, Pequot from Connecticut and Sioux from North and South Dakota.
“We all share a common thread and culture,” said Shane Weeks, 33, a Shinnecock resident who said his parents told him he was dancing at the powwow since before his first birthday. “It’s nice to be able to share that with each other.”
The first Grand Entry of the day began shortly after 1 p.m. when all the tribes marched to the drum beat. The Shinnecock Council of Trustees led the march with traditional flags and were followed by members of all different ages from the different tribes. A few women carried infants.
Sachem Charles K. Smith II, the master of ceremonies, welcomed the audience and told them they were about to witness “some of the finest dancing and singing.”
“This is a time for celebration, a time to feel good and to celebrate those good feelings with song and dance,” he said.
Blackbird, a Native American rock fusion band based in Arizona, kicked off the festivities with a short set list. Vendors set up around the perimeter of the grounds, some selling authentic Native American food. Others sold handicrafts, arts and jewelry.
A long line formed early in the afternoon for the Sly Fox Den, a Rhode Island-based restaurant, which sold authentic Indigenous cuisine from James Beard Award-winning chef Sherry Pocknett.
At one booth, Sandi Brewster-Walker discussed the history of the Montaukett Indian Nation.
She echoed the sentiment of the powwow’s family reunion atmosphere.
“You run into so many family and friends or extended family,” said Brewster-Walker, who lives in Maryland.
For others, the weekend was the first chance to experience the Shinnecock powwow.
Hayden Light, 16, of Virginia, said a friend planned to attend and offered him a ride. He jumped at the opportunity, he said, adding that the powwow was the largest he’s ever attended.
A member of the Monacan Indian Nation, Light wore regalia that, he said, has “a lot of story to tell.”
Powwow participants said they hoped people’s exposure to Native American culture allowed them to listen and learn more about the tribes and who they were as a people.
“Our cultures and traditions are alive and well and we’re working hard to preserve them,” Weaver said.
The powwow resumes Sunday at 10 a.m. and concludes with a shorter program Monday.