Rescuing Native Remains from the Traditions of Golden State Plunder

Shinnecock Indian Powwow is like a family reunion that celebrates Native American traditions and culture

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.

A dancer performs at the Shinnecock Indian Powwow in Southampton on...

A dancer performs at the Shinnecock Indian Powwow in Southampton on Saturday. Credit: John Roca

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.

Confronting Loss While Rediscovering Traditions

LeAnn

I was born and raised on the Navajo Nation in a small town called Tuba City, Arizona. I was taught at a young age to introduce myself to everyone and more than likely, I am related to someone by our clan system we use.

I am Zuni Edgewater born for Start of the Red Streak People Clan. My maternal grandfathers are Tangle Clan and my paternal grandfathers are Tobacco People Clan. I am beyond blessed and humbled that I was taught at a young age about my cultural heritage. I am a mother of five daughters, so the moment I became a mother for the first time is when I really thought about who is going to teach them about our culture, traditions and history? I am my daughters teacher when it comes to teaching them things about who we are as Dine people. From singing to dancing to sewing our Navajo clothing and knowing our Diné history, its me teaching them based on the knowledge I was taught while living on the Navajo reservation. I have family who help me out when I have questions about certain meanings of songs, dances, baskets, cradleboards, etc. I also use youtube to watch Navajo learning videos with my girls and find songs to sing together. Learning the basics of Navajo language is what I’m working on with my daughters. They seem to catch on better through singing. My niece who does the Navajo basket dance in Tuba City taught my oldest daughter through a recorded video of herself. I’m so blessed to have family that I can count on if I ever need their help in anyway. My mom is a seamstress and sends us Navajo attire for events we attend or are apart of when the Chicago Native community have functions going on.

Our community has a lot of events that go on throughout the year. From pow wows, to teaching how to make moccasins, how to make a drum, learn about herbal medicine plants, and so much more.

Even today I’m still learning about my culture.

Members of the Wiyot tribe in Northern California canoe across Humboldt Bay with the remains of 20 massacred tribe members reclaimed from a museum. Ben Margot/APSubscribe to The Nation Subscribe now for as little as $2 a month!

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Jack Potter Jr. was on the University of California at Berkeley campus to pick up the bones of a grandmother and five of her grandchildren. He said he could hear noises: “like white noises, but even stronger.” He stared at a structure in the distance when a representative of the university asked him, “What do you keep looking at over there?”

“I said, ‘I hear noises coming from down under that building.’”

“Oh, that’s where they’re stored,” Potter recalled the man saying.

Potter, who is the tribal chairman of the Redding Rancheria of Wintu Indians, said he could hear the different languages of the Native peoples stored on the shelves in the belly of the building. He said it sounded like a crowded room where dozens of conversations were all happening at once. “And as I went down in there, I needed a moment to myself,” he said.

Potter then asked the representative to step out; he told him he needed a moment alone among his long-departed relatives as well as the remains of the thousands of Indigenous peoples from across the continent stored in that basement. “It reminded me of a library—but instead of books on the shelves, they had skulls. They sit there waiting to go home.

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