2011-08-10 / Front Page

Native Americans Gather For Annual City Powwow

By Jason D. Antos

Traditional Native American teepees were set up at the festival to provide housing for the performers. Traditional Native American teepees were set up at the festival to provide housing for the performers. Native Americans from across the country and Canada joined together in peace and harmony at the Queens County Farm Museum in Glen Oaks for the 33rd Annual Thunderbird Mid-Summer Powwow.
The oldest and largest powwow held in the city featured three days of inter-tribal Native American dance competitions with more than 40 Native American nations represented including the Matinecock and Shinnecock nations. Both tribes have a long native history in Queens and greater Long Island. Guests were able to browse through a large selection of handmade Native American art, crafts, jewelry and food.
Powwow is the English spelling of the Algonquian word pauwau. The word means an elder, faith keeper, healer or chief.
Festivities featured the traditional hoop dance, the Tlacopan Aztec Dancers and the customary lighting of the bonfire.
“These powows are my whole life,” Duke Simmons, a member of the Seneca nation said. Simmons, who goes by the name of “Two Feathers”, was dressed in an elaborate Seneca outfit and feather headdress that he made himself.
“These programs help educate people about our culture and our proud traditions,” he said.
When the first Dutch settlers arrived in 1643 there were thirteen different native “tribes” living on Long Island. Many places in Queens, Brooklyn and Long Island still retain their Native American names. The tribes were actually members of two nations, the Lenape and the Algonquian. As each tribe traveled, they would use a word to describe the geography of the place where they originated from when encountering another group of natives. Duke “Two Feathers” Simmons, a member of the Seneca nation, stands proudly in his traditional outfit and feather headdress which he made himself.Photos Jason D. AntosDuke “Two Feathers” Simmons, a member of the Seneca nation, stands proudly in his traditional outfit and feather headdress which he made himself.Photos Jason D. Antos
For example, the neighborhood Canarsie in Brooklyn is a word in the Lenape language for “fenced land” or “fort”.
Rockaway, or rack-a-wak-e, means “place of sands”. The local Algonquian tribe was the Matinecock, which means “the hill country”.
Other Algonquian groups hailed from Manhasset, “the island neighborhood”.
Reservations still remain on Long Island. The Shinnecock Indian Nation is a federally recognized tribe headquartered in Suffolk County on the south shore of Long Island. Shinnecock are an Algonquian people and now reside on the Shinnecock Reservation within the geographic boundaries of Southampton.
Other local groups included Maspeth who came from “the place of still waters”. Jamaica is named after the Yamecah tribe.
The Rockaway natives inhabited the area now known as Richmond Hill.
The natives called Long Island Paumanok, which meant “land of tribute”.
The Long Island tribes lived a prosperous life. They were hunters and fishermen, but some of them were farmers who raised beans and corn.
They were expert fishermen. Seafood was plentiful where fresh water met salt water and it was here that many campsites could be found at such inlets where the natives caught crabs, clams, scallops, lobster, and many kinds of fish including herring, bass and bluefish.
According to early accounts recorded by the first European settlers, Algonquian and Lenape houses were not teepees but dome-shaped structures from 10 to 20 feet in diameter, covered with grass. Clay covered openings at the tops of the dwellings prevented them from burning when fires were lit inside. The vents allowed smoke and heat to escape.
The primary medium of exchange among the natives was wampum, ornamental groupings of small seashells strung on the sinews of small animals or attached to the inner bark of elm trees.
By 1741, it was estimated that only 400 natives remained on the island. By the time of the American Revolution in 1776, Indians were a rare sight on the island.

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