Arvel Bird, Southern Paiute of Utah and Clan Kennedy of Scotland, played his fiddle at the Annual Mohegan Wigwam Festival in Fort Shantok, Connecticut on August 15. Bird, who has been living and fiddling on the road for the last 12 years, kept a quiet crowd entertained before Grand Entry.
Bird and those sitting within the enormous tent worried that the heat wave and a car accident on a local highway might slow the pow wow’s turnout. But at the stroke of somewhere around noon, call it Indian Time, the dancers began to line up. The sage was passed and the drum began, and even the fire in the circle seemed to dance with the hundreds who filled the tent.
Larry Spotted Crow Mann, Nipmuc from Massachusetts, sat on the dais as head judge, overseeing the dance competitions. He estimated 300-400 dancers made their way into Grand Entry. Mann, author of “The Mourning Road to Thanksgiving,” is now working on a new book about pre-historic, unrecorded, east coast legends. “We have pieces of oral stories, signs through our geographic location and our history. A lot of these stories were so-called lost, but there are remnants. You talk to people from all over, with elders and others who had similar languages and cultures, and you can begin to put that story together.”
Elders do love to tell a story and U.S. Marine Herbert R. Waters Jr., Namasket Wampanoag, was ready to smile and share as he prepared for Grand Entry. Waters described his homeland, The Place of Fish, near Middleborough and Taunton, Massachusetts. Looking much younger than his 85 years, Waters attributed his health and well being to a steady diet of clams, quahogs, and salmon. The Massachusetts area is well known for clams and quahogs, and when asked where he gets salmon, he answered with a smile, “At the store.”
Eastern Pequot Glenn Barrett, also 85 years old, traveled the Eastern pow wows and said she loves coming to the Mohegan pow wow. “As a young girl, my mother, who was Narragansett and Pequot, used to take us to the reservation in Stonington. As we got older, there were nine of us, we each went our own ways. Years ago, if you said you were Indian, people wouldn’t care but when the casinos came in, all of a sudden everybody wants to be Indian.” Barrett said her mother always told her the Pequots were proud people. “We don’t have a casino, but we are happy to be here. We will go to Schemitzun, the Pequot pow wow, too.”
There were more than just the Eastern nations represented at the Mohegan event. Even 81-year-old elder Bernice Montour, Mohawk from the Kahnawake Reserve, Canada, was there with her daughter. They have been traveling to pow wows together for the last 40 years. “It’s a family tradition to go from one pow wow to another. What’s nice is that you see people you haven’t seen in a year. You hug, ask one another, ‘where have you been and where are you going next?’”
A troupe of Aztec dancers came from Michoacan, Mexico, as representatives of all the states in their country. Their colorful outfits included that of a young man named Federico Castro, who managed to withstand the heat in his full mask and heavy, ornate regalia.
Mohegan tribal members showed up, too, of course. Melissa Tantaquidgeon Zobel, the tribe’s medicine woman and tribal historian, Marie Pineault, council of elders, and lifetime chief Marilyn Malerba were wearing beautiful smiles to go with their outfits. Pineault said about the day, “I got the children, the grandchildren, all the kids are here. What else could you ask for?”
Malerba said, “The third weekend of August is a time for us to call our ancestors, to celebrate all of our people who are here with us, and to keep the traditions going for the people yet to know.”
From the Sisseton-Wahpeton Nation, South Dakota, Cody Coe, a tattoo artist, sundancer and pipe carrier was there on his first visit east. Coe came with friends from New Jersey and said the pow wows in the east were different than those out west, but, added, “This is nice, too. I like the South Dakota pow wows but I love Indian people all over. It’s always good to dance for our culture.”