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Blog March 20, 2019

Getting to Know The Real Native New Yorkers

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When you celebrate New York City’s cultural diversity, don’t forget its Native heritage. 

These organizations and their programs can help you connect with indigenous people and traditions from throughout the hemisphere.

Canarsie. Rockaway. Lenape Playground. You may not realize how many place-names in New York take their names from the city’s ancestral peoples. But those cultures are more than our history. They’re part of contemporary life here. 

This year marks the 50th anniversary of the American Indian Community House and the 25th anniversary of the Redhawk Native American Arts Council. Both organizations are sponsoring programs and events that give you an opportunity to learn more about—and celebrate—indigenous cultures, traditions, and peoples.

It’s been 26 years since the first Gateway to Nations pow wow was organized by the Redhawk Native American Arts Council. “We were the first indigenous council to fully represent indigenous people of this hemisphere in our celebrations,” says Cliff Matias, Cultural Director. “For us, it was really important that we show the diversity of indigenous people of the Americas in our programs, always reminding people of the history of New York and how the Lenape are the keepers of the land.” 

FDR Pow Wow

Credit: Tom Mac

Redhawk Dancers

credit: Redhawk Native American Arts Council

The American Indian Community House will present Urban NDNS: A celebration of Native American music, arts, and culture on April 12 at the New York Society for Ethical Culture Theatre. The performance is part of Carnegie Hall’s Migrations: The Making of America festival.

On April 20, in collaboration with the New York Parks Department, the Redhawk Native American Arts Council is hosting its third annual celebration of the Earth in Sunset Park, Brooklyn. There will be presentations of North and South American indigenous dances that tell stories of the Earth’s creation, the rain, the sky, and the mountains. Artisans will be on hand to display (and in some cases, sell) their artwork. “Everyone is sharing their stories—indigenous stories of connecting with the Earth,” Matias says. Check the website for updates and further details.

Redhawk Dancers

credit: Redhawk Native American Arts Council

The organization will also present a program as part of Lincoln Center Out-of-Doors on May 4. This year’s festival calendar is not live yet, but you can check here for details when they’re published. 

Another arts group is the Thunderbird American Indian Dancers, which does not have any upcoming performances scheduled, but you can check the site for future dates. 

And the annual pow wow season includes events throughout the tri-state area. The Raritan, New Jersey Pow Wow will be held June 15–16 at the Middlesex County Fairgrounds in East Brunswick. On the evenings of July 26–28, the Queens County Farm Museum will host the 41st Annual Thunderbird American Indian Pow Wow. The Bear Mountain Pow Wow will be held August 3–4 at Harriman State Park in Stony Point, New York. And in October, Indigenous People’s Day celebrations will be held at Harlem River Field on Randall’s Island October 12-14. Check here for details and information about additional events.

FDR Pow Wow

credit: Tom Mac

In addition to the music and dance, you may have the opportunity at a pow wow to sample traditional foods such as venison, buffalo stew, and wild rice. Bear in mind when you attend a pow wow that it is a celebration, not a performance or a staged entertainment. The dancers are wearing traditional clothing, not costumes, and some will not want to be photographed, so it’s important to ask.

FDR Pow Wow

credi: Tom Mac

“I always tell our audiences, you are invited to a Native American party. You’re a guest at our party,” Matias says. “That’s a reminder I try to get people to understand all the time. We’re just trying to celebrate who we are.” And when you join the party, you’re celebrating a piece of New York’s heritage that must not be forgotten. 

Header photo of Powwow credit: Tom Mac

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