Tag Archive | "Shinnecock Indian Nation"

Part of Life’s Celebration

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Avrel Bird will be among the performers at the Powwow.

Avrel Bird will be among the performers at the Powwow.

By Amanda Wyatt


Many moons ago, a young Iroquois woman from upstate New York performed as a dancer at the annual Shinnecock Indian Nation Powwow. Now a Grammy Award-winning singer-songwriter, she will make her return to Shinnecock next weekend—not as one of many powwow dancers, but as the headliner.

Her name is Joanne Shenandoah, and she is a veritable superstar of the Native American music scene.  She is set to perform her blend of traditional Native music, folk and other genres at the 66th annual powwow, which will be held August 31 through September 31.

Leah Shenandoah, who is set to release her first album, will join her mother on the stage. Arvel Bird, a violinist of mixed Paiute-Scottish ancestry, the Tlalcopan Aztec Dancers and a host of drummers, dancers and other performers are also on the bill.

In addition, dance competitions, sunset fire lighting, Native foods, arts and crafts demonstrations and vendor booths are all expected to round out the festivities.

However, all eyes will be on Shenandoah, who has traveled across the globe to spread her message of peace and harmony through music.

“Native music is an integral part of our culture, so that’s something we’ve been able to hold on to,” she explained in an interview last week.

“Music is part of our identity, and it also has allowed us to continue to survive — and not only survive, but to pay respect to humankind and the natural world,” said Shenandoah.

Shenandoah, whose Native name is Tekaliwah-kwa (“She Sings”), is the daughter of Maisie Shenandoah, Wolf Clanmother of the Oneida Nation, and Clifford Shenandoah, an Onondaga Nation chief. Since releasing her self-titled debut album in 1989, she has performed for Nelson Mandela, the Dalai Lama and presidents of the United States. She has sung with everyone from Willie Nelson and Neil Young to Rita Coolidge, and has been featured on albums with the likes of Bono and Sting.

In October, Shenandoah was even invited to perform in Rome to celebrate the canonization of the first Mohawk saint, Kateri Tekakwitha. She was also honored in Korea by Buddhist monks who gifted a piece of the Bo Tree or Bodhi Tree, the tree under which Siddhartha Gautama, later known as Gautama Buddha, is said to have achieved his enlightenment.

Calling music “a sacred experience,” Shenandoah said that her music comes from “the Divine.”

“I ask for my songs to flow and they come,” she said. “Music is a part of life’s celebration. We have 13 lunar cycles, so we celebrate that every month, and with that is a celebration of life.”

“I think music is a healing force,” added Shenandoah. “Music is something which affects us all, and the vibration of music is extremely vital to anything — from the very first heart beating, even in the womb, all the way until when we’re passing on.”

In fact, Shenandoah mentioned she once received an email from a Green Beret who had been playing her recordings to soothe soldiers in Afghanistan.

“If it weren’t for your music over here, none of us could sleep at night,” the email read.

This is part of Shenandoah’s larger mission to help create a better world.

“It’s an old Iroquois belief that when we go out camping, for example, when we leave, we leave it better than what it was,” she explained.  “Not just that we used the earth’s resources and we took from the earth, but that we gave back.”

With decades of recording and performing under her belt, Shenandoah noted that the interest in Native music has grown tremendously over the years, especially around the world.

“If you were to go to Europe, for example, people are very anxious to know Native music and for good reason,” she said. “I think America is only just starting to wake up to the fact that we have such incredibly talented artists, and I’m excited about that.”

Much of this talent will be on display this weekend at the Shinnecock Powwow, which was recently mentioned as one of the ten great powwows in the country by USA Today.

“The powwow is a wonderful event for the [Shinnecock] Nation, a time when we can celebrate our long history and reach out to our neighbors to help them to better understand our people,” said Shinnecock Chairman Randy King.

“We have always prided ourselves on being good neighbors, and want to continue that tradition by helping those with questions better understand our point of view. Educating others through an event like our annual powwow is a great and fun opportunity for our Nation,” King added.

In an interview, Reverend Michael Smith of the Shinnecock Presbyterian Church said, “originally, the powwow was a fundraiser for the church. Over the years, that’s gradually changed, so that’s split 50/50 between the church and the tribe.”

Reverend Smith added that the powwow has grown tremendously since 1946. Vendors, dancers, participants and visitors alike come not only from all over the country, but from as far away as Mexico and even Peru.

“It’s something this community looks forward to, and there are participants who have been coming year after year after year,” Reverend Smith said.

“Some of the folks have been here since they were kids, and now their grandkids are participating in the events,” he added.  “So it’s a rather significant event in the life of Shinnecock and our Indian brothers and sisters throughout the country.”


Activists Protest Cole Brothers Circus

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By Emily Weitz
Early this week, deep in the heart of the Shinnecock Reservation, the Cole Brothers Circus came to town.
And while there were plenty of cars full of delighted children headed to the big top tent, the crowd that greeted them Monday as they turned onto Shinnecock Indian Nation land was anything but jolly. Posters of chained elephants and caged tigers were displayed as cars passed, and protesters pleaded for them to turn back.
“Everybody likes the circus,” said Noyac resident Dorothy Frankel, an organizer of the boycott. “Until they find out what happens behind the scenes — then nobody likes the circus.”
While Frankel and her fellow demonstrators support circuses in general, they do not support the way animals are treated in certain circus acts, and Cole Brothers, they say, is one of the perpetrators.
“Cole Brothers has quite a few fines for abusive treatment of animals,” said Frankel. “Several years ago they were banned from Southampton Town, and we were grateful for that.”
Protesters say some of the charges against Cole Brothers include violations of the federal Animal Welfare Act through the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), including allegations like failure to provide veterinary care to a malnourished elephant. Protestors also allege the circus uses a bull hook, a sharp instrument, to prod their animals into doing certain things.
“It’s a sharp, forked instrument,” said Zelda Penzel, president of People for the End of Animal Cruelty and Exploitation. “They know the tender spots and they hit them with this sharp fork to force the movements. In Southampton we have a law that prohibits the use of these sharp tools.”
However, protestors say the circus was able to get around town law by putting up their big top on the sovereign Shinnecock Indian Nation Reservation. At first, Frankel said, she was sure her group would be able to work with the tribal council to keep the circus from coming.
“We documented and communicated the violations that have gone to the Cole Brothers Circus, but the tribal council is not honoring that and has insisted that this hasn’t taken place,” she said.
For their part, representatives of the Shinnecock Nation say they do not believe these accusations.
“Any charges of maltreatment of animals, circus or otherwise, is of concern to us. Absolutely,” said Randy King, Chairman of the Board of Trustees of the Shinnecock Nation. “But in the several years Cole Brothers has been setting up here, we have not observed any evidence of animal abuse.”
Penzel notes the primary thing these protestors oppose is the use of exotic animals, in this instance elephants and tigers, in the circus acts.
“After Southampton Town passed the ban on the exploitation of exotic animals five or six years ago they started to come without the elephants,” said Penzel. “That was fine. But then they went to the Shinnecocks and for the past three years they’ve been bringing elephants and tigers.”
As she spoke, Penzel wore a clown wig and held a sign of a tiger chewing on the bars of its cage. Some passing cars displayed thumbs-up at the protestors, while others called out in opposition, “We love the circus!” One woman stopped her car to ask if she was going the right way for the circus, and Penzel told her, “Don’t take your children there!”
“It educates people to something they tend to ignore,” said Penzel of protesters efforts. “This is no fun for the animals — traveling in box cars, wearing tutus and performing ridiculous tricks … This is cruelty. This is abuse.”
In response to the argument that the Shinnecock Indian Nation has the right to use their land to make an income for their people, Frankel agreed.
“We encourage them to do things where they’re earning money,” she said. “We are in favor of the Reservation. We all wanted to look the other way, but we can’t. That’s the problem.”
photography by Michael Heller

Court Strikes Casino Ban for Shinnecock Nation

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On Monday, a federal appeals court struck down a 2008 federal court decision barring the Shinnecock Indian Nation from building a casino on their tribal lands in Southampton, ruling the issue belongs under the jurisdiction of state courts.

In a 2-1 ruling, the 2nd U.S. Court of Appeals in New York ruled the matter between the State of New York and the Town of Southampton against the Shinnecock’s casino is one that should be settled in state rather than federal court.

The decision nullifies a 2008 permanent injunction granted to the town and state preventing the Shinnecock Indian Nation from building a casino near the Shinnecock Canal on its Hampton Bays property known as Westwoods.

On Tuesday, the Shinnecock Indian Nation Board of Trustees responded to the ruling, stating this was an opportunity for New York State Governor Andrew Cuomo to bring the Nation to the table and discuss a partnership between the state and the nation as Governor Cuomo has expressed interest in expanding gaming in New York.

Since the injunction was granted in 2008, the Nation has said it would not want to go against the wishes of the community and build a casino at Westwoods, but would prefer to find a situation where the tribe could have a casino further west on Long Island.

“The Shinnecock Indian Nation was gratified to learn that the United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit today vacated the judgment and injunction entered against it in litigation over the status and use of its tribe-owned land known as Westwoods,” said the Nation in a statement. “We thank the creator for lifting this burden and look forward to providing for the future of our people in a manner that is responsible and fair, as we always have in the past. Now that the Nation has been federally recognized as an Indian tribe and has been freed from the effects of that judgment and injunction, we again ask Governor Cuomo to sit down with the Nation to discuss how the Nation and the State can move forward together. Our ancestors and tribal leaders, both living and those who have gone before us, always have maintained our tribal lands for the benefit of all tribe members. This always will be our starting point for any discussions, and we look forward to finding an agreed basis with the State for realization of our common goals.”