The Shinnecock Cultural Museum and 62nd Annual Shinnecock Powwow
Why would anyone brave the Montauk Highway on Labor Day Weekend? To get to the Shinnecock Powwow, of course. And yes, it really is worth it to endure the traffic! There is just nothing else on the East End that comes close to the color and pageantry of this family-friendly event. It's a great way to explore Long Island's rich Native American heritage. The dancers, drummers, and singers who compete in the events are among the finest competitors in the world and come from all across the Americas. Their elaborate, fabulously beaded and feathered costumes are just incredible. Their dancing will stir your blood and make you want to tap your toes. Not only is the powwow a spectacular event, it is extremely educational and offers a unique chance to meet people of the First Nations from all across the country. This will be the first Shinnecock Powwow since the tribe was officially recognized by the federal government last October.
The 66th Annual Shinnecock Powwow
The powwow runs for four days, from Friday evening, August 31st, through Monday, September 3rd. Each day begins with a Grand Entry, a parade of powwow participants in all their glory. Each sunset, a ceremonial fire is lit. There are competitions for prize money in most of the most famous dances from the Men’s Eastern War Dance to the Women’s Jingle Dance. Competitions are divided by age and gender, and children as young as six compete. There is also a drum contest with prizes in the thousands of dollars.
The contests are not the only dances. Groups from all across the Americas come simply to show off their traditional dances to an appreciative and knowledgeable audience. There are also hundreds of arts-and-crafts vendors and of course food vendors offering everything from hot dogs to delicious native foods.
No pets are permitted on the grounds and there is also a ban on alcohol. Parking is free, but the events can get crowded so it is a good idea to come early. There is no published schedule of the individual dance events. Most people just show up. Dancing goes on all day every day. Sunday is probably the most intense day of competition.
Shinnecock Nation Cultural Center and Museum
If the powwow inspires you to learn more about the Shinnecock nation, or if you missed the event altogether, make a visit to the musem almost next door. The museum is small and eclectic, but the staff is extremely friendly and knowledgeable. Outside there is a traditional wickiup to explore and a huge dugout canoe to look at. The museum itself is a white-pine-log building with an intricately carved wooden door that is in and of itself a work of art. Inside are a number of interesting collections and exhibits.
"A Walk with the People," a series of intricate and colorful large wall murals, depicts the history of the Shinnecock Nation from prehistoric times to the present and is sure to fire a child’s imagination. Equally fun to look at are the 20 life-sized bronze sculptures of Native Americans in an exhibit entitled "My Spirit Dances Forever.” The sculptures wear traditional costumes and are colored very realistically. I visited with a number of young relatives ages 8 to 10 and they were all completely fascinated by them. The museum also houses displays of traditional weaponry, basketry, and tools.
The Shinnecock Nation Cultural Center is a small museum with big plans. In the Spring of 2013 they will open the Wikun [Good] Gathering Place and Living History Village, where visitors can experience firsthand what life was like for the Shinnecock and other Eastern Woodlands tribes before the arrival of Europeans. This sounds like an absolutely incredible piece of living history, and we will let you know all about it as soon as it is open for the public.
Cautionary Note: There are Shinnecock cigarette vending stands all along the road on either side of the museum, as cigarettes can be purchased tax-free on reservation lands. This may surprise your children if they have not really encountered cigarettes before. And, of course, if you are trying to quit smoking, it is best to be forewarned.
Go on! Check it out and have fun and amazing cultural experience!
Shinnecock Nation Cultural Center and Museum
100 Montauk Highway and Westgate Road
Thursday to Saturday 11am–4pm, Sunday 12–4pm
The museum is closed on major holidays and also on November 2nd in honor of Native American Recognition Day.
Adults $5, children 5–12 $3, children under 5 free. If you have a group of 10 or more, the museum can give you a group rate and can also organize a tour for you.
66th Shinnecock Indian Powwow
Rte. 27A west of Southampton Village
Friday, August 31
3pm grounds open; 7pm Grand Entry
Saturday, September 1– Monday, September 3
10am grounds open; 12:30pm Grand Entry; 7pm Evening Grand Entry (Saturday and Sunday)
Adults $12; seniors, children 6–12, disabled $10; children under 6 are free. Credit cards accepted.