In the 68th consecutive year of their annual powwow, members of the Shinnecock Indian Nation are expecting larger-than-ever crowds this Labor Day weekend.
While visitors can expect the traditional Native American cultural displays that have become synonymous with the powwow, this year the tribe will introduce at least one new tradition to honor both tribe members and visitors who have served the United States.
Throughout the four-day weekend, the tribe will be soliciting donations to support the Wounded Warrior Project, a nonprofit philanthropic organization dedicated to helping U.S. veterans who were injured while serving in the military.
“On Sunday, we will have a special day for veterans, and we are going to ask for donations for the Wounded Warrior Project,” powwow committee member Susan Soto, a U.S. Air Force veteran, said this week. “At the end, we are going to present the organization with all of the money we raise in their name.”
According to Ms. Soto, who was the first Native American woman to be named the commander of a Veterans of Foreign War post in November 2013 when she took the helm of Southampton Post 7009, the Shinnecock Indian Nation has always gone to great lengths to honor America’s heroes—for example, with an annual veterans dance at the powwow.
Currently, the tribe has 36 retired military veterans, ranging from World War II to Afghanistan, and six active duty members of the military. So when Ms. Soto was approached by members of the Wounded Warrior Project, she said, she was happy to bring this new twist to the event.
“We always honor our military veterans at every powwow,” Ms. Soto said. “This year, one of our dancers brought up that he had done this before at other events and another powwow, and wanted to bring it to Shinnecock and raise money.”
As part of the celebration, on Sunday afternoon, a special dance will be performed honoring all veterans. According to Ms. Soto, all veterans in attendance, whether they are Shinnecock tribe members or not, will be invited to participate.
The dance will be just one highlight of the powwow, which many members of the tribe consider to be a major holiday, Ms. Soto said. People travel from all over the country to attend the four-day event, which reunites families as well as showcasing traditional Shinnecock culture. Each year, approximately 10,000 people attend the event.
“The powwow kind of ranks a little higher than Christmas, because everybody comes home for the powwow,” Ms. Soto said. “It is just a great time for us to get together as a nation and reinforce our culture with the children and speak to the elders.”
Ms. Soto noted that the Shinnecock Nation has hosted a powwow for hundreds of years, but it was revived as a public event in 1946 to benefit the Shinnecock Presbyterian Church and has now evolved into an event that hosts thousands of visitors every year.
The gathering will entertain crowds with Native American drummers and dancers, arranged by age and judged in traditional war, blanket and smoke dances, all competing in hopes of winning a trophy and more than $50,000 in prize money.
At the event, more than 100 Indian nations will be represented, with more than 100 vendors, native arts, crafts and foods, raffles, and a sunset fire lighting.
Ms. Soto is also looking forward to the cultural food, including fried bread, which, she said, is a Native American delicacy, enhanced with local berries and fruit for a local flair. The powwow will also feature a variety of clam-based dishes.
The event will also feature a display of traditional Native American tepees and other dwellings. The highlight of the powwow for many people will be the native dances and drumming, an attraction that draws thousands.
“The drummers we have are top-notch,” Ms. Soto said. “Ours is the cream of the crop for the East Coast.”
The grounds will open at 3 p.m. on Friday and at 10 a.m. on Saturday, Sunday and Monday. Shuttles will be operating to transfer visitors from the main fairground to the Shinnecock Historical Museum.
Tickets are $15 for adults and $10 for seniors and children 6 to 12 and people with disabilities. Children up to the age of 5 can attend for free. Parking is free. The tribe has asked that visitors not take pets to the event.
Grand Entry ceremonies will be at 7 p.m. on Friday, and 12:30 p.m. on Saturday, Sunday and Monday.