2006-05-18 / Front Page

Powwow spotlights Native American culture

Kennedy Park event features song, dance, foods, crafts, pottery

Staff Writer

SAYREVILLE - More than 100 indigenous peoples from two dozen tribes will come to the borough this weekend for the New Jersey American Indian Center's 21st Anniversary Powwow & Festival.

The event will be held both Saturday and Sunday at Kennedy Park, Washington Road.

John Runningdeer, 75, of Old Bridge, is president of the New Jersey American Indian Center, a nonprofit organization based in the Parlin section of Sayreville. He formed the group in 1976 to begin holding regional powwows, or "gathering of the people," as the term literally means. Members of his tribe, the Shinnecock, will come from all over the area to attend this powwow.

"We are from Long Island, N.Y., and we are still there," Runningdeer said of the Shinnecock. "We were one of the first tribes to let the English in. We invited them in because the Dutch invaded New Amsterdam and were slaughtering Indians. That is why you speak English today, instead of Dutch."

Runningdeer noted that there are many Shinnecock in the area, especially in South Plainfield and Jackson. He added that there are other powwows in the region, including Maryland and one in southern New Jersey in June.

This Labor Day will mark the 60th Annual Shinnecock Powwow in the Hamptons. Several thousand Shinnecock people are expected to attend, including Chi Chi Thunderbird, who will be the only other original dancer from the first powwow besides Runningdeer to perform there next month.

"We were teenagers when her father started the powwow," Runningdeer said, recalling the original event he and Thunderbird performed in 60 years ago.

The powwow in Sayreville will include the dancing, drumming, singing and traditional attire of native peoples from South, Central and North America. Members of the local tribe, the Lenape, will also be in attendance.

In addition to the performances from Native American tribes, there will be a unity dance that the public is invited to join so that they experience the culture directly.

Craftsmen from upstate New York, Canada, the southwestern region of the United States and Central America will be there to sell wares. Twenty traders and one food vendor selling native and other foods will be there, as well as a flute player and storytellers.

The venue will open at 10 a.m. both days, with the "grand entry" at noon. This dance will see all the tribes carrying their respective flags and singing songs and wearing traditional regalia.

The event runs through 7 p.m. Sat. and 6 p.m. Sun.

The powwow will go on rain or shine. Admission is $5 for adults; $2 for children ages 5 to 12; $3 for senior citizens. The proceeds help to pay for the expenses of this year's powwow, and any remaining funds will be carried over to next year's event, Runningdeer said. Additional funds from the New Jersey State Council on the Arts were acquired through a grant provided by the Middlesex County Cultural and Heritage Commission.

The powwow was formerly held at the Old Bridge Ice Arena, but renovations at that facility forced the organization to move the event.

"We went to the mayor of Sayreville," Runningdeer said, "who was Mayor McCormick at the time, and since then, everyone in Sayreville has been so nice to us and treated us so well, that we said that we are staying right here. The town has been very good to us. They support us in all of our endeavors."

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