It's Schemitzun

Members of the Mashantucket Little Fox Dance Troop offer a preview for Schemitzun in Rainmaker Square at Foxwoods.
Members of the Mashantucket Little Fox Dance Troop offer a preview for Schemitzun in Rainmaker Square at Foxwoods. Tim Cook/The Day Buy Photo

Schemitzun is back - although it never really went away.

In 2009, the annual powwow, a harvest festival of green corn sponsored by the Mashantucket Pequot Tribal Nation, was considerably scaled back as part of a cost-cutting initiative. Then, last year, the impending Hurricane Irene resulted in a postponement of the event - which tradionally takes place the third weekend of August - well into September.

The tribe even changed the name from "Schemitzun" to "Green Corn Powwow."

But if the celebration isn't quite back to the full-strength glory of the early years, there is decided energy and momentum, says Wayne Reels, the tribe's cultural coordinator and one of the event's emcees.

"We've gone back to the original name," Reels says, "But if you go back and look to the original festivals, it was called Schemitzun with a 'feast of green corn and dance' subhead. So we've always had a consistent element."

Taking place Saturday and Sunday on the Mashantucket Pequot Cultural Grounds, the 21st annual Schemitzun includes social and competitive Native American dancing, indigenous crafts and foods, and a replication of life in a 17th-century eastern woodland village appropriate to the Mashantucket Pequots.

Still missing from the era when Schemitzun was a million-dollar production is the all-Native bull-riding rodeo, and there are less participatory food and craft vendors.

But Reels says plenty of representatives and dancers from a variety of American and Canadian tribes will participate in ceremonial displays as well as contests with prize money.

"There could be as many as 70 to 100 tribes represented, and maybe as many as 250 dancers," Reels says. "At one point, we had as many as 4,000 over the course of a Schemitzun. We can't afford to give out that kind of money, but we've restructured it so that more participants actually win some prize money, and that's had a positive effect."

Of course, the idea behind Schemitzun - to celebrate the harvest, ancestry and family, and give thanks Mantoo (The Creator), provider of all things - remains the paramount reason for the festival. It's a spiritual and pan-generational event, and plenty of fun. For those taking part in the dance or singing ceremonies, there are year-round rehearsals and adjunct festivals leading up to Schemitzun.

"There is a lot of protocol, ceremony and etiquette involved in these dances and songs," Reels says. "If, for example, an eagle feather accidentally drops at a certain point, you have to perform a purification ceremony. And you have to know how to do that in advance and not figure it out while it's happening."

To that end, Schemitzun is very much a teaching experience for the tribe as well as the public at large.

"It's very educational to learn about the old ways, but it's a living culture and we have to incorporate those elements to the rituals, too," Reels says. "It's important to teach the old with the new, and we have to make it contemporary as well as historical. It's a total educational experience, then, even for the grown-ups."

Schemitzun - Feast of Green Corn & Dance, 10 a.m.-10 p.m. Sat., 10 a.m.-6 p.m. Sun., Cultural Grounds, Mashantucket Pequot Reservation, shuttle service available from Mashantucket Pequot Museum, Foxwoods Resort Casino, MGM Grand at Foxwoods and Two Trees Inn; $5 daily; (860) 396-2136, schemitzun.com.

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