Mashantucket — As the drummers started playing and the singers sang their opening notes, the dancers waiting to enter the arena began to tap their feet.
Dancers of all ages wore regalia of every color, adorned with fringe, feathers, bells and beads of all shapes and sizes. Some marched forward with the beat. Others offered the audience a preview of some of the dance moves they would later show off in competition.
On Saturday, the Mashantucket Pequot Tribal Nation hosted its 20th annual Schemitzun, the Feast of Green Corn and Dance, highlighted by the grand entrance of dancers and tribal leaders.
Stanley Harris Jr., the tribe's war chief, and his brother Pedro Johnson, a member of the Mashantucket Pequot Elders Council, helped lead the procession in a circle around a sacred fire in the center of the outdoor arena at the Cultural Grounds.
Harris, 73, who wore a war bonnet filled with turkey feathers and regalia made of deer skin, attends Schemitzun every year.
Years ago, the purpose of the powwow was to offer thanks to Mantoo, the creator, for a successful harvest. Now in more modern times, Harris said the tribal members offer thanks to Mantoo for their health, their family and their jobs.
"It's the opportunity to celebrate and give thanks, that's what I come for," he said. "We are still being blessed."
The grand entrance was the start of the competitions. Cholena Smith, 19, a dancer from the Shinnecock Indian Nation, signed up to perform an "eastern blanket dance." She explained that the moves represent a woman's beauty and grace and can be used as a courtship dance.
"It helps to keep our own culture together," she said of performing the traditional dances.
Visitors to the event watched the competitions, shopped for Native American wares, watched Mashantucket Pequot members demonstrate their crafts and snacked on traditional fare, such as buffalo.
Ali Sierpina bought a blanket to sit on and a "smudge stick," a bundle of sage to cleanse an area of negativity. Sierpina said she drives from her home in Dover, N.H., to Schemitzun every year to "watch the dancing, do some shopping and eat good food."
"And you get a little spirituality, which is not available everywhere else," added her mother, Judy Mirabella, who also lives in New Hampshire.
Crystal Whipple, chairwoman of the Powwow Committee, said she was expecting roughly 3,000 people to take part in the two-day event; nearly 2,500 people attended last year even though the date was changed due to Tropical Storm Irene. The ultimate warrior competition, a theatrical re-enactment of war which debuted last year, is now a fixture of the event, she said.
The tribal members look forward to Schemitzun all year, Whipple said, since they get to see all of their friends and relatives.
Schemitzun continues today from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. at the Cultural Grounds on the Mashantucket Pequot Reservation. Shuttle service is available from the Mashantucket Pequot Museum, Foxwoods Resort Casino, MGM Grand at Foxwoods and Two Trees Inn. The cost is $5.
Call (860) 396-2136 or visit schemitzun.com for more information.