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'A homecoming': Schemitzun features music, dance, celebration

Mashantucket — Angelina Casanova and her family were enjoying the first day of the Schemitzun Feast of Green Corn and Dance at the Mashantucket Pequot Cultural Grounds on Saturday, their first powwow in two years.

While the family had enjoyed virtual powwows during the coronavirus pandemic, she said there is nothing like being there in person and connecting with the community and everything the powwow means: socializing, ceremony, prayer and reconnecting with the land and relatives.

Casanova was at the event with her children, Leonard Bell, 8, and Nylah Bell, 6, and niece Brooklyn Cumberbatch, 6, and nephew TJ Cumberbatch, 4, who were learning about doll making and the preparation of traditional meals.

Leonard said his favorite part is participating in the youth's Eastern War Dance.

"It feels very spiritual," he said. "It's fun because a lot of people here are mostly my family members and just being around everybody, showing everybody what I can do at the powwow, is just what makes it really fun."

Casanova, the national legislative affairs manager for the Mashantucket Pequot Tribal Nation, said the tribal community has been looking forward to welcoming tribal members, as well as members of other tribes, to celebrate the feast and beginning of harvest season.

The two-day event, hosted by the Mashantucket Pequot Tribal Nation, features music, dance, booths with arts and crafts, and food and drinks, including venison sausage, bluefish, mussels, corn cakes, lemonades and sassafras root tea.

Wayne Reels, director of cultural resources for the Mashantuckets, said the essence of the festival is giving thanks to the Creator for whatever the harvest yields.

There were COVID-19 protocols in place at this year's festival, and people who are not vaccinated or who are immunocompromised were encouraged to social distance and wear masks.

At the Eastern Woodland Village, Kerri Helme of the Mashpee Wampanoag community of Cape Cod was teaching people about deerskin doll making, a tradition going back thousands of years.

She said she was enjoying being with her family and friends at Schemitzun, especially as it's been a long time since they've all been together. She said it's important to continue their culture, traditions and language and enjoy traditional foods.

"It's like a homecoming," she said. "A family reunion."

Nearby, Leah Hopkins of the Narragansett Tribe showed attendees how she was slowly roasting bluefish — it had been caught that morning — over an open fire. She explained the fish was one of the many traditional foods in the Northeast and is also very popular today.

Hopkins said she has been working in museum education for 15 years and does a lot of traditional cooking displays throughout southern New England, along with food education programs.

"I like interpreting to the public," she said. "I like showing the visibility of Native people, the vibrancy of our contemporary cultures."

Elizabeth James-Perry from the Aquinnah Wampanoag community on Martha’s Vineyard was preparing yarn for a finger-woven sash and also had on display an array of handcrafted wampum jewelry she made from quahog shells.

"I think we all as tribal people look forward to these events as a time to gather and celebrate our culture and catch up on news from each other and this year," she said. "I think it's especially important because last year, of course, was such a difficult year, and everybody had to isolate and there really weren’t public events, and so it makes it that much more special."

Eastern war dancer Patrick Littlewolf of Secaucus, N.J., a member of the Tuscarora Tribe, participates in an intertribal dance Saturday, Aug. 28, 2021, at Schemitzun at the Mashantucket Pequot Cultural Grounds.  (Dana Jensen/The Day)
Eastern war dancer Patrick Littlewolf of Secaucus, N.J., a member of the Tuscarora Tribe, participates in an intertribal dance Saturday, Aug. 28, 2021, at Schemitzun at the Mashantucket Pequot Cultural Grounds. (Dana Jensen/The Day)

If you go

Schemitzun continues from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Sunday.

Admission: $15 ages 13-54; $10 ages 55 and up, military, ages 6-12; free for kids 5 and under

Where to go: Park at Foxwoods; shuttles stop at Fox Tower Hotel Loop, Grand Pequot Tower Hotel Loop and Great Cedar Hotel Bus Loop. People are required to wear face masks on shuttle buses. Handicapped-accessible pickup is available from the Mashantucket Pequot Museum & Research Center.

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