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    Sunday, February 25, 2024

    Grand Entry takes center stage at Schemitzun

    Nadaizja Bolling of the Aquinnah Wampanoag Tribe uses a finger weaving technique to make a neck pouch during the Schemitzun Feast of Green Corn and Dance at the Mashantucket Pequot Cultural Grounds on Sunday, Aug. 28, 2022. (Sarah Gordon/The Day)
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    Dancers from different tribes take part in the Grand Entry during the Schemitzun Feast of Green Corn and Dance at the Mashantucket Pequot Cultural Grounds on Sunday, Aug. 28, 2022. (Sarah Gordon/The Day)
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    Charity Dames helps braid her daughter Chloe Cox, “Rainbow Heart,” 8, before participating in the Grand Entry the Schemitzun Feast of Green Corn and Dance at the Mashantucket Pequot Cultural Grounds on Sunday, Aug. 28, 2022. (Sarah Gordon/The Day)
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    Dancers from different tribes take part in the Grand Entry during the Schemitzun Feast of Green Corn and Dance at the Mashantucket Pequot Cultural Grounds on Sunday, Aug. 28, 2022. (Sarah Gordon/The Day)
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    Drummers warm the skin of their drums over an open fire before Grand Entry during the Schemitzun Feast of Green Corn and Dance at the Mashantucket Pequot Cultural Grounds on Sunday, Aug. 28, 2022. This is to dry out the leather, which stretches during the humid climate. (Sarah Gordon/The Day)
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    Dancers gather to participate in the Grand Entry during the Schemitzun Feast of Green Corn and Dance at the Mashantucket Pequot Cultural Grounds on Sunday, Aug. 28, 2022. (Sarah Gordon/The Day)
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    Liliana Mars, 15, of the Narragansett Tribe, adjusts her jewelry for the Grand Entry during the Schemitzun Feast of Green Corn and Dance at the Mashantucket Pequot Cultural Grounds on Sunday, Aug. 28, 2022. (Sarah Gordon/The Day)
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    Visitors walk past vendors during the Schemitzun Feast of Green Corn and Dance at the Mashantucket Pequot Cultural Grounds on Sunday, Aug. 28, 2022. (Sarah Gordon/The Day)
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    Dancers from different tribes take part in the Grand Entry during the Schemitzun Feast of Green Corn and Dance at the Mashantucket Pequot Cultural Grounds on Sunday, Aug. 28, 2022. (Sarah Gordon/The Day)
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    Visitors play outside “the village” during the Schemitzun Feast of Green Corn and Dance at the Mashantucket Pequot Cultural Grounds on Sunday, Aug. 28, 2022. (Sarah Gordon/The Day)
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    Dancers gather to participate in the Grand Entry during the Schemitzun Feast of Green Corn and Dance at the Mashantucket Pequot Cultural Grounds on Sunday, Aug. 28, 2022. (Sarah Gordon/The Day)
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    Elders from different tribes take part in the Grand Entry during the Schemitzun Feast of Green Corn and Dance at the Mashantucket Pequot Cultural Grounds on Sunday, Aug. 28, 2022. (Sarah Gordon/The Day)
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    Mashantucket — Over 50 different tribes were represented this weekend at Schemitzun Feast of Green Corn and Dance.

    While authentic foods and traditional crafts lined the perimeter of the two-day event, the largest attraction was in the center of the Mashantucket Pequot Cultural Grounds.

    The Grand Entry pulled all in attendance to the center of the grounds and displayed Native American culture in its purest form.

    “The energy is unreal,” Rita Gilman, a dancer in the ceremony, said. “It’s how we really come together.”

    Gilman, a member of the Mohegan Tribe, likened the event to “nourishment” for her soul.

    “Honestly, it’s like sanity for a lot of us,” she added. “It’s our spiritual thing. It’s our healing. It’s how we keep our mood.”

    Long lines of dancers of various ages fell in behind an honor guard, which led the group into the circular arena, along with elders, royalty and dignified guests, as the Grand Entry commenced.

    “The grand entry is a melting pot of culture,” said Wayne Reels, the tribal director of cultural resources and a founding member of the festival committee.

    Groups of drummers played and sang an entry song, a flag song and a victory song as participants danced and celebrated their heritage. Reels explained a number of different dances from all over the country.

    Children of the Mashantucket Pequots can learn a northern smoke dance, or learn a style of dance from a tribe from Oklahoma, Reels said. He explained that this practice “enables us to go anywhere in Indian Country and dance that style of dance.”

    “This is how we carry it on,” Reels said. “This is how we teach our young the dances.”

    Schemitzun (pronounced Ski-MET-zen) is the Native American celebration of thanksgiving and the first fruits of the harvest. As Eva Lutz Butler wrote in “The Green Corn Dance,” the event dates back to 1669, and it often preceded a war as warriors would be stocked up with food from the harvest.

    Now, tribal members like Dylan Smith use it to pass on traditions.

    “It’s always nice to see it being alive still,” Smith said of the culture, as he sat outside the 17th century Eastern Woodland Village exhibit.

    Smith said he grew up in the area and has since left, but uses the event as a homecoming of sorts. The 25-year-old porcupine quillworker — a form of embroidery used for decoration — said his parents weren’t “into it” while he and his brother were growing up, so the two have since made it a priority to travel and attend events like Schemitzun.

    “We’re carrying on an old tradition,” Reels said.

    The Grand Entry seamlessly transitioned into distinct ceremonies. Veterans spanning generations and centuries — from the Pequot War in 1637 to the present day — were honored with a flag raising. A ceremony for Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women as well as Every Child Matters — a movement to remember children sent to Indian schools who never returned home — were performed as well in an effort to remember those lost and educate those unaware.

    “We take the time to remember them and honor them,” Reels said. “They were the forgotten people of our people.”

    Reels explained that the event is also a way to educate the public. While those not connected to tribal cultures may not understand the dancers donned in fur or the traditions practiced, Reels wants the greater public to feel connected to the culture.

    “This is who we are,” Reels said. “It’s always important to the whole community to come together and to welcome in our traveling families from all over many other nations, many other reservations, many other places.

    k.arnold@theday.com

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