While the cultural barometer swings toward Euro-Americanism around the Fourth of July, not everything in the nation is stained deeper shades of red, white and blue on Independence Day. For the Indigenous cultures of North America, the establishment of the United States of America on July 4, 1776, was just another grand gesture by a foreign entity with conquistadorial desires. There was no triumph in this, no cause for celebration, just the realignment of the fur trade coupled with the reimagining of tribal boundary lines and an influx of yet more new faces; the very idea that someone else’s homeland could be turned into a country was as ridiculous a notion as anyone could come up with.
Accordingly, Indian Country has its own flavor over the summer months, and it doesn’t taste of Bud Light and hamburgers. The long days and short nights mark the height of powwow season, a time when the pound of a rawhide drum brings together friends and families, artists and elders from all over North America to engage in ceremony, dance, sing and eat.
Southern New England is a hotspot for those travelling on the Powwow Trail (see local listings: motifri.com/summerpowwow), with the tussle for attention over the Fourth of July weekend coming to a head on a quiet road in Barnstable Country, Mass, when the annual Mashpee Wampanoag powwow provides locals with a very clear choice in celebration.
Brian Moskwetah Weeden is an enrolled member of Mashpee Wampanoag tribe and Tribal Council Liaison on the Mashpee Wampanoag Tribal Council. Taking a proactive step in cultural preservation, Weeden has participated in dancing, singing and planning of the tribe’s powwow for the past 10 years. “The Mashpee Wampanoag Powwow is a time for celebration and community. We welcome our brothers and sister from across Turtle Island to help join us in ceremony to honor our ancestors and culture. People come to see the Wampanoag ‘People of The First Light’ as we are the ones who welcomed the Pilgrims back in the 1600s. Our main attractions are our annual fireball game, clambake, princess competition and much more!”
“It’s an important time because we are celebrating and continuing our culture,” explains Dan Shears of the Nulhegan Abenaki, “but the main thing I like about it is seeing family and friends that you may not have seen for a while. And especially the drums. When you get a good group, like the local Iron River Singers, you can’t help but get out and dance.”