Story by Robin Lawless
Photos by Q PHOTO NYC
"Laugh, shout, be happy! It's a great day today!"
That was the opening blessing Mohawk Leader Tom Porter gave the crowd this past Sun., May 20th at the 10th Annual "Drums Along the Hudson Festival" at Inwood Hill Park.
The celebration of Native American heritage was a multi-cultural party featuring exhibits that highlighted dancing and drumming traditions, arts and crafts and international food.
Groups representing all Five Indian Nations attended the event dressed in traditional garb.
And the northern Manhattan park was a natural place for the gathering, as it is the last remaining forest in the city and served as the major hunting and fishing grounds for the native Lenape people over 3000 years ago.
For many, it was a chance to shed off the vestiges of city life and connect with the past.
Festival-goers of all ages enjoyed a day filled with music, story and dance.
"This is an opportunity for us to share some of our ancient culture with the community," said Roberto Borrero of the Taino Cultural Society, after his group performed in the opening ceremony.
The Taino people originated in Caribbean and were the first tribe to encounter Christopher Columbus.
"This is the place where natives fished and lived," said Jane Schachat, former administrator for parks in Northern Manhattan, who retired in 2007 after 26 years of service.
"We're walking where they walked. It's remarkable it still exists," she added.
Schachat, who was honored at the festival for her work restoring northern Manhattan's two parks, Inwood Hill and Fort Tyron, was credited with being part of the reason that the local parks have retained their stature.
"I'm very moved," Schachat said of the honor. "These parks were my passion."
LaDonna Harris, President of Americans for Indian Opportunity was also honored for her contributions to humanitarian causes and environmental stewardship.
Ancient residents of the area were also given credit for their stewardship of the parks. "The Native Americans were the original environmentalists," said WABC –TV anchor Sandra Bookman, who hosted the event.
"Their legacy to us is that this area is here for us to enjoy because they took such good care of it," she said.
Elected officials, including Borough President Scott Stringer, New York State Senator Adrian Espaillat, and New York City Councilmember Robert Jackson, among others, stopped by to express their support.
A participant in formal dress.
A white pine tree, an Iroquois symbol of peace, was planted in the park to commemorate the memory of community leaders that have been lost in the past year.
Later in the afternoon, a procession of individuals dressed in colorful dress entered the pow-wow field and kicked up some dust, performing traditional dances to pounding drum sounds while a large crowd watched.
Greywolf Richards, a North-Eastern Band Cherokee Indian who lives in the Bronx, wore red and black war paint on his face and performed in a dance called the sneak up.
"We live in a concrete jungle here, we're urban Indians. Being able to dance here, near the water, is a way to reconnect with Mother Earth," he said.
The festival also included performances from a variety of groups that pointed to the unique diversity of New York City.
"It's about bringing people together, and enjoying each other cultures," said Carl Nelson who produced the event for Lotus Music and Dance.
These included The Thunderbird American Indian Dancers, dancers from the Jacques d'Amboise's National Dance Institute, the New York Chinese Cultural Center, the Harambee Dance Company (African dance), the Val-Inc (Afro-Electronic), the Kasibahagua Taino Cultural Society (Caribbean), and Kahurangi Maori Dance Company (New Zealand) also performed.
Festival attendees were grateful for the brilliant day, and appreciated having the event in the neighborhood.
"It's great that there is still the reminder, and that the heritage is celebrated," said Park Terrace resident Wendy Herlich, who brought her daughter Vera.
And the message was reflected throughout the day, as those dressed in far more casual clothing joined those in elegant formal beaded headwear, complete with tomahawks, and dress on the great, sweeping fields of the park, to dance, to take a closer look and share a few words – and mostly, smile.
"Although we may look different, all of us are the same," said producer Nelson.
To learn more about the event go to: http://www.drumsalongthehudson.org.