Celebration of culture on display in city

The shores of Lake Erie were home to a powwow for a celebration of Native American history on Sunday.

People from around the local area gathered underneath the Clarion Hotel pavilion to watch tribal dancing, listen to a storyteller and compete in traditional games during a Celebration of Native American Traditions, as part of a series of events for the Folk and Traditional Arts Program of the Boys & Girls Club of Northern Chautauqua County.

The Allegany River Indian Dancers kicked the celebration off with demonstrations of traditional Native American dances, including war dances, smoke dances and various others for social gatherings.

The dance group began in the 1980s as a way to share with the public some of the traditional and ceremonial dances and music of the Seneca Indian people, according to the event program. Faithkeeper, singer and speaker of the Cold Spring Longhouse William Crouse, Sr. led the group and served as emcee of the event.

Afterward, Perry Ground of the Onondaga Nation told tales of why bears have short tails and how a turtle can outsmart a bear when it comes to a race. Also, audience members were able to participate in traditional Native American games, including lacrosse and a hoop and spear game, where people attempt to throw a spear into a ring rolling on the ground.

“I just loved Perry’s stories because he was using all three talents of being an athlete, actor and storyteller at the same time, which drew the audience in,” Arkwright resident Faith Woolson said. “It was nice this event was put on because it lets people see a whole culture which almost exists hidden from them, but is so vibrant and wonderful.”

During the presentations, audience members had the option of shopping around the pavilion, where traditional arts demonstrations and products were set up. Various stations included lacrosse stick carving, corn husk doll making, basket weaving and gustoweh (headdress) making.

“This event has been getting better with each year,” renowned potter Peter Jones said. “This is also the best weather I’ve seen for it, too.”

Jones has created pieces for the Smithsonian’s “Born of Clay: Ceramics” exhibit at the National Museum of the American Indian in Washington, D.C. He operates a workshop and studio in Gowanda.

Valerie Walawender, the arts program consultant for the Boys & Girls Club who helped put on the event, said she was “so pleased” with it.

“The Native American Traditions Celebration is one of our fullest events in this series,” she said. “We had skipped putting it on last year, but it looks like this is shaping up to be an annual event. Everyone seemed to have a good time and I think we have enough donated funds to put this on next year for them!”

Boys & Girls Club Executive Director EJ Hayes had nothing but praise for the celebration.

“We were happy to sponsor such a wonderful community event which allowed the general public to share in the culture and traditions of Native Americans,” he said.

Walawender has coordinated the celebration in the past, but this was the first year it received major support from area organizations, including the Boys & Girls Club. Walawender wanted to thank all the sponsors for their generosity.

“The Boys & Girls Club was a good match for this event because it helps to promote family values and that can clearly be seen in the Folk and Traditional Arts Program, which demonstrates the child-raising practices within various cultures,” she said.

The Folk and Traditional Arts Program will continue with a Celebration of Puerto Rican Traditions on Oct. 26, starting at 5 p.m. at the Clarion Hotel.

To view a video of this event, click on this article on www.observertoday.com.

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