BY RYAN QUINN
The Queens County Farm Museum hosted the 39th annual Thunderbird Pow Wow, the oldest and largest Native American gathering of its kind in New York, last weekend in its apple orchard.
“Holding the pow wow in our apple orchard connects culture and nature, providing a truly meaningful experience for our visitors and the pow wow participants,” said Amy Fischetti-Boncardo, executive director of the Queens County Farm and Museum.
Additionally, the farm holds some geographical significance for the Native American community.
“During archaeological digs at the farm, several arrowheads were unearthed indicating that Native Americans passed through this area,” Fischetti-Boncardo said.
The pow wow—a dance competition—is not exclusive to the Thunderbird tribe, but also open to other nations and the public. Participants don brightly colored traditional regalia all over their bodies and dance in a designated oval-shaped area in the center of the venue. Spectators surround the dance area, either standing or sitting on hay bales and lawn chairs.
At sunset, a Native American participant ceremoniously lit a bonfire in the center of the dance area. Afterward, members of various Native American tribes danced around the blaze, while others provided music via their voices and drums.
“I’ve never seen anything like this,” said Michael Mendoza, a young boy attending the pow wow who wore a feather atop his head.
Bronx resident Allison Blumgold and Inwood’s Kim Macagnone attended the pow wow for the first time and were impressed by the dancing.
“It comes from their soul,” said Macagnone. Blumgold added, “There’s a lot of meaning to it; they take it very seriously.”
The two admitted that they started dancing along while watching the performances.
The two were also drawn to the traditional regalia worn by many of the pow wow’s attendees. Both women said that they intended to attend next year’s event.
A woman who went by the name of Aiki—who has attended the pow wow for 16 years—typically dances at the pow wow, but took the year off due to a recent surgery.
However, she plans to make a return when she is physically ready.
“I like the contest dancing,” she said. “I like to see the dancing. I like to participate when I can.”
Another key component of the pow wow was the numerous vendors surrounding the dance areas. Attendees at the pow wow stopped to look at tables filled with wares for sale, including Native American crafts, food and other items made by artists from the Carolinas, New York, Oklahoma, Arizona, Canada, Puerto Rico, Peru and New Mexico.
Ciaràn Tufford, an 18-year-old member of the Thunderbirds and dancer, started attending the pow wow at the age of 3. He said that he admires the art and pottery on display at the event, but the performances are the key attraction.
“The bonfire is an amazing thing to see,” he said. “[The] dancing’s definitely number one.”
Rozlynn Tone-pah-hote, who has danced for the past 27 years, said that her favorite part of the experience is “being able to remember who I am and where I come from.”
Others shared this sentiment. Aiki called the pow wow a “family event” and summed up her thoughts on the event: “It’s my culture, so that’s it.”