BY JAMES FARRELL
The Queens County Farm Museum will play host to three days of American Indian celebration, dances and food at the 39th annual Thunderbird American Indian Mid-Summer Pow-Wow later this month.
The celebrations begin on July 28 with a bonfire and dances from 7 p.m. to 10 p.m. The following day, from 12 p.m. to 5 p.m., scores of American Indians will compete in dance competitions until a second bonfire begins at 7 p.m. And on July 30, it’s another day of competitions from 12 p.m. to 5 p.m. before the pow-wow—which is the region’s oldest and largest of its type—wraps up.
In addition to traditional dances—complete with colorful traditional clothing—the pow-wow will feature American Indian arts and craft vendors and jewelry designers and artists as well as American Indian themed merchandise and food.
“The pow-wow itself is a western tradition—it comes to us from the people of the Great Plains,” said Louis Mofsie, director of the Thunderbirds. “Really, it’s a social gathering. We get together to dance and to sing and to socialize. It’s not a religious gathering or a ceremonial gathering.”
Mofsie said that it was important for guests to understand this distinction. Occasionally, for those unfamiliar with American Indian culture, the idea of watching or taking part in traditional dances suggests a level of solemnity or reverence. But the pow-wow is all about fun.
“We have a big bonfire and we invite all of the audience to come in and join us,” Mofsie said. “I tell people that’s what it’s all about. We’re doing this for you to join as well as ourselves, so we want you to come in to dance with us.”
The Thunderbirds are the oldest resident Native American dance company in the city, celebrating its 53rd anniversary this year. It consists of members hailing from as many as nine different American Indian tribes. At this year’s pow-wow, Mofsie is expecting participants from across the nation and representing more than 40 different tribes, such as the Choctaw of Oklahoma or the Hopi of Arizona. Mofsie traces his roots back to the latter.
Throughout the competitions, Mofsie is the emcee, explaining the significance of various dances and their histories. One of those dances is the Grass Dance from the Great Plains Peoples. Known as a “work dance,” the Grass Dance had the dual purpose of flattening the Midwest’s tall grasses to lay the groundwork for new campsites as tribes followed herds of buffalo for food. Another dance, the Jingle Dress Dance, features women wearing dresses with cones that jingle. The dance is based on a legend of a woman with a sick daughter who had a vision showing her the dance and how to create the signature dress. When she passed the vision along to the rest of her tribe, performing the dance alongside them, her daughter was healed.
“It started out as a healing dance,” Mofsie said. “It evolved into a competition dance.”
All three days will take place at the Queens County Farm Museum, located at 73-50 Little Neck Parkway in Floral Park. Guests are free to tour the Adriance Farmhouse, purchase freshly-picked produce or, for $3, take a hayride.
According to Amy Boncardo, of the Queens County Farm Museum, the museum has hosted the pow-wow ever since archaeological digs uncovered arrowheads and other American Indian artifacts at the site in the 1970s.
Reach James Farrell at (718) 357-7400 x 127, firstname.lastname@example.org or @farrellj329.