Tribal twist to annual block party in Turners

TURNERS FALLS — Joining the eighth annual Turners Falls Block Party this year will be a reminder of a tradition of community gatherings dating back a little further.

For unknown millennia into the area’s pre-history up until a couple of centuries ago, fish returning upstream to spawn drew Native American groups to the Great Falls.

The Connecticut River has been dammed, submerging the falls, and European settlement ended the fishing villages — sometimes violently, as in the raid that gave the village its name — but organizers of the Pocumtuck Homelands Festival hope to recall some of that culture.

Organized by a Native American advocacy group — the Nolumbeka Project — the festival will run from noon to 8 p.m. Aug. 2 on the riverbank, a short walk up First Street from the Turners Falls Block Party on Avenue A and opposite Unity Park.

“It’s a very special area, the Pocumtuck area, right at the Great Falls, which is a place where there was a village for about 10,000, maybe 12,000 years, where people gathered for the fish runs,” said Nolumbeka Project vice president Diane Dix, of Greenfield.

“Now we have this wonderful event planned.”

In the park there will be vendors of Native American crafts representing a variety of cultures, music from local groups and from further afield and demonstrations of skills such as flint knapping and fire-starting.

The event will feature Native American music by Hawk Henries on flute, the Wendell-based Medicine Mammals Singers, the Urban Thunder Singers and The Visioning B.E.A.R Singers. Handiwork, including bark baskets, drums, quill applique, leather work, pottery and textiles, from over 20 vendors will be for sale. Also planned are storytelling, crafts for children ($2) and a tepee and a wigwam on display.

Dix said Nolubeka set up a booth at last year’s block party because they had just changed their name from the Friends of Wissatinewag and no one knew who they were, and this year the block party organizers invited the group to bring a Native American presence to the event.

“We’re a small group now but we’re rapidly expanding, we find people are very receptive to us, in a lot of ways very hungry for this kind of activity, there’s a lot of educational and spiritual undercurrents to what we do,” Dix said.

Block Party

Simultaneously, the Turners Falls Block Party is set to fill Avenue A between Third and Fourth streets with festival food, craft vendors, live music and a New Orleans-style parade at 3 p.m. Begun by village arts booster program Turners Falls RiverCulture, direction of the block party changed hands several times and has returned this year to RiverCulture and the two volunteers, Colleen Campbell and Pamela Allan, who last year rescued the imperilled party.

RiverCulture Director Suzanne LoManto said the decision to include the Nolumbeka Project event was an easy and pragmatic one; she didn’t want to lose them to another community.

“This could be huge for Turners Falls and it’s something we want to continue,” LoManto said.

Live music on the avenue begins with west coast guitar player Burrie Jenkins at 2 p.m.; The Original Cowards, 4:30 p.m., rock ’n’ roll, soul, blues, punk; The Salvation Alley String Band, 6 p.m., honky-tonk, western swing, Bakersfield country, bluegrass, and rock and roll; World Way, 7 p.m., reggae, West African, Afrobeat, soukous and calypso.

Also scheduled are a book signing by author Allan Fowler at River Station from noon to 2 p.m., 151 Third St.; classic cars from the 1950s-1980s at the Shady Glen Diner, weather dependent; and a tour of the former Southworth Paper Co., now Paperlogic, at 36 Canal St. at 3:45 p.m.

Visit www.nolumbekaproject.org or www.turnrsfallsfiverculture.org for more information as the date approaches.

You can reach Chris Curtis at: ccurtis@recorder.com or 413-772-0261, ext. 257

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