Nolumbeka Project’s social dance event celebrates Indigenous culture and history

Local participants celebrated the full moon at the Nolumbeka Project's event on Saturday at Greenfield Community College.

Local participants celebrated the full moon at the Nolumbeka Project's event on Saturday at Greenfield Community College. STAFF PHOTO/BELLA LEVAVI—

Local participants celebrated the full moon at the Nolumbeka Project's event on Saturday at Greenfield Community College.

Local participants celebrated the full moon at the Nolumbeka Project's event on Saturday at Greenfield Community College. STAFF PHOTO/BELLA LEVAVI—

Local participants celebrated the full moon at the Nolumbeka Project's event on Saturday at Greenfield Community College.

Local participants celebrated the full moon at the Nolumbeka Project's event on Saturday at Greenfield Community College. STAFF PHOTO/BELLA LEVAVI—

Local participants celebrated the full moon at the Nolumbeka Project's event on Saturday at Greenfield Community College.

Local participants celebrated the full moon at the Nolumbeka Project's event on Saturday at Greenfield Community College. STAFF PHOTO/BELLA LEVAVI—

Local participants celebrated the full moon at the Nolumbeka Project's event on Saturday at Greenfield Community College.

Local participants celebrated the full moon at the Nolumbeka Project's event on Saturday at Greenfield Community College. STAFF PHOTO/BELLA LEVAVI—

By BELLA LEVAVI

Staff Writer

Published: 02-25-2024 2:35 PM

GREENFIELD — Indigenous culture and history was on display Saturday as more than 100 people danced together at the Nolumbeka Project’s annual Eastern Woodlands Social Dance at Greenfield Community College.

The third annual event, timed to celebrate the full snow moon, highlighted the voices of Indigenous peoples while fostering community cohesion and emphasizing the importance of protecting the natural world. 

This year’s dance was led by Mashpee Wampanoag tribal members Hartman Deetz and Asa Peters. The event featured various circle dances performed by individuals of all ages, along with lessons elucidating their significance. With the aim of amplifying native voices, the event provides an educational platform for the community.

“Many people in the area lack connections with Native people. Perhaps their only interactions are through advertisements and mascots,” remarked Jennifer Lee, a Northern Narragansett educator and board member of the Nolumbeka Project. “This offers children a different perspective of who Native people are.”

Honored guests at the gathering included Liz Coldwind Santana Kiser, elder and council woman, as well as tribal historical preservation officer for the Chaubunagungamaug Band of Nipmuck Indians, and Rich Holschuh, co-director of Atowi Project and citizen of Elnu Abenaki. Handcrafted items were available for sale.

“A social dance can serve as a prayer,” explained Lee, emphasizing her participation in honor of two individuals unable to dance on Saturday. She noted that such dances could also be seen as prayers for nature.

This year marked the inaugural collaboration with the newly formed group, Western Mass Rights of Nature, which began approximately a year ago. The group was invited to speak about the rights of the Connecticut River, referred to as the Long River. The session hosted on Friday night, led by Deetz, aimed to raise awareness.

Deetz, long involved with Rights of Nature activism, has advocated for the Charles River for many years.

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“He has traversed the world and the United States, delivering talks. He is deeply rooted in his culture,” Lee said. “He was clam digging with his grandfather in the same spot they’ve been for thousands of years. That perspective is truly special. His generosity in teaching us these social dances is remarkable.”

Rights of Nature is a global movement seeking to confer legal rights and standing upon elements of the natural world to enhance protection of them. Rooted in Indigenous knowledge systems, it recognizes the interdependence of humans and ecological communities and the responsibility humans bear in stewarding the non-human world. Western Mass Rights of Nature is a grassroots member of this global movement.

“The question of ‘standing’ in our courts and legal proceedings is crucial. It determines who can bring or participate in a lawsuit or legal proceedings,” Western Mass Rights of Nature Co-founder Sarah Matthews said. “Our legal system recognizes individuals and corporations as having standing — even large multinational corporations with no local ties. However, the animals, plants, and ecosystems we share this planet with have no standing; they lack representation in courts or regulatory proceedings.”

The group voiced opposition to the hydropower dam in Turners Falls and the pump storage station in Northfield, asserting that these projects have been ‘greenwashed’ or falsely advertised as clean energy while causing environmental harm to local ecosystems.

Participants were encouraged to submit comments opposing these projects to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC), which is currently accepting comments for their federal renewal process until April 22.

“Our failure to recognize the inherent rights of natural systems like the river to exist, thrive, and regenerate is leading to their destruction. Many of us strongly believe that our current system must change,” Matthews said. “We are inundated with dire warnings about climate change, biodiversity loss, and plastic pollution, and we desperately want to take action to address these issues, but often we don’t know how. Rights of Nature provides an answer.”

A full recording of the Friday night event can be accessed on YouTube at youtube.com/watch?v=gKkzPtlUeyo.

Bella Levavi can be reached at 413-930-4579 or blevavi@recorder.com.