Growing Pocumtuck Homelands Festival brings attendees ‘back to our roots’

  • Attendees of the ninth annual Pocumtuck Homelands Festival listen to Joseph Bruchac and his son, Jesse Bruchac, share Indigenous stories STAFF PHOTO/BELLA LEVAVI

  • Joseph Bruchac and his son, Jesse Bruchac, share Indigenous stories at the ninth annual Pocumtuck Homelands Festival in Turners Falls. STAFF PHOTO/BELLA LEVAVI

  • JC “Indio” Ortega, a member of the Winnebago tribe, sells his books at the ninth annual Pocumtuck Homelands Festival in Turners Falls. STAFF PHOTO/BELLA LEVAVI

  • Piwsessit Nebizon Awasos (Little Medicine Bear) is covered in orange ribbons to honor the children who died in Indian residential schools. STAFF PHOTO/BELLA LEVAVI

Staff Writer
Published: 8/7/2022 9:48:20 PM
Modified: 8/7/2022 9:45:03 PM

TURNERS FALLS — The ninth annual Pocumtuck Homelands Festival brought vendors, stories, dancing, drumming and more to Unity Park over the weekend, with many attendees remarking on the festival’s growth.

“This festival brings us back to our roots and the original people who inhabited the area,” commented festival volunteer Jeff Carroll.

The event was organized by the Nolumbeka Project — a nonprofit dedicated to cultural and historical preservation of Native American history. With more than 30 vendors, there was much for the hundreds of attendees to do and see.

Liz Charlebois, a member of a nation in the Wabanaki Confederacy, ran a booth selling Indigenous jewelry. Some of Charlebois’ intricate pieces included a traditional practice called birch bark biting.

The practice is done by folding a single layer of birch bark and biting it with one’s teeth. The bark is unfolded, leaving a complex pattern on the piece of birch. This process is similar to making paper snowflakes.

Charlebois explained many Indigenous nations that live where birch trees are found make this type of art. It can then be displayed, beaded or used to make quillwork (art made out of porcupine quills).

The shop sold the art that was framed, turned into jewelry or sold on its own.

“I take old styles of art and put a contemporary flair to it,” Charlebois explained.

At another booth, JC “Indio” Ortega, a member of the Winnebago tribe, sold copies of his two books that consist of personal writings. Ortega said his book, “The Black Wolf,” is about his experience rejecting his Indigenous identity and rediscovering his connection to his ancestors later in life.

“I have come every year and it has grown tremendously every year,” Ortega said about the Pocumtuck Homelands Festival.

A bear hide covered in orange ribbon, a project called Piwsessit Nebizon Awasos (Little Medicine Bear), was displayed in one tent along the river. This project, made by Michael Descoteaux, a member of the Nulhegan Band of the Abenaki Nation, is meant to “guide children of Indian residential schools in Canada and the U.S. home to their ancestors,” according to a poster made for the display.

Descoteaux explained when Indigenous children were forced to attend Indian residential schools, they were not only stripped of their cultures, but they were also abused, beaten to death and starved. There is an ongoing movement to find the unmarked graves of these children across the two countries.

According to Descoteaux, 10,660 unmarked graves have been found, many of which are in Canada. Only five schools from the United States have participated in searching for the graves of these children. Pocumtuck Homelands Festival attendees were invited to add ribbons to the display to honor the lost children.

The festival’s venue, Unity Park, carries Indigenous history as well, as it is located across the river from the 1676 “Battle of Peskeomskut.” Also known as the Great Falls Massacre, the incident consisted of a surprise attack by William Turner and a colonial militia during which 300 Native American women, children and elders were killed.

“It seems appropriate given the history of this location to be here,” said Nayana LaFond, whose ancestry is part Anishinaabe, Abenaki and Mi’kmaq. “It is a celebration of still being here.”

LaFond was selling prints of black, white and red portraits she painted of Indigenous women and girls who were murdered or missing. The prints are part of a project called Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women (MMIWG) — a movement that works to raise awareness of the violence perpetrated against Indigenous women and girls.

These portraits bring to life the statistics that Indigenous women are 11 times more likely to be victims of violence in their lifetime than any other demographic, LaFond said.

Main stage events also took place throughout the two days of the festival. One beloved event involved Abenaki educators Joseph Bruchac and his son, Jesse Bruchac, sharing Indigenous stories and playing a variety of music.

Joseph Bruchac told one story about how each animal came to be. He explained every animal using different theatrical voices, and explained how their body parts grew or shrank to what we see today.

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


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