Ninth annual Pocumtuck Homelands Festival in Turners Falls bringing together 30 tribes

  • From left, Billy Myers, Tom Porter, Jennifer Lee and Robbie Leppzer talk around a table where Porter displays ceremonial tobacco bags during the 2021 Pocumtuck Homelands Festival at Unity Park in Turners Falls. The ninth annual event returns Saturday and Sunday. FOR THE RECORDER/DAN LITTLE

  • Vendors line the bike trail during the 2021 Pocumtuck Homelands Festival at Unity Park in Turners Falls. The ninth annual event returns Saturday and Sunday. FOR THE RECORDER/DAN LITTLE

  • The Black Hawk Singers — from left, Bryan Blanchette, Bill DiBenedetto and George Michaud — perform during the 2021 Pocumtuck Homelands Festival at Unity Park in Turners Falls. The ninth annual event returns Saturday and Sunday. FOR THE RECORDER/DAN LITTLE

  • Andre Strongbearheart Gaines Jr., a member of the Nipmuc Nation, uses traditional methods to burn out a white pine log into a mishoon, or dugout canoe, at an encampment on Conway Road in Ashfield in November 2021. Gaines will take the mishoon on the third “Paddle to Peskeompskut” in Turners Falls on Friday. Staff File Photo/Paul Franz

Staff Writer
Published: 8/2/2022 7:29:27 PM
Modified: 8/2/2022 7:26:19 PM

TURNERS FALLS — The ninth annual Pocumtuck Homelands Festival will feature around twice as many Native American tribes as last year’s gathering, with “at least 30” slated to be represented this weekend, according to event coordinator Diane Dix.

Organized by the Nolumbeka Project — a nonprofit dedicated to cultural and historical preservation of Native American history — with help from RiverCulture, the free festival at Unity Park celebrates Indigenous art, music and culture from the region and beyond. Helping to keep age-old traditions alive will be musicians, dancers, history presenters and 35 to 40 vendors. The event is set for Saturday from 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. and Sunday from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.

“Traditionally, native people were gathering here for at least 12,000 years … and there are artifacts that were found that were from as far away as the Ohio River Valley, which means people came from all over the Northeast,” Dix said.

Organizers hope the celebration can foster a feeling of togetherness in an area once stained by a history of violence and tension between tribal and non-tribal peoples.

“This was all Pocumtuck land,” Dix said. “There weren’t town lines. It’s easy to forget because that’s the way we’re raised now: with fences and boundaries.”

Turners Falls lies across the river from the site of the May 19, 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, followed by a successful Native American counterattack that took place across 7 miles through what is now Greenfield.

“There are people who come to the festival who say, ‘I thought the Indians were dead,’” Dix said, highlighting the Pocumtuck Homelands Festival as an opportunity to learn, listen and share. “That’s what it’s all about, learning and creating better understanding because we were lied to for 400 years.”

In addition to tribal representatives selling their wares, the guest list includes locally renowned educators and a wide array of performers. Tom Porter, a Mohawk cultural educator, tribal elder, spiritual leader and author, highlights the weekend’s events as keynote speaker.

“He talks in ways that can move people emotionally,” Dix said. “He’s just a wonderful human being.”

Music will be provided by Nipmuc flute player Hawk Henries, Ojibwe-American rock musician Keith Secola and traditional Northeastern Native American music group Kingfisher Singers. The Wicozani Singers and Black Hawk Singers will perform on drums. Dancing will be led by Andre Strongbearheart Gaines Jr. and Robert Peters.

Meanwhile, Abenaki educators Joseph Bruchac, Jesse Bruchac and Marge Bruchac will present stories. Nolumbeka Project President David Brule and Mi’kmaq educator Evan Pritchard will offer historical talks. Children’s activities will be led by Nulhegan-Abenaki artist and historian Dan Shears. Dix expressed particular enthusiasm about the attendance of multi-tribal educator and former Narragansett Deputy Tribal Historic Preservation Officer Doug Harris, who will be spending three hours both Saturday and Sunday engaging in dialogue with guests by the river.

Ushering in this year’s festival will be the third “Paddle to Peskeompskut” co-sponsored by the Nolumbeka Project and the Connecticut River Conservancy. Aquinnah-Wampanoag artist Jonathan James Perry, along with the craft’s original builders, will paddle their mishoon — a dugout canoe — for the third time in three years. This year, though, Gaines, a Nipmuc cultural steward, will join the paddle with a mishoon that was created at the Ohketeau Cultural Center in Ashfield. The paddle will take place on Friday from 9:30 a.m. to 2 p.m. Other paddlers with kayaks or canoes may register to join the paddle at facebook.com/events/1717469101952613.

“In a way,” Dix said, “it’s nice to imagine that there’s a sense of everyone coming together here every year.”

Reach Julian Mendoza at 413-772-0261, ext. 261 or jmendoza@recorder.com.


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