Pocumtuck Homelands Festival organizers look to increase cultural exposure, foster togetherness

  • Contemporary Native American dreamcatcher sculptures made by Lenny Novak of Lonewolf Studios on display during the 2019 Pocumtuck Homelands Festival at Unity Park in Turners Falls. The eighth annual festival will return this weekend. STAFF FILE PHOTO/DAN LITTLE

  • Native American art and jewelry made by Linda Longtoe Sheehan on display during the 2019 Pocumtuck Homelands Festival at Unity Park in Turners Falls. The eighth annual festival will return this weekend. STAFF FILE PHOTO/DAN LITTLE

  • Jonathan Perry, Aquinnah Wampanoag, left, and his wife Leah Hopkins, Narragansett, maintain the fire while creating a traditional mishoon dugout canoe during the 2019 Pocumtuck Homelands Festival at Unity Park in Turners Falls. The eighth annual festival will return this weekend. STAFF FILE PHOTO/DAN LITTLE

  • Jennifer Lee makes a bark mokok basket during the 2019 Pocumtuck Homelands Festival at Unity Park in Turners Falls. The eighth annual festival will return this weekend. STAFF PHOTO/DAN LITTLE

Staff Writer
Published: 8/3/2021 3:27:03 PM

TURNERS FALLS — The Pocumtuck Homelands Festival is returning to Unity Park this weekend for an eighth annual celebration of Native American art, music and culture.

Organized and hosted by the Nolumbeka Project — a nonprofit dedicated to cultural and historical preservation of Native American history — with help from RiverCulture, the free festival will welcome representatives from about 15 tribes. The event helps keep traditions alive, with guests including musicians, dancers, history presenters, craftspeople and food vendors.

Organizers hope the celebration can foster a feeling of togetherness in an area once stained by a history of violence and tension. Turners Falls lies across the river from the site of the May 19, 1676 “Battle of Peskeomskut” in what is now called Gill. 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.

“This site is right at the heart of the Pocumtuck homelands,” David Brule, chair of the Montague Historical Commission and president of the Nolumbeka Project, said during an interview in Unity Park. “For me, studying the site of the massacre across the river is really resonant with having a joyous event here.”

Brule and others at the Nolumbeka Project say they want the day to be a moment where historical remembrance and pleasure can go hand in hand. The hope is that entertaining cultural exposure can help cultivate a greater appreciation for Native American culture and peoples, especially from those who came in with little knowledge.

“I hope that there’s increased understanding of native culture after hundreds of years of people trying to extinguish it,” Jennifer Lee of the Nolumbeka Project said. “So many kids hear stories about European origin. What about this land?”

The Pocumtuck Homelands Festival will start Friday with the ceremonial “Paddle to Peskeomskut,” where boaters will head down the Connecticut River from Cabot Camp at around 10 a.m. They will join Jonathan Perry and members of the Aquinnah Wampanoag, who will paddle a traditional mishoon dugout canoe and lead a singing session. The paddlers will arrive at Unity Park at around 12:30 p.m.

The main festival will be held Saturday and Sunday from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. both days.

Contributing to the celebration are representatives from several different tribes, including the region’s “core” tribes whose local roots run deep: the Nipmuc, Elnu Abenaki, Aquinnah Wampanoag and Narragansett. Thirty-five vendors will be setting up booths. Activities such as crafting, dancing and historical presentations will be available. The Kingfisher Singers, Jennifer Kreisberg, Bryan Blanchette and Blackhawk Singers make up the musical lineup, while emcee Justin Beatty, multimedia performer Annawon Weeden and spiritual leader Tom Porter will also be in attendance as special guests.

“Many non-tribal people have never met, interacted with or even seen tribal people,” Brule explained. “Stereotypes from films over the years have really done some damage. ... We’re working on healing that together.”

While stereotypes and prejudices regarding Indigenous peoples are widespread, those at the Nolumbeka Project say that Turners Falls is a prime location for growth. Unity Park has been the site of the Reconciliation Ceremony of 2004, an event held in recognition and acknowledgement of the Great Falls Massacre. Now, in an area with a dark past, the goal is to reclaim the space as the lively communal grounds for celebration that it had once been.

“There’s an energy that happens here,” said Diane Dix, Nolumbeka Project member and event coordinator. “I like to think that we’re experiencing something like that. That sense of reunion ... people wanting to learn.”

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

This article has been modified to more accurately describe the Battle of Peskeomskut and its location.


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