The Southampton Fourth of July parade is coming up and the singers and dancers from Shinnecock are ready to strut their stuff. Of course, this isn’t the first nor the last time we’ll be singing and stepping down Main Street. I was recently looking through Shinnecock powwow programs for photos for a Pecha Kucha I was participating in at the Parrish Art Museum and found many old photos from not only powwows but also Southampton parades.
Pecha Kucha is a worldwide event series in which you speak about your passion with 20 slides that change every 20 seconds. My passion is Shinnecock and powwow dancing. The other participants in the Pecha Kucha were from all walks of life—mostly the arts—and they shared how they came to find their muse, inspiration, the creative process and the personal history that lead them to do what they do.
So, as I was going through the old and new powwow programs, I found the 1973 edition with the cover photo of Shinnecock tribal members performing in that year’s Fourth of July parade when they won the Mayor’s trophy. I also discovered an older program with a photo from the 1939 July Fourth parade. It’s interesting to see that although the outfits or regalia had changed in the span of less than 40 years, the pride in the faces and posture of the participants was the same.
In the older photo, the men wore the stereotypical war bonnet, which indicated that you were a chief or decorated warrior. These war bonnets were of western native origin and only worn by a few of the Plains tribes. The women wear fringed buckskins or cloth dresses, and beaded headbands. If you are of the younger generation of Shinnecock, you need to know that in 1939 the State of New York was still removing Shinnecock children from their families and placing them in boarding schools like the Thomas Indian School upstate, where they learned a trade, along with discarding their culture as they embraced assimilation. In a way, these Shinnecock demonstrated they were still determined to hold onto their culture and show their native pride.
In the 1973 parade photo the participants are facing each other in what is probably a Rabbit Dance, the native version of a square dance and one of the few dances that men and women do together. The outfits are a little more eastern culture oriented, although Fred Bess, the singer/lead dancer in the forefront, is dressed in “fancy dance” regalia replete with a beaded cowl and breechcloth, double bustle and side bells. His partner and then wife, Diane, wore a beaded crown headband and a rocking outfit made head-to-moccasin from buckskin.
I find it fascinating that although they’re separated by nearly four decades, the Shinnecock people held onto their culture through the years. It was during the 1970s that the American Indian Movement (AIM) led a major resurgence of Native Pride and the Shinnecocks’ cultural rebirth took place in the form of Shinnecock Native American Cultural Coalition, or SNACC as it was fondly known.
So when you watch the beautiful singers and dancers show their patriotism and Native Pride this Fourth, remember that we are still here, still proud, and realize that the Shinnecock people have survived in spite of all the trials and travails over the centuries and into today.