Shinnecock Powwow Closed to the Public This Year

Justin Meinken
The public flocks to the Shinnecock Indian Powwow each year to see traditional Native American dances.

The Shinnecock Indian Nation has made the difficult decision of not opening up the 74th annual powwow to those off-territory this year because of the novel coronavirus.

Instead, Shinnecock tribal members will hold “an internal healing ceremony for the pandemic for our brothers and sisters who lost their lives,” according to Bryan Polite, the chairman of the tribal council.

The Shinnecock Powwow is one of the largest Native American gatherings on the East Coast, and brings an estimated 30,000 people each year to the Shinnecock Indian Reservation in Southampton over Labor Day weekend.

Even though New York’s COVID-19 infection rate remains relatively low, cases elsewhere in the country are have increased. “We don’t want to take that risk of infection,” Polite said of inviting a large number of people onto the territory.

He reported just five confirmed cases on the territory, where tribal leaders took quick action to try and control the spread, including shutting down the playground and basketball court early on, and offering rapid 15-minute testing and antibody testing at its health clinic.

The decision to effectively cancel the powwow, a huge source of income for the Shinnecock Indian Nation, its members, and vendors and artisans who come from near and far to sell art, jewelry, crafts, and food. “They are upset because they are going to lose a significant amount of their income,” Polite said.

Native American communities around the country have been hard by the pandemic. “Every powwow in the country has been canceled,” he continued. “That’s a big blow economically, not just for this powwow, but for members that travel around the country.”

Even still, he said, the community support’s the council’s decision. “They absolutely understand,” he said.

Donations to the tribe can be made by calling the tribal government at 631-283-6143, or emailing [email protected].

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