Friday, August 22, 2008

Tribes In The Media: Mashantucket Pequot's Schemitzun Festival Begins

This installment in The Tribes In The Media series is a Norwich Bulletin article on the Mashantucket's Schemitzun Festival, a four-day event that began today.


American Indian culture on display at Schemitzun
By Sharma Howard
Norwich Bulletin
August 21, 2007

Schemitzun is a celebration of harvest, a Mashantucket Pequot tribal tradition called The Feast of Green Corn and Dance. Today, it’s also a cross-cultural event that celebrates centuries of tradition and culture of 500 American Indian tribes who converge at the largest powwow on the east coast.

For American Indians who travel the powwow circuit to compete in dancing, bull-riding, drumming and singing competitions, it is the last on the trail, and represents large purses to the winners.

For people who attend, it’s both educational and riveting, said Marjorie Colebut-Jackson, powwow chairwoman and Mashantucket Pequot tribal member.

“I can promise anyone whose never been it’s an event and experience like no other they’ve ever had before,” Jackson said.

This year, Schemitzun will include a 16th century village to represent the eastern woodland tribes, a pseudo living version of what visitors see at the Mashantucket Pequot Museum.

“You’ll be seeing people doing crafts, storytelling, singing and dancing,” Jackson said. Other activities include canoe building, bead making, and bow and arrow making.

The goal of the village, Jackson said, is to have people understand and experience the culture of the eastern woodlands. She added powwows help to distinguish the differences between tribes.

“Although there are a lot of similarities, there are a lot of differences, too,” she said. “[People] learn not everything fits every time,”

"People start to learn that and respect that.”

Jackson grew up going to powwows, and has seen them evolve from the family to the community.

“It’s become larger than ever,” she said. “Now we interact with the audience in our dances.”

James Walker, a tribal member and rodeo president, said he has noticed a faithful following in crowd at the Michael T. Godwin Memorial Rodeo. Last year he met a group of people from Denmark who have been coming to Schemitzun for five years. They will visit the dances and see the rodeo, which is later in the evening.

The rodeo attracts eight to 10 thousand people every year, Walker said.

Bull riding embodies danger, and while the determined cowboys try to keep their seats for the whole eight seconds, viewers are sitting on the edge of theirs. Only about 20 to 25 percent manage to stay on the bull for the eight seconds. The rest are thrown, and are then in the hands of rodeo clowns to divert the furious, 2,000-pound bulls away from trampling them.

The bulls are “No. 1 bulls” selected for their bucking ability through breeding and some training, Walker said, and 80 are brought in by Double R Championship Rodeo.

The event attracts the best American Indian bull riders in the country, with prize money totaling $45,000.

“It’s something different,” Walker said. “You don’t see bull riding in Connecticut or New England.”

If you go
What: Schemitzun.
When: 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. today-Sunday.
Where: 91 Wintechog Hill Road, North Stonington
Price: $8 adults, $4 seniors, $4 children ages 4-11, free younger than 4. Rodeo admission separate from general admission.
Parking: On site, free. There is also a free shuttle from Foxwoods and the MGM Grand, which runs every 15 minutes, free.
For more informaiton, visit www.schemitzun.com or call (800) 224-CORN.