Celebrating Culture: Amsterdam event teaches Native American traditions

Sandra Knapik, center, watches as Ailani Aleman, 15, left, and Helen Flint, 16, of Amsterdam make talking sticks Saturday, February 26, 2022.

Sandra Knapik, center, watches as Ailani Aleman, 15, left, and Helen Flint, 16, of Amsterdam make talking sticks Saturday, February 26, 2022.

AMSTERDAM-The sound of a flute being played by Eric Marczak could be heard as Dawn Marczak, also known as Dawn Standing Woman, told traditional Native American stories to those attending the event at the Amsterdam Century Club Saturday afternoon. 

A member of the Metis and Mohawk Tribes, Dawn Marczak tells stories that she has either learned from others over the years or read herself.

She told the stories as part of a gathering of Native Americans from around the area, the first in the past couple of years due to COVID-19. 

“It was just wonderful to be in community again,” she said. “I’m seeing people I haven’t seen in two years.”

Tables also lined the space, featuring Native American artifacts, moccasins, jewelry, bags and much more. 

Century Club Vice President Barbara Neznek said the idea for the Gathering of the People came after the organization learned of their neighbors’ plight while hosting traditional activities with members of the local community to celebrate Native American Heritage Month in November.

“We want to bring awareness to the community about the Native American culture and how to support them, Neznak said.

Neznak said there are a few Native American tribes in this area. The most well-known is probably the Mohawk tribe, but there’s also the Métis, Abenaki and Algonquin, she said. 

“This whole thing has been a learning experience,” Neznak said about creating the event with Dawn Marczak. 

She even learned about Native American food, which was for sale during the event, including a stew which had a base of cedar beans. 

Anyone attending the event got an opportunity to create a talking stick, with Melinda Scholten, known as Minnow, who is three-fourths Choctaw. A talking stick would be used in instance to discuss conflict. One person would have the stick and talk, while others listened, each getting a turn to talk until the stick made it around the entire circle, Scholten said. If the conflict wasn’t resolved the group would pass the talking stick all over again. 

“They used to do it alot when it came to war,” she said. 

Eris Stanton, 6, worked on a talking stick with her dad Josh Stanton–showing her mom Kelly Stanton her design after she was done. The stick had fur wrapped around one end, with a feather sticking out of it. Yarn wrapped around the stick to the bottom and small beads were placed on it along with a ribbon. 

“I just followed what she wanted me to do,” said Josh Stanton, speaking for Eris who was too shy to talk. 

The family decided to attend the event because Josh Stanton’s mother is Native American, said Kelly Stanton.

People were also able to learn about various tools Native Americans used by visiting the table Dance Heacock, the chairwoman of Tribes Hill Heritage Center. She held up a rock that had holes of varying sizes–that was what Native Americans used as a gauge. The artifacts will be on display at the center, which will have a room for Native American and settler culture. 

The hope, she said, is to continue educating people about Native American culture. 

People also learned about the culture by visiting the tables lined with items made by Native Americans like Pegi Knapp, also known by the Native American name Niraah Okwaho or Little Wolf. She had several bags made of deerskin displayed on a table. The outfit she was also wearing was made of deerskin. 

“My grandma was a seamstress and I picked it up and expanded it,” she said. 

Marzak said having people be able to sell their items again also made this event even more important because for many it’s their livelihood. 

“This is a great thing they did here today,” Knapp said. 

Reporter Shenandoah Briere can be reached at 518-478-3320 or by email at [email protected]

Categories: Fulton Montgomery Schoharie

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