Little Isabella Oates and her cousin, Isaac Sheldon, chanted and danced during a snake dance demonstration at the annual Native American Pow-Wow and Festival at the National Shrine of Blessed Kateri Tekakwitha on Sunday.
With their faces covered in tribal paint and feathers in their hair, the 4-year-old children said they loved the dancing and music. This was their second year at the event.
“I think it’s good for them to experience a different culture,” said Isabella’s mother Jolene Oates, who is not of Native American descent. “Children are so innocent, it’s great to see them interact.”
Despite the scattered rain, dozens of people attended. “We’re going to brave the rain and stick it out for the day,” Oates said.
The three-day event is meant to celebrate the cultures of various Native American tribes and Indian nations, while honoring the pious life of Kateri Tekakwitha, a 17th century Mohawk-Algonquin Catholic woman.
“It’s very important to keep this site open to the public,” said Tony Langhorn, one of the event’s organizers. “It is an original Mohawk site and campground, and Kateri is the only Native American to be honored by the Catholic Church.”
Kateri Tekakwitha is on her way to becoming the first Native American saint. She has been beatified in the Catholic church — the third step of four in canonization — and holds the title “Blessed.”
Converting to Catholicism at the age of 18, Kateri was revered for her work with the poor and sick. Known as “the Lily of the Mohawks,” she never married and died a devout Catholic at the age of 24 from an unknown illness. It is believed that Kateri has performed many healing miracles since her death.
During the festival, educational demonstrations and discussions were held. There were also traditional Native American goods to buy and plenty of food. All proceeds go toward the upkeep of the Kateri Shrine museum and property.
Robert Ross, the event’s coordinator, has been holding the Pow-Wow since 1990. He hoped the festival would bring in extra donations by drawing the public to the site.
“We cannot get grant money because it’s church property,” he said.
The Conventual Franciscan Friars now own and maintain the property. It includes the museum, chapel, and the only completely excavated Iroquois Indian village settlement in the country. Also still flowing is the spring where Kateri supposedly was baptized on Easter Sunday, April 5, 1676.
According to Ross, people from all over the world come to visit the Kateri Shrine.
On Saturday, a woman from France and a man from Germany flew to upstate New York for the sole purpose of visiting the shrine. Ross said there have been years where he’s lost money on the festival because he backs it himself.
“They don’t get rich by me doing this, but it opens the site up to the public, so at least they know it’s available as a resource,” he said.
About 500 people attend the festival each year.
Langhorn, who comes from New Jersey each year to help run the event, said these festivals are important mediums to showcase the Native American culture for people who may not be in the know.
“It shows people we are still here,” he said.
Langhorn’s people were from the Unchouge and Parmunkey tribes on Long Island. He and his wife travel the East Coast full time giving educational demonstrations about the tribes and teaching traditional dancing.
He said the Kateri Shrine Pow-Wow is an event he never misses because of the area’s rich history.
“Education is the first and most important aspect in what we do,” he said.