Saratoga hosts Native American Festival at SPAC

This past weekend, the Ndakinna Education Center and the Saratoga Spa State Park presented the Saratoga Native American Festival at Saratoga Performing Arts Center. While the ominous skies initially promised rain on Saturday, the weather eventually cleared, making for a wonderful day for an outdoor event.

After entering through the main gate and paying the entry fee of $10, visitors walked past a variety of Native American delicacies, ranging from buffalo burgers and chipotle fries to a menu offered by Saratoga restaurant, Esperanto. As tempting as these morsels were, the festival offered far more than just food.

Further on in the festival grounds, a variety of vendors displayed their wares of beadwork, clothing, jewelry, pottery, baskets, and much more, each item handmade by a skilled tradesman. The basket-weaver even demonstrated his craft as he cut thin wooden strips out of a log to use for his baskets. The colorful goods and even more colorful regalia sported by the vendors themselves lent to a jovial, friendly, and open atmosphere perfect for a festival.

However, the real attraction of the Native American Festival was the dance circle. At noon, the Grand Entry took place, exhibiting the dancers, drummers, and singers. A ring had been roped off in the center of the field to be used as the dance stage. The Grand Entry began with a presentation of the flags of the nations. Once the flags were in place, the circle invited war veterans who were present to participate and be honored. The veterans, some having fought in World War II, entered the dance, taking the honor seriously.

Each dance was accompanied by the Iron River Singers and the Rez Dogs—groups of skilled drummers, chanters, and singers. The fierce chanting and fascinating harmonies were intertwined with a haunting beat kept by a common drum. The head dancers—Don Barnaby and Stacy Jenness—led the way with enthusiastic skill, throwing themselves into the drumming. They were followed by younger dancers, just learning the steps, as well as older dancers, who plodded softly along to the music at the end of the line. Without a doubt, the drumming and dancing was a site to behold. The ceremonial and sacred feeling of the dance demanded respect and awe from the spectators.

Throughout the weekend, continuous activities took place. Storytelling, singing, performance, demonstrations, and countless cultural experiences were offered. The festival was particularly family friendly, as the children expressed fascination in the happenings and were also entertained by learning activities in the Children’s Tent. The Festival was well attended, as the community turned out the support the cultural traditions.

Overall, the Native American Festival was a wonderful, culturally diverse experience for those looking for something a little different on their weekends. However, the Festival was not just about entertainment. The Ndakinna Education Center and the Festival participants aim to foster awareness of Native American culture in the local community. Education Areas were set up at the Festival and provided information about local Native American communities and organizations, as well as history and environmental issues.

For those who attended, the Festival was not only a good time, but also a place to learn and experience something new.