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The 71st Annual Shinnecock Indian Powwow, 2017 in Southampton, NY

The 71st Annual Shinnecock Indian Powwow, 2017 in Southampton, NY

Photographer/writer: Diane Woodcheke 

Each year our calendars are full of events and traditions we look forward, whether it be your favorite holiday or the annual family barbeque, as soon as it is over you are setting sights on the following years festivities. One of these events for me is Labor Day Weekend and the chance to go to the Shinnecock Indian Powwow again. Past years plans kept me from attending, but that makes it all the better when I can go. Now in its 71st year, it seemed my plans would be damped again, literally, as the weather was cold, damp, and rainy. But on Monday, the final day of the event, the skies were bright blue and the temperature was perfect, we even had a nice breeze off the water not far off in the distance.

With plenty of parking, we parked our car and put on our sunglasses. As we walked to the main entrance we listened to the songs and the beat of the drum moving the dancers we were looking so forward to see perform. As we walked along we also passed a very large field, all fenced off to contain the campground they provide for the participants, who come from all over America. We saw RV plates from as far as Arizona and it was fun to see all the places the dancers and vendors come from to be part of this cultural event.


Once inside, the entire grounds are lined with vendors all around the perimeter, offering Native American arts, crafts and food.





In the center of it all is the stage, a permanent fixture, it is nearly five foot high and its cement walls are painted like a drum. The flooring of the stage is natural ground complete with grass. With in the stage area are light poles for the evening performances; I mention this because one of them has a huge Osprey nest sitting atop it. And in between this all are thousands of smiling faces, either walking around visiting vendors or sitting with eyes glued to the stage.

On stage they adhere to a pretty strict schedule. Throughout each day there are a variety of events including ceremonial dances, competitive dancing where they get judged, songs, prayers and acknowledgements. There are traditional drummers to play the songs, providing a strong beat all throughout the day. Each dance, whether it is ceremonial or competitive, the dances are specifically dressed for the theme. A dancer’s clothing is called Regalia and some contain the feathers of eagles and are very sacred. There are times when they all participate on stage together and it is so awesome to see all the beautiful styles of dance and the variation of their Regalia’s.






As previously mentioned, I have been attending this event for many years. Early on, in the film era, there was very limited photography during the event. The audience would be asked during specific dances not to take any pictures at all. Once I asked a dancer why and I was told, “In our belief, a photograph can steal the soul.” I remembered that vividly. As the digital era was blooming, when I attended the Powwow in 2008, many attendees had their cameras up, including me, with no restrictions at all. This year was no exception to that rule; in fact it was hard not to find people taking photos and videos, as those not using cameras had their cell phones up. But what I found most intriguing were the Native Americans, young and old, who were taking photos as well, mostly with their cell phones.


In such a traditional environment it was fun to see that one particular tradition being left behind. These are memories that should be kept for generations to come and to be able to see and hear how their parents and grandparents performed the songs and dances before them. The Powwow itself however is one tradition that is not going to be left behind, possibly ever. And on Labor Day weekend 2018 and beyond, you can count on another chance to come to this event and take it all in. Located in Southampton, NY it is a popular tourist area and offers some of the best nightlife and dining on Long Island. So if you have never been to the Shinnecock Indian Powwow, it is definitely worthwhile to add this to your vacation destination bucket list.


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Diane Woodcheke has had her eye on a camera viewfinder since she was very young. She specializes in Fine Art, Event and Concert Photography. She is also a writer of concert and album reviews, as well as contributing to blogs. For more information please visit her website at

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