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Hammonassett Festival honors traditions, cultures.

By Gale Courey Toensing -- Today staff

MADISON, Conn. - Thousands of people attended the Hammonassett Festival 2007, which took place Oct. 6 and 7 on Long Island Sound's shoreline where northeast woodland peoples for thousands of years spent their summers fishing for quahogs and other gifts of the sea.

The festival celebrated and honored American Indians, their cultures and the environment. It was hosted by Friends of Hammonasset, a nonprofit environmental and advocacy group that protects Hammonasset Beach State Park.

Organizers said the festival, the group's second, drew between 4,000 and 5,000 people each day.

''I think the spirit of honoring Native American traditions and culture was appreciated by most people, but it was a fusion of environmental education stuff as well and that's a very good fit. It was just great,'' said co-organizer and Friends of Hammonasset member Don Rankin.

The event packed in an enormous number of performances, displays, demonstrations and activities.

Erin Lamb Meeches, Schaghticoke, organized the dancers and drum groups. Other music featured renowned Native flutist Joseph Firecrow, Cheyenne; the Silver Cloud Singers; and MaGeePa Project, a group that performs indigenous music.

The Museum of Natural History brought along its traveling exhibition - a colorful tractor-trailer of treasures.

Jorges Estevez, a program coordinator at the National Museum of the American Indian in New York, and his wife, Valerie Nanaturei Vargas, both Taino, staffed the NMAI tent and booth displays of Taino musical instruments, artifacts and foods, including cassava bread. People flocked to the NMAI booth to hear Estevez's entertaining talk about the objects and to engage him in conversation.

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Dozens of artists and crafters offered their wares for sale, and a whole range of organizations were present with displays including the Institute for American Indian Studies, the Mashantucket Pequot Museum's education and archaeology departments, Trout Unlimited and Mystic Seaport.

The Mashantucket Pequot Museum's education and archaeology departments provided interactive displays and hands-on activities, and the Yale Peabody Museum's anthropology program, ''On the Road,'' presented artifacts that illustrate how people around the world carry things.

On the night of Oct. 6, the Yale Bulldogs faced the Iroquois Nationals in an exhibition lacrosse game at the town's Surf Club.

Rankin, who organized the game with Yale head coach Andy Shay, said it was a successful event.

''It was a very good game and everybody had a good time. The Iroquois Nationals were given the gate of around $5,000, which took care of their expenses,'' Rankin said.

Scott Burnham, an Iroquois Nationals player and coach, remarked on the sanctity of the game in a report in the Yale Daily News.

''I've heard it said that lacrosse was the only game that wasn't invented out of boredom. It's a sacred game. It deserves the respect that we give it,'' Burnham said.

The game was widely advertised as the highlight of the festival, and around 1,200 people attended. Yale won, 12 - 6.

Rankin, an instructor in Connecticut geology and American Indian history at the Megs Point Nature Center, said he hopes the festival and lacrosse game will become an annual event.

''We really want to honor Native American tradition and culture here, because maybe we can turn things around a little - because this is where all the problems started in the first place. This is where Native Americans were first rejected, and ostracized and marginalized and had their land taken - not a pretty picture. It was a dark mark on history,'' Rankin said.