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Iroquois culture rides high at Hunter Mountain festival

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HUNTER MOUNTAIN, N.Y. - More like a folk festival than a pow wow, Indian Summer 2000 gave a small but appreciative audience a first-class panorama of the current Indigenous cultural scene.

Under a large, blue and white tent next to the main lodge of this mountainous New York ski resort, the two-day gathering over the Labor Day weekend presented a mini-preview of the upcoming NAMMY awards.

Produced by the Native American Music Association as a fund-raiser, the program featured multiple NAMMY-nominees Robert Tree Cody, Bill Miller and Joanne Shenandoah. It also gave the largely non-tribal spectators a crash course in pow wow events and Iroquois social dances.

Tipis and a wigwam formed an "Indian Village" where craftsmen and storytellers provided continuous demonstrations. Until evening, the crowd circulated around the vendors' booths on the perimeter of the tent, rather than sitting in the rows of folding chairs. By dinnertime, the Mohawk Soup Kitchen reported it was sold out of buffalo chili and burgers.

Hawks, wolves, a painted Indian pony and a buffalo supported the human showmen and women.

High energy prevailed on the main stage and dance floor. "I've never done a sweatlodge on stage in front of an audience, but I'm doing it now," Bill Miller said after some explosive guitar riffs.

Performers ranged from the Danza Azteca of Mexico to Deer Chaser, a children's dance troupe from the Lakota bands of South Dakota. Champions from The Gathering of Nations Traveling Show demonstrated pow wow dances.

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The 6-foot-10-inch Robert Tree Cody, in a heavily fringed buckskin jacket, accompanied on the native flute. In his solo set, Cody delivered a short speech in the language of the Salt River Pima Maricopa where he is enrolled and in Dakota, from where he claims descent. He gave thanks for his seven NAMMY nominations.

But the culture-making a stronger than usual statement was clearly Iroquois. The Allegany River Dancers from the Seneca Nation delighted the crowd with its quick-stepping performance and repeated invitations for the audience to join them on the spacious dance floor.

Rarely seen at Plains pow wows, the arm-flailing, foot-stomping, double-time of the Smoke Dance is a show stopper, and the Allegany troupe had two national champions, Allen George and Glenn Miller, to demonstrate. The troupe is based on the extended family of leader Bill Crouse Sr. Two members, his 11/2-year-old grandson and granddaughter, were instant favorites when they took the floor in full regalia.

"Some days you can't get them to go on," Crouse said, "and some days you can't get them to stop."

Iroquois music ranged from the outstanding traditionalism of the Six Nations Women Singers to the "Mohawk blues" of Jimmy Wolf. Joanne Shenandoah was the presiding spirit of the closing hours, however, with an unscheduled second appearance. Backed by two sisters also dressed in black pantsuits, she mixed her powerful melodies with asides ranging from her latest meeting with Hillary Clinton to an explanation of the "49s."

"They're the pow wow after the pow wow," she said, introducing her love song, "After the 49s."

With most of the audience on the dance floor for a final circle dance, Shenandoah called out a special thanks for event organizer Ellen Bello, president and founder of NAMA, and promised an even bigger festival next year.