MASHANTUCKET, Conn. - Independence Day might arouse mixed emotions in
Native historians, but Indian country will put on some lavish celebrations
this year anyway.
The Mashantucket Pequot Tribal Nation will sponsor one of the biggest
annual fireworks displays in the country, as it has for more than a decade.
Philip Butler, senior vice president of the famed Grucci family fireworks
company providing the display, calls it "triple world class."
On a more personal scale, families on the Suquamish Reservation in
Washington state will be selling fireworks to customers from nearby
Seattle, as they have for years. The "Boomtown" fireworks booths, a major
source of reservation income, were featured two years ago in a documentary
broadcast on the Public Broadcasting Service's "Point of View" series.
The holiday weekend will also showcase Native music in major free concerts.
The Seneca Niagara Casino, owned by the Seneca Indian Nation, will join
with the Native American Music Association to present the contemporary
side, in open-air performances by three NAMMY winners.
The National Museum of the American Indian will treat National Mall
visitors to three days of indigenous-language concerts drawn from its
"Beautiful Beyond" CD.
Celebrations like these around the country will pay public relations
dividends, but none will probably reach as many people as the Grucci
fireworks over the New London, Conn., harbor.
The July 9 show, said Butler, will be the largest in the country after the
Macy's fireworks in New York; he estimated it will draw 400,000 spectators.
The budget, he said, has grown along with the success of the Mashantucket
Pequot's Foxwoods Casino, which uses the display as a promotion for its own
The display actually started modestly 25 years ago as part of a local
"Sailfest." The cost was originally borne by New London and Groton, the
cities flanking the historic harbor, and a series of corporate sponsors.
This funding dried up in the early '90s as the regional economy shriveled.
In 1992, said Butler, the Gruccis paid for the display themselves to keep
the tradition alive. In 1993, as Foxwoods emerged as the region's economic
savior, then Mashantucket Pequot Chairman Richard Hayward and casino
Director Mickey Brown offered to foot the bill.
As the popularity grew, said Butler, the program expanded, to the point
where he said it may be the highest attended fireworks display in the
country. "It is in many ways a favorite program of ours," he said.
The Seneca Indian Nation hopes for a large turnout at the NAMMY Winners
Showcase presented with the Native American Music Association. The free
afternoon concert July 2 in Lackey Plaza across from its Niagara Falls
casino will feature three NAMMY winners, Jana, Martha Redbone and Derek
Miller. Their styles reflect the range and energy of contemporary Native
music, from the smoking blues of Miller, Mohawk, to the dance club pop of
Jana, Lumbee, to the rhythm and blues compositions of Redbone, reflecting
her pride in her mixed African/Shawnee/Blackfoot/Lumbee heritage.
In Washington, D.C., tourists will have multiple chances to hear music in
the original languages of the continent during a four-day presentation by
the National Museum of the American Indian and the Smithsonian's Center for
Folklife and Cultural Heritage. The series promotes the 2004 Smithsonian
Folkway Recordings CD "Beautiful Beyond; Christian Songs in Native
Languages," a highly praised anthology of linguistic preservation.
The series will feature Mark and Nancy Brown, Eastern Band Cherokee, Marla
Nauni, Comanche/Seneca, and the Comanche Hymn Singers of the Petarsey
United Methodist Church in Lawton, Okla. They will appear jointly July 1,
beginning at 5:30 p.m., at the Smithsonian Folklife Festival Ralph Rinzler
Memorial Concert. The performance will be held at the "Sounds of the
Forest" stage (12th Street between the National Museum of American History
and the National Museum of Natural History) on the National Mall.
Also performing during that evening will be two-time GRAMMY Award-nominated
flutist Vince Redhouse, Navajo. Redhouse will be accompanied by guitarist
During the next three days, each of the Beautiful Beyond singers will have
a showcase with several performances.
The Comanche Hymn Singers will sing songs of praise and celebration in the
Comanche language July 2 - 3 in the Museum's Potomac Atrium.
Nauni and the Browns will perform blessing songs in Comanche July 2 - 4 at
the Museum's Outdoor Theater. Nauni, who is a singer, model and actress,
released her first CD in 2004 ("Comanche Hymns Performed by Maria Nauni,"
Raven Horse Music). The Browns sing hymns in their Cherokee language in
southern gospel style.
The series reflects the irony that Christian missionizing, often criticized
for its negative impact on Native culture, in this case helped preserve
"Although Native communities today are doing much to preserve and protect
our languages, the reality is that many of them have been gravely
endangered for years and, in fact, are dying," said NMAI Director W.
Richard West Jr., Southern Cheyenne. "The beautiful and long standing
tradition of the singing of Christian songs in Native languages is one
important way that indigenous languages are being kept alive for future
On a more commercial level, July Fourth has helped underscore the
reservation rights of the Suquamish Nation of Washington state. Its Port
Madison Reservation is located on a large peninsula across the bay from
Entrepreneurial tribal members each year sell fireworks that are legal on
the reservation but prohibited in other jurisdictions. All of the 26
federally recognized tribes in Washington state sell fireworks, but the
documentary filmmaker Bryan Gunnar Cole captured this particular subculture
in the film "Boomtown," widely shown on Public Television in 2002.
He quoted Tribal Chairman Bennie Armstrong: "Around here, we call it
'fireworks season.' It's an important part of the local reservation
The Suquamish might prefer some attention to the rest of its economic
efforts, including an active development authority, a bingo hall and a
casino, but Boomtown is a highly visible display of its reservation rights,
"checkerboarded" in the past by corrupt land deals and now under pressure
from suburban development.
As the film observed, the Fourth of July reflects the historic Native
ambiguity toward the United States, a source both of past tragedy and