Strawberry Moon Festival features stories, music, art - and strawberries

WASHINGTON, Conn. - This year, the Institute for American Indian Studies will celebrate a delicious common meadow berry with the first-ever Strawberry Moon Festival on June 16, beginning around noon.

When the Strawberry Moon comes to the Northeastern woodlands, Nature's gift of the month is the tiny, intensely flavored wild strawberry, known to many tribes as the heart berry or heart seed berry because it carries its seeds on the outside.

The IAIS, a nonprofit organization, is a museum and education and research center dedicated to the study of the indigenous peoples of the Western Hemisphere, particularly those of the Northeastern woodlands. The museum has more than 300,000 artifacts in its collections, including the largest collection of artifacts from western Connecticut tribes.

IAIS has a steady stream of visitors and researchers throughout the year, but in the summer, the place bursts with activities for families, kids and individuals, including special festivals, workshops every weekend, and almost a dozen weeklong day camp programs for kids.

Director Elizabeth McCormick spoke with Indian Country Today about the upcoming Strawberry Moon Festival.

''One of the motivating factors for the Strawberry Moon Festival is we're having our annual membership meeting on that day, so members are invited to come for a short meeting, vote on the board of trustees, then spend the day at the festival. We thought it would make the day even more special,'' McCormick said.

Most of the afternoon's activities will take place at the replicated Algonquin village on the site on a rise above the research center building.

Dale Carson, Abenaki and a food columnist for ICT, will be at the village telling traditional stories, serving strawberry cake and brewing strawberry tea on the fire near the large bark-covered structure.

Terri Delahanty, Cree, will present a program of American Indian music, with drums, rattles and song.

''Terri always brings a lot of spirituality to the programs she presents here. Some people aren't as open or willing to share that, but Terri is. She's going to bring a group of drums that people can play, rattles that she has made and she'll be doing some songs,'' McCormick said.

Museum staff will also be on-hand, leading some special children's activities including strawberry face painting and the creation of strawberry pots. Each child will receive a strawberry plant to take home.

Carson has written a book called ''Strawberries: Recipes and Lore'' that will be available during the festival.

The strawberry, Carson said, is a kind of ''love fruit.''

''Every story I've read about the strawberry has to do with love and romance, which I think is nice. It's about getting love going in the spring; bringing a basket of strawberries to your love,'' Carson said.

The love story can take many forms, Carson continued.

''The story everyone seems to know about is the Cherokee story about the wife who got made at her husband and just left and started walking east. And Creator kept putting all kinds of pretty flowers and berries in front of her, but she didn't stop; nothing stopped her until she got to the strawberries, and then she felt bad. She realized how much she loved her husband, so she changed her mind and turned back. It's a story about forgiveness,'' Carson said.

Jeanne Kent, Abenaki, will be on-site as a vendor. She is an artist and artisan who does gourd work, beadwork, turtle bags, porcupine quillwork and prints.

The Strawberry Moon Festival is from noon to 4 p.m. The institute is located at 38 Curtis Road in Washington. For more information, visit www.birdstone.org or call (860) 868-0518.