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Syracuse festival highlights Haudenosaunee culture

SYRACUSE, N.Y. ? For the first time ever, the flag of the Haudenosaunee was raised over downtown Syracuse. This historic event came at the second annual Native Dance and Friendship Festival, held on Aug. 3, a sweltering day, at the city's Clinton Square.

An enthusiastic crowd of both Indians and non-Indians cheered as Spencer Lyons, Onondaga, hoisted the purple and white banner. Several notable political figures, including Tadadaho Sid Hill, an Onondaga Chief, Mayor Matt Driscoll of Syracuse, and Onondaga County Executive Nick Pirro, were on hand to witness the flag-raising.

The Haudenosaunee, Iroquoian for "People of the Long House," were the first inhabitants of the Syracuse area and of Central New York. The Onondaga Nation, located a few miles south of the city, is nearest Syracuse. The French called the Haudenosaunee "Iroquois," while the English dubbed them the "Six Nations." The Haudenosaunee today include the Seneca, Cayuga, Onondaga, Oneida, Mohawk and Tuscarora nations, and comprise more than a dozen communities within the United States and Canada, the vast majority of which are governed by democratically elected councils.

The highlight of the afternoon was a social dance with the Haudenosaunee Singers and Dancers. Festival attendees were invited onto the stage for the stomp dance, the moccasin dance, the canoe dance and the alligator dance, one that the Haudenosaunee "borrowed" from tribes in Florida. Several dozen non-Native dancers of all ages joined the Haudenosaunee for the social dances.

Other events included a smoke dance competition and musical performances by Kontiwennenhawi (the Akwesasne Women Singers), Joanne Shenandoah, Sandy Bigtree, Howard Lyons, and Corn Bred, a rock band from the Onondaga Nation.

Many crafters exhibited and sold their wares under tents at the festival. One of the more interesting of these was Alf Jacques, who makes wooden lacrosse sticks by hand. [See photo on page C-1.] Jacques explained that the time he spends actually making a stick, including cutting the hickory, carving, drilling holes, finishing and stringing, totals about eight to 10 hours. What takes so long is the time needed for the hickory to properly cure, which can be a year or more.

This year's festival was moved downtown to give it greater visibility and because it outgrew its previous location, a supermarket parking lot.

The Native American Service Agency of Upstate New York Inc. presented the festival to "honor the presence of Native American culture within the Greater Syracuse area and also strives to promote positive relationships within our community," according to promotional material. NASA was founded in 1994 to provide social outreach services to the Native community of Central New York.