SARATOGA SPRINGS – Congress Park will serve as the staging grounds for this weekend’s Native American Festival. The significance of the location is not lost on Joseph Bruchac, whose family was involved in the founding of the festival at the Spa State Park a decade or so ago.
“Congress Park is where the original Indian encampment took place a century ago. And that was the original idea years ago, before the state park approached us,” said Bruchac, whose Native American heritage comes from his mother’s side of the family, the Nulhegan Band of the Abenaki Nation. “And the thing about Congress Park is it’s an incredible venue. I think it’s one of the most beautiful parks in the country and designed by (Frederick Law) Olmsted – who designed Central Park. “
Historic maps presented in the 1970s to the city’s Community Development offices place the “Indian Encampment,” in an area adjacent to the so-called “Devil’s Chair” in the northeast section of the park close to Circular Street and Spring streets. The encampments were sited in Congress Park up until just before the start of the 20th century, when they were relocated to an area close to Ballston Avenue. In July 1883, the Saratoga Journal reported on a festival in the “picturesque Indian village,” which “delighted children” and “many well-known citizens and guests” alike, and was highlighted by an Indian medicine ceremony and “fancy rifle shooting by Texas Charley.”
Richard Canfield purchased the encampment grounds in May 1902, according to newspaper accounts of the time. Two decades earlier, Canfield purchased the Saratoga Clubhouse and spent a considerable amount of money during the late 1800s enhancing the building and the surrounding Congress Park grounds. That building – today known as The Canfield Casino houses the Saratoga Springs History Museum and will be used as a staging area for some of Sunday’s events during the Native American Festival.
Sunday’s festival is an important one, Bruchac says. “One of the traditions in our native culture is that we tell stories, and we do this for two reasons: one is to entertain; the other to educate. Sharing culture is one of the best ways to teach people things that they may not have ever thought of before,” he says. “So, our festival will, first of all, let people see contemporary Native Americans. We’re not all existing in the teepees on the Great Plains of a hundred years ago but are part of the continuing community of peoples here in the northeast. And secondly, what they’ll get to see is more than 34 different artists offering their works – from baskets and jewelry, to woodcarvings and stone carvings. Pretty amazing stuff. They’ll get to see the continuing strength of our artistry that is so much a part of Native American culture.”
Three years ago, the festival relocated to the National Museum of Dance. In search of an appropriate venue this year, a conversation with Saratoga Arts Executive Director Joel Reed led to Sunday’s festival staging at Congress Park and at the Canfield Casino. The first Saratoga Native American Festival was a two-day event.
“That first day we had 5,000 people, but the second day we got totally rained out. That happened to us the second year as well, where we had one good day and one really bad rain day,” Bruchac says. “So now, we thought we’d pick the one good weather day, rather than going with one day that’s good and one day that’s bad,” he joked, looking over the predicted sun-filled forecast for the Sunday.
The Saratoga Native American Festival takes place 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., Sunday, Sept. 22 in Congress Park. The event is free and open to the public. 10 a.m.: Vendors Open. Flute and Drum Music by James, Jesse and Joseph Bruchac. 11 a.m.: Tom Porter‘s Opening Address. The festival will begin with a traditional opening address, delivered in Mohawk and English by Tom Sakokwenionkwas Porter, who positions with the Mohawk Nation Council of Chiefs and is the spokesman and spiritual leader of the Mohawk community of Kanatsiohareke. Noon: Grand Entry. Black River Drum, Old Soul Drum, Nulhegan Drum. 12:45 p.m.: Honoring of Chief Don Stevens. 1 p.m.: Haudenosaunee Singers and Dancers. 1:45 p.m. and 3 p.m.: Smoke Dance Competition. 2 p.m.: Brian Blanchett on Canfield Stage. 2:10 p.m.: Joanne Shenandoah on Canfield Stage. Shenandoah, a Grammy Award winner, is one of Native America’s most celebrated musicians. 3 p.m.: Perry Ground storytelling on Canfield Stage. Perry Ground is a Turtle Clan member of the Onondaga Nation of the Haudenosaunee (Iroquois) Confederacy. He has been telling stories for over 20 years as a means of educating people about the culture, beliefs and history of the Haudenosaunee. Perry learned most of the stories he shares from the elders of various Native American communities and feels practicing and perpetuating the oral traditions of Native people is an important responsibility. 4:15 p.m.: Kay Olan Storytelling on Canfield Stage. Kay Clan is a Wolf Clan Mohawk storyteller and educator. After teaching for 33 years, she relocated to the Traditional Mohawk Community at Kanatsiohareke where she worked as director. 5 p.m.: Vendors close. Closing Address by Tom Porter