| Trent Levakis
TURNERS FALLS – The ninth annual Pocumtuck Homelands Festival is returning to Unity Park in Turners Falls this summer for a celebration of Native American art, music and culture.
The two-day event on Aug. 6 and 7 will feature Indigenous music, drums, dancing, crafts, children’s activities, history talks, storytelling, Eastern Woodlands skills demonstrations, and more. Performances of storytelling and music showcasing Native American history will take place during the weekend in hopes of educating the public interested in attending.
The Nolumbeka Project is putting on the event. The nonprofit organization is dedicated to the preservation of the history of Native Americans of New England through educational programs, art, history, music, heritage seed preservation and cultural events.
This year’s festival will feature keynote speaker Tom Porter, musicians Hawk Henries, Keith Secola and performances from the Kingfisher Singers with traditional Northeastern Native American songs. There will also be storytelling sessions with Abenaki authors, scholars and language teachers of Native American history.
There will also be children’s activities throughout the festival and food vendors on site.
“This is the kind of event that is appealing to all ages and backgrounds. We’ve had people come to the festival not knowing much about Native Americans at all or that most were dead, because that’s what we were taught,” said Diane Dix of the Nolumbeka Project. “The educational system is so flawed, we’ve been lied to for 400 years. When everybody leaves [the festival] they’re feeling enlightened, and they have learned something new because there is so much to learn.”
Dix has been a part of the organization since its inception in the 1990s. Dix said the festival and the work done by the Nolumbeka Project are not only for the preservation of Native American history in the area, but also to educate those interested in learning the true history of Native Americans in the country that has differed from much of the American education on the matter.
Dix said Turner Falls was once a home for the Native American population over 100 years before the United States was formed. Eventually what was their home was taken from them through conflict.
“There was a massacre in May 1676 and what was known as the turning point of King Phillip’s War. At that time, the spirits of everybody were broken,” Dix said.
According to Dix, the massacre was led by Captain William Turner, who Turner Falls was then named after. Dix said it was important to tell the truth about the history of Native Americans on this land and talk about the things that are shielded from children in their education of American history.
An untrained militia force of 150 to 160 took the camp and killed over 400 people during an early morning attack, according to Dix.
Living in the area in the 1990s and being a part of the formation of the Nolumbeka Project, Dix and others involved worked with the town to put together a healing ceremony for the town to bring the community together and try to heal relationships after the attack over 300 years ago.
A burying of the hatchet ceremony took place on at Unity Park in May 2004. The Nolumbeka Project has remained a part of the community since the ‘90s and have worked toward the betterment of Native American relationships in the area and the preservation of the culture. Their board is made up of several people with Native American ancestry and others there supporting the culture.
Dix added the work done by the Nolumbeka Project is important to her and her fellow members of the organization as they work to prevent the erasure of Native American cultures and educate those living in the area today about what the history of some of the land is and to acknowledge these things happened.
“Real history was hidden from us. Deliberately hidden from us for hundreds of years and Native American people couldn’t share their stories for their own safety. For whatever reason people are opening up to it more and it’s just beautiful,” Dix said. “It’s all about learning, it’s all about connecting on a deeper level that we were not brought up on. The primary goal of the Nolumbeka Project always has been education. Lift the fog, lift the veil, lift the lies and get rid of them.”
The Nolumbeka Project is still accepting vendors and volunteers, but spaces are filling up. If interested in an application or to help, you can email firstname.lastname@example.org. The event will also be live streamed on Facebook on the Nolumbeka Project’s page.