A late June powwow at Brook Park sought to inspire young people to keep their indigenous cultural heritage alive.
The event’s organizers, Bronx-based Bohio Atabei (Taino Women/Grandmothers Circle) planned it to help introduce their children to the history of the Taino people, who populated the Americas and the Caribbean long before the arrival of European immigrants. The group brought together participants from across the northeast.
Participants danced or prayed to the beat of traditional instruments while lessons on indigenous crafts and memorabilia were provided. Children were introduced to various medicinal herbs, food and clothing. They learned how to mount feathers on a string and held a fireside chat amidst music and dancing.
“By connecting to your ancestors, to your culture, you learn who you really are” said Vanessa Inaru Nikia Pastrano, a member of the Taino Women’s Circle. “Come back home, live it,” she said in a message urging young people to embrace their culture. “You will find your freedom in it, …your wisdom …you will be once again the great noble people you were.”
Esperanza Martell, a member of the Grandmothers Circle, said the imposition of European culture in the school system is one of the biggest threats faced by those of Taino descent. “All our children are in public schools that really promote a European culture,” said Martell, a professor of Puerto Rican studies at Hunter College. “You’re supposed to forget who you are as a people and adopt a white European culture, when we have such a rich culture.”
According to Pastrano, the Taino originally migrated from South America north to the Orinoco River and the Caribbean, and as far north as the state of Georgia.
“This is the diaspora,”she said. “So we have got to go back and begin to use the names of our ancestors, the original names of our people.”
One participant in the event, Chal’inaru Dones, joined her son 8-year-old son Tata’niki Iraheta in a powwow dance. “The only way that we’re going to continue our culture is through our children,” said Dones, who travelled with his son from Massachusetts to participate in the event. “We have to pass it on to them, …that’s how we’re going to keep our culture alive. If it stops with us …that’s when we are done. It will be all over.”
Amy Mahagua’nara Ponce, a member of a Tain women’s group that calls itself the jaguars, said that because Taino ancestry was shunned, her elders taught her very about it.
“I have an African grandfather, but very little was said about our indigenous ancestry,” Ponce said, but added that it is now her and her peers’ responsibility to teach their children about their culture.
“Let them know it’s okay to be this,” she said. “Honor your culture, honor your people in whatever way because that’s beautiful.”
One participant, Mark Charles, said he is considering a run for president, with platform that will emphasize immigration reform and negotiation between the US government and indigenous people. Charles said there is a need to establish a truth and reconciliation commission to start that discussion..
“Without native people on the table there would be no legitimate discussion of immigration reform,” he said,