Ganondagan's Annual Festival commemorates its dedication as a Historic Site

On July 23 and 24, Ganondagan State Historic Site will hold its 20th Annual Dance & Music Festival.

Jeanatte Miller, Friends of Ganondagan Executive Director looks back at this annual celebration that started with one modest tent under which a storyteller, Iroquois dancers and a demonstration or two entertained attendees. The festival began in 1991 to celebrate the July 14, 1987 dedication of Ganondagan as a State Historic Site.

“In the beginning, we had Iroquois Social and Pow Wow dancers. As the festival grew, we decided to change things up each year,” shared Jeanette, who heads the separate non-profit organization that supports the Historic Site’s educational initiatives and handles its events and marketing.

“Although we still focused on Iroquois culture, we began adding performances by other indigenous people,” she explained.

For example, in 1995 a group of Maori dancers introduced attendees to traditional dance and music from New Zealand.  Since then, Ganondagan has welcomed Aztec Dancers, the Dinah Tah Navajo dancers,  Hawaiian Dancers and even dancers and musicians from France performing traditional Basque numbers.  Each year, the Buffalo Creek and Ganondagan Spirit Dancers pack the tent with attendees who love watching the dynamic Iroquois social and pow wow dancing.

Grammy and Nammy Award Winner Joanne Shenandoah Headlines the 2011 Festival
Video courtesy of LinkTV, Joanne Shenandoah and Youtube.

Native music is integral to the festival as well, and over the years, attendees have been treated to both contemporary groups and more traditional performers.  This year, Ganondagan welcomes Grammy and Native American Music Award Winner , Joanne Sheandoah who has performed at The Parliament of the Worlds Religions, The White House, Carnegie Hall and three Presidential Inaugurations.

In addition to Native Dance and Music, Ganondagan hosts a Native Arts Market.  For collectors of Native art, names like Peter B. Jones, Tammy Tarbell, Tom Huff and Michael Galban are an enormous draw.  Many of the artists, some of whom come from as far away as Arizona and New Mexico, do demonstrations in their booths. The quality of the work shown and sold at the festival is on a par with that found at the Santa Fe Indian Market.

My daughters and our visitors from China enjoyed making corn husk dolls

So, what else is there to do at the Festival? Plenty! For music lovers, the Family Drum Jam offers an opportunity to try Native drumming, and award-winning Native flute maker William Harjo will teach a Native flute workshop (bring your own or buy one at the festival).  If you enjoy crafts, the Wegman’s Family Discovery Area offers hands-on activities for kids that focus on transforming recyclable products into fun crafts.  Throughout the festival, demonstrations provide a fascinating look at Native handwork and culture today. Scheduled demonstrations include an historic archery demonstration by Michael Galban, Pottery Making by Peter B. Jones, one on Ancient Tools by Mike Tarbell and Water Drum Making by Bill Crouse Sr. At workshops on both days, attendees can make classic Native arts such as corn husk dolls.  Be sure to register early for these popular activities that usually sell out. (Note: there is an additional fee for the Native crafts workshops).  Another great way to explore the history of the Native people who lived in this region is to join storytellers Perry Ground and Barbara Bethmann Mahooty who bring Iroquois tales to life, or to take a tour of Ganondagan trails and longhouse, given by expert trail guides and site interpreters.  Culinary adventurers can even try such Native delicacies as fry bread, bear and venison sausage, but less exotic foods are also available for purchase.

Ganondagan’s 20th Annual Native American Dance & Music Festival will take place on July 23 & 24 from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. at Ganondagan State Historic Site, located at 1488 State Route 444 in Victor.  There is free parking and shuttle service from Fireman’s Field, off of Maple Avenue in Victor, NY.  Simply follow festival signs from Route 96 in Victor.  The admission fee is Adults $12, Seniors $10, Students (18+ with ID) $7, Children 3-18 $5, Children under 3 Free.  Friends of Ganondagan Members are free with current membership card.  Become a Friends on Ganondagan Member at the festival and you’ll receive free admission.

Note: Sign interpretation is offered for free at this festival and golf carts make the entire event accessible to those who have disabilities or difficulty walking.

For more about this event, take a look at this slide video I created for last year’s event, but please note that this year’s dates are Saturday, July 23 and Sunday, July 24.

Photos and text in article copyright 2011 © Carol White Llewellyn. All rights reserved.