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.


One of my favorite festivals in the Finger Lakes region is Ganondagan’s Native American Dance & Music Festival and Art Market because it is so distinctive. 

The theme for this year’s festival is “Fusion” which resonates throughout the programming with performances by Arvel Bird, Lord of the Strings, an award-winning violinist, known for his Native Tribal Fusion music.

David Wolfman will cook up some fun at the festival

David Wolfman will cook up some fun at the festival

Celebrity Chef David Wolfman, will also echo the Fusion theme.  He’ll be demonstrating his Aboriginal Fusion Cuisine, which infuses classic International recipes with North American indigenous food for inspired results.  Wolfman is culinary arts professor at George Brown College in Toronto and Host, Writer, and Executive Producer of the nationally televised Cooking with the Wolfman™ program on The Aboriginal Peoples Television Network (APTN).  Ganondagan is partnering with Wegmans in Canandaigua to bring “The Wolfman” to the festival.

Cercle Celtique is a Breton Dance troupe that hails from Rochester’s sister city in Rennes, France.  Dressed in their traditional Breton costumes, they’ll add a French flare to the programming which, each year, incorporates traditional performances by indigenous people into the program.  Cercle Celtique was formed in 1932 to preserve and promote traditional Breton dance and music.

Iroquois social dances are a favorite with audiences

Iroquois social dances are a favorite with audiences - Photo courtesy of David Mitchell

 Audiences at the Ganondagan Native American Dance & Music Festival are always thrilled to see The Buffalo Creek Dancers and Ganondagan’s Spirit Dancers perform traditional Iroquois Social Dances as well as a variety of other dances that tap into Iroquois and Seneca roots.  

The Iroquois and Seneca cultures are known for their strong oral tradition of storytelling.  Not only does Arvel Bird weave stories into his musical performance, but two well-known storytellers will share Native American stories at the festival using very different styles.  Perry Ground, an Onondaga of the Turtle Clan, (featured in the above YouTube video) brings his stories to life using vivid descriptions, a rhythmic voice and an energetic stage presence.  In contrast, Barbara Bethmann-Mahooty will present her tales using a more traditional style.

Ganondagan’s Native American Dance & Music Festival will be held at 1488 State Route 444, Victor, NY on July 25 and 26 from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m.  Shuttle transportation is available to the festival from the Victor Firemen’s Field on Maple Avenue in Victor (which turns into Route 444).

The charge is $8 for adults, $5 for Seniors and Students (13+), $2 for Children (4-12) and free for children under 4 and for Friends of Ganondagan Members showing their current membership cards.

In later posts, we’ll cover the Art Market and the many workshops, demonstrations, fun family activities,  and food offered at Ganondagan’s Native American Dance & Music Festival.