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Drums Along the Hudson

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Drums Along the Hudson is a Native American festival and multicultural event that celebrated its 20th anniversary earlier this month. First held in 2002 and sponsored by Lotus Music and Dance, the event has grown to include 8,000 participants and a multitude of activities. The festival aims to strengthen the local Native American community, while combining it with the diversity of New York City. Native Americans comprise about 0.4% of New York City’s population with 10 reservations statewide. Despite the limited population, Native American activists have become more involved in politics, advocating for native rights, and for environmental conservation.

Kamala Cesar, artistic director of Drums Along the Hudson, says events such as this are important to make those of Native descent feel heard and included in the greater societal conversation, “Well I think Native Americans have always felt marginalized and left out, not invited to the table, and this event has been so important to all the native people that can come and participate and celebrate their culture, and share it with other people.” Cesar herself struggled with her identity, not learning that she was Mohawk until much later in life, “I’m Native American, I’m Mohawk, but I didn't know I was Mohawk until I was in high school, because my mother was one of those Native people who as a child was sent to a boarding school, and in that boarding school she was not allowed to speak her language. She was taught that being Indian was bad…Not knowing, once you find out, then what do you do? How do you reclaim that? So it's been a long journey for me.”

The event prides itself in authenticity, and features traditional food, dance, drumming, and a powwow. Guests are welcomed to join the activities as the event is meant to celebrate not only Native culture, but everyone. Drums Along the Hudson features performers of different cultures, such as the Dancing Crane Georgian Ensemble and Batalá NYC Afro-Brazilian Women Drummers. The festival is meant to be a celebration of reclaiming one’s culture while simultaneously honoring tradition. Besides the powwow, the event also features everything from a White Pine tree planting (the Iroquois symbol of peace) to a Shad tasting (a type of fish eaten by early Native Americans). Along with the performers, greener living also takes center stage, with the festival incorporating vendors that advocate for alternative energy, sustainable eating, and more.

Every year, “Drums Along the Hudson” occurs in Inwood Hill Park, a place with connection to the Lenape people the festival commemorates. Cesar says the location is important to telling the story of local native peoples, “Inwood Hill park was originally a Lenape Indian village and it has this historical place where Native Americans originally lived.” Cesar says these types of events are crucial to keeping the Native American way of life alive, and passing on their stories to the next generation, “There was always someone who knew that story and was the person in charge of telling it. Well a lot of those elders are dying and it's not being passed on.”

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