Norwich ― Wearing his dance regalia of moccasins and bells, leggings with horse hair and beading, a breechcloth, shirt and kerchief, and fur turban, Matt “Corneater” Cross wove his body among three hoops to form the shapes of different forest animals.
Louis Mofsie ― whose Native American names are Cloud Standing Straight in the Sky and Green Rainbow ― had explained that the hoop dance is from the Anishinaabe people in Minnesota and Wisconsin.
Cross, Mofsie and Alan “Shooting Star” Brown are part of Thunderbird American Indian Dancers and performed at Otis Library in Norwich on Saturday morning for a group of children, the first Native American dance program the library has held.
Cross is Kiowa and originally from Oklahoma, Mofsie is Hopi and Winnebago, and Brown is Lenape, but they perform dances from other tribes as well. Mofsie, founding director of the Thunderbird American Indian Dancers, said they have been to Alaska and the Southwest to learn dances.
They live in the New York City area but travel all over, Mofsie said, as far as Japan and Israel. There are about 12 to 15 people in Thunderbird American Indian Dancers, which was founded in 1963.
This is a particularly busy time of year for the group, as November is Native American Heritage Month. The Day’s next More than a Month section is themed around Native American Heritage Month and will run in next Sunday’s paper.
Kate Fields, head of children’s services at Otis Library, said she got the idea to invite the dancers after hearing rave reviews from their performances at other libraries in Connecticut. In attendance Saturday was a tutoring class with more than 15 elementary-aged kids.
With Mofsie leading and playing a hand drum, the three dancers entered the room Saturday with what’s called a welcome song or a greeting song.
“The history and the heritage of Native American people is also part of your heritage, your history,” explained Mofsie, who provided introductions to the dances and storytelling throughout. “The history of Native American people didn’t start in 1492, when Christopher Columbus got lost and landed in this country, but thousands and thousands of years ago.”
He has heard people say things like, “You look like a real Native American but he doesn’t” but emphasized, “We don’t all look alike. We’re very different. We come in many different shapes, we come in many different sizes and we come in many different colors.”
Another misconception he explained is that people think there’s a rain dance, whereas it’s actually a prayer dance, asking the creator for rain.
“When you pray, you might go to a church, you might go to a synagogue, you might go to a mosque,” Mofsie said. “When we pray, we pray by dancing.”
Brown then did a traditional warrior dance, and Mofsie explained that Brown was wearing a headdress made from porcupine hair, a dance bustle made from eagle feathers arranged to represent formation in battle, and a breastplate made from buffalo bones.
Mofsie earlier introduced the grass dance from the Lakota people by explaining the importance of buffalo: it’s a source of food, the hide is used to make tipis, the skins are used to make clothes, and the bones are used to make spoons and knives, with the ribs used for sleds.
He noted that buffalos didn’t stay in one place, so “wherever the buffalos would go, that’s where the people would go,” and dancers crushed down the grass so the tribe could build camps.
Kunga Duptak, 9, said after the program that the grass dance was his favorite and he thought it was cool that Native Americans used everything from buffalo, that “they get a bunch of materials from one animal.”
Kunga had also participated in a contest dance to grab an upright feather off the ground with his mouth, without his hands or knees touching the ground, and he still had bits of feather in his hair as he excitedly greeted dancers at the end of the program.
e.moser@theday.com
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