Christina Rose
The jingle dress dancers made a stunning appearance at the Schemitzun Green Corn Festival.

Mashantucket’s Schemitzun Heralds Harvest Traditions and Tasty Treats

Christina Rose

Pow wow dancers, drum groups, Indigenous Peoples from near and far; these are the things people expect to find at pow wows. On Saturday, August 29, all those elements were in place at Schemitzun, on the Mashantucket Pequot Reservation in Connecticut. Otherwise known as the Green Corn Festival, the event is really a celebration of the harvest, and there was plenty of evidence of that. From the blessing of the corn by Tribal Chairman Rodney Butler to the array of stands and trucks, traditional Native foods were in abundance at Schemitzun.

New England tribes can count themselves lucky to have such a variety of foods locally available. Sly Fox's Den, the Mashpee Wampanoag food stand, founded by Sherry Pocknett close to 15 years ago, had lines that wove along the paved, wooded trail. Sly Fox's Den is now operated by Pocknett’s daughter Jade Galvin, 26, who has been working at the stand since she was 11. Galvin said people are excited by their variety of foods. “I think the smoked salmon and the Wampanoag style frogs legs are the most popular. They love our buffalo burgers, but most people like to try things they can’t get anywhere else.”

Next to the Sly Fox's Den stand was the Then and Now Native Food truck. Owned and operated by Wanda and Ray Semple, the truck was serving food at the Crow Fair in Montana just two weeks ago and made it back in time for Schemitzun. Wanda said they started selling food about 10 years ago, when times were tough and crafts just weren’t selling. Wanda said she saw the lines for food and decided to try it.

Starting with a five pound bag of flour to make frybread, they set up a small tent and a little grill at a pow wow in Ohio, “and that’s how it started, one pow wow after another,” she said. “It’s ten years later and now we go everywhere.”

Unlike the adventurous variety of Sly Fox's Den, Then and Now’s foods are based on Wanda’s Passamaquoddy roots and the commodity foods her family received. She now cooks those staples and serves up a variety of Indian tacos as well as a simple corn soup and a Northern traditional meal of poached salmon with a compote of blueberries and cranberries with a side of succotash.

Mashantucket Pequot tribal secretary Marjorie Colebut-Jackson said that at Schemitzun, food—in particular, green corn—is at the heart of the festival. Explaining the meaning and importance of green corn to the tribe, she said “green corn” refers to the outer leaves that cover the corn. The darker the green on the outside, the sweeter it is. “You don’t want to pick corn before it turns dark green.”

Corn recipes abound on the East Coast, but Colebut-Jackson told a deeper tale that hearkened back to earlier traditions. “The women used to mortar the corn, and they would put the powder in the men’s pouches,” which were worn around the neck. “When they went off to battle, they would take a little of the powder and put it on their tongue, which would energize them. It gave them the energy of the women and children. The tribe won many wars because of that,” Colebut-Jackson smiled. She noted the tribe still maintains cornfields along nearby Route 2.

This is the fifth year that Schemitzun has been held on the reservation’s event grounds and Wayne Reels, director of cultural resources, said the turnout, especially for the general public, was the highest since the pow wow has been held there. Though the grounds are relatively new, there were other more time honored traditions to be found at Schemitzun.

“The Green Corn Festival has been going on forever, as long as we have been harvesting,” Reels said, and offered his words on connecting the past with the present. “Schemitzun takes place each year with the intention of thanking the creator for the harvest. In the past, it brought all 26 of the Pequot villages together and today brings people from near and far. The preparation for the winter was accomplished by drying the corn, vegetables, and meats; to dig the storage pits for winter storage.”

Reels reminds, “This is about bringing people together. It was always about the harvest but at the same time, it was about song, about dance, about the games. You always dressed in your best regalia—all year long you would get your regalia ready for the festivals. Those are the traditions that are still going on, the songs, the dance, the socializing, the games; everything we used to do is still going on today.”

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