Hammonassett Festival entertains, enlightens

By Rachael Scarborough King, Register Staff
10/07/2007

MADISON – Heavy fog covering Hammonasset Beach State Park Saturday morning didn’t dampen the spirits of organizers and attendees at the Hammonassett Festival, especially when compared with the weather at the first festival in 2005.

Friends of Hammonasset President Tisha Ferguson explained that the first time the group put on the event was during heavy rain and hurricane-force winds two years ago.

The 2005 festival featuring American Indian music, art and history was “sort of a grass-roots thing” that attracted a big turnout, so the Friends of Hammonasset decided to hold the event again.

“We had to take a year to get organized, so last year at this time we had a concert,” Ferguson said. “That was sort of a placeholder event.”

The festivities, which continue today, include American Indian crafts, dancing and music, as well as exhibits with live animals – turtles, snakes, horseshoe crabs and birds of prey, among others – and food. James Dina, who said he often gives demonstrations of his stone tools and handmade canoe at American Indian fairs, showed people how to grind corn into cornmeal using a tall bowl and long pestle.

“This is flint corn – it’s really crunchy and if you try eating it, it will knock you teeth out, so you need to pound it,” Dina told onlookers. Dina said he enjoys telling people about the types of tools people used “before contact with Europeans.”

At the birds of prey exhibit, Antoinette Vitelli observed with her daughter, Kelly Stegos, and grandson Anthony as her granddaughter, Mia Ney, took pictures with a cell phone of a tiny saw-whet owl.

“I love this type of stuff,” Vitelli, who lives in North Haven, said. “This is the first (American Indian festival) I’ve been able to get to. I’m excited about seeing everything.”

At the entrance to the event, visitors were greeted with a sign stating the “Hammonassett Prayer.” Even though the name of the state park is spelled with only one “t” at the end, organizers used the spelling adopted by the Hammonassett people for the festival’s title.

“Help us to understand we are one race – The Human Race,” the sign read, “and, with that understanding, to appreciate, honor and celebrate our rich cultural diversity so that one day ALL people in this great country of ours can stand up and say, without reservation, ‘I am proud to be an American.'”

Organizers said they expected thousands of visitors over the weekend. Admission is $5.

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