MASHANTUCKET, Conn. (AP) – As Christian Hopkins stands outside a Pequot village in full regalia, it’s hard to tell he’s just a 16-year-old high school student who enjoys lacrosse.

His long, black hair is braided and he wears deerskin leggings and a dark maroon breech cloth made by his grandfather. His vest is a rich purple with woven flowers. Two eagle feathers dangle from his hair.

Hopkins, of Ashaway, R.I., is getting ready to dance for Schemitzun, one of the biggest powwows in the nation and the largest in the Northeast. The four-day celebration begins Thursday and attracts thousands of people, including representatives from tribes throughout North America. The event is open to the public.

“This is just about being able to carry on your tradition,” said Hopkins, who claims Narragansett and Micmac heritage.

Schemitzun celebrates the harvest and means “feast of the green corn and dance” in the languages spoken by the Mashantucket Pequots and other Eastern tribes. The event features an all-native rodeo, food, crafts and dance competitions.

Hopkins says he started dancing two years ago in part to honor his grandfather, who stopped dancing because of a stroke.

“His grandfather used to dance quite a bit,” said his grandmother, Evangeline Hankinson. “He’s taking over where he left off.”

Hopkins will be one of more than 3,000 dancers competing in 27 categories including the eastern blanket dance, a graceful dance in which colorful blankets are used, and fancy dance, a category with fast-paced footwork and flashy costumes. Prizes total $250,000.

Hopkins says he will compete in the eastern war category, which is performed in a circle and, in the past, was used to tell battle stories or war deeds yet to be done.

Today, Hopkins says the form is the same but the participants dance for different reasons.

“I dance resembling war,” Hopkins said. “I dance resembling games I play or hunts I’ve been on.”

In addition to dancing competitively, Hopkins is also part of an exhibition dance at the Pequot village, an area showcasing native living through traditional games, cooking and storytelling. Visitors will be able to view traditional wigwams made by tribal youth and watch Hopkins and other young dancers show off their skills.

“It’s really history come alive,” said tribal spokesman Bruce MacDonald.

Across from the village, more than 100 artists will display and sell native wares and visitors will be able to taste different foods including fry bread, venison and succotash.

There will also be a grand entry, a parade of sorts where all tribal members enter the grounds at the same time.

The event takes place at Miner Farm in North Stonington, less than a mile from Foxwoods Resort Casino.



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