NEWARK, N.J. (AP) – Native Americans from across the Americas will gather in New Jersey this weekend for a celebration of their rich cultural traditions.

Organizers of the Sussex County Native American Celebration say maintaining such traditions among a younger generation is increasingly challenging, while the recent immigration boom in the U.S. has help forge new alliances with an influx of indigenous people from Latin America.

“It certainly has brought about the eagle and condor – the condor being from South America and the eagle being from North America,” said Cliff Matias of the Red Hawk Native American Arts Council, which is organizing this weekend’s festival. “It’s definitely tightened the bond of indigenous people here in the United States,”

The festival, in its 15th year, brings together native dancers, artists and members of various tribes from across the U.S., Canada and the Caribbean for performances, crafts, native foods and a dance contest.

Festival organizers say the event is meant to reinforce traditions they are struggling to keep alive among younger Native Americans, while exposing the wider public to the diversity of native peoples.

“We are the ‘first people,’ and it’s a quickly disappearing culture as more and more indigenous people move out of their communities,” said Matias. “And so it’s much more difficult for young people to get involved in their culture, and many of them lose interest.”

One who has not lost interest is 19-year-old Matthew Boardley, a member of the Mashpee Wampanoag tribe who are descendants of the first Native Americans to encounter the Pilgrims.

Boardley, who plans to attend this weekend’s festivities as a member of a traditional dance troupe, said it was easier to practice his traditions while growing up on a reservation on Cape Cod, Mass., than in Brooklyn, N.Y., where he currently lives.

“In the city especially it’s hard to keep the younger children coming up into their traditions of dance and song because the pace of the city is so fast-paced and everything is like modern, modern, modern,” he said. “I noticed back home (on Cape Cod), or on a lot of the reserves throughout the country, it’s not as hard to keep the traditions going.”

The festival, which takes place July 11 and 12 at the Sussex County Fairgrounds in Augusta, N.J., is organized by the Brooklyn, N.Y.-based nonprofit Red Hawk Native American Arts Council, which supports Native American artists and conducts educational programs.

Matias, who is of Quechua and Taino heritage – tribes with roots in Central America and the Caribbean – said the festival serves to teach the wider public that native cultures are richer than what is typically portrayed in popular culture.

“If we can capture hearts to the beauty of our culture, than hopefully we can capture minds a little bit later as to who we are,” he said.

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