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Native American Tradition Thrives At Paterson Festival

Guest speakers display traditional garb at the Native American Indian Heritage Festival in Paterson Saturday, Nov. 21. Photo Credit: Joshua Jongsma
George Stonefish, center, leads a group dance. Photo Credit: Joshua Jongsma
Trinkets for sale. Photo Credit: Joshua Jongsma

PATERSON, N.J. — Past met present at Paterson's Great Falls on Saturday in a celebration of Native American history.

Tables with crafts and keepsakes of Native American culture greeted visitors outside a tent filled with song, dance and information dating back hundreds of years at the second-annual Native American Indian Heritage Festival.

Master of ceremonies was George Stonefish, of Lenape descent, who has been following Native American traditions for more than 50 years and seeks to counter Hollywood's harmful stereotypes.

"Anything that I can do to open up people's eyes for a better understanding of things, I feel it's my duty and my responsibility," he told Daily Voice.

The opening ceremony of the festival -- staged by the Sand Hill Band of the Lenape and Cherokee Indians, Paterson Museum and National Park Service -- featured a tribal drum beat and raising of the Sand Hill flag.

Inside the tent, Stonefish taught guests about traditions of tribes such as the Lenape, Iroquois and Cherokee.

Stephanie Peltzer, a teacher in Paterson, said her daughter Annie was excited to learn more about the culture.

"I thought it was really interesting, really fascinating," Peltzer said. "[Local history] is really important as Americans, and it's also important to Paterson."

The Lenape were native to Paterson prior to the arrival of European settlers.

Guest speakers showed the crowd traditional dance and clothing before the audience participation. Stonefish asked guests to join hands in a circle as they followed him in a line dance.

One tradition Stonefish said he wanted everyone to know: Regardless of tribe, Native Americans preach respect.

"Respecting ourselves first -- respecting the clan, which is your extended family," he said. "Then respecting our nation and then beyond that respecting those of other nations and then all of nature.

"This is a commonality."

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