One of New York’s anticipated annual winter traditions is the Thunderbird American Indian Dancers Dance Concert and Pow-Wow, which has taken place at the Theater for the New City (TNC) for the last forty years. It not only affords non-Indians the opportunity to learn about Native American culture first-hand, but it is also an important event for Native Americans.
In modern times “pow-wow” has come to mean a place for Native People to gather, dance, sing and strengthen their cultural traditions and ties. “We are so happy we can still do it and that Native People still come and appreciate what we’re doing,” said Thunderbird co-founder and artistic director Louis Mofsie in a phone interview. Mofsie, who also acts as emcee and occasional dancer, added, “People in New York City are happy we’ve included some of their dances.”
Mofsie explained that the Big Apple is home to the largest number of Native People from different tribes across the country. “New York City is unique in that regard,” he said. “It’s not true anywhere else—for example, New Mexico is 99 percent Navajo.” According to the 2010 census, over 112,000 American Indians and Alaska Natives are living in the New York City Tri-State area, stated the American Indian Community House (AICH) website. The Brooklyn-born Mofsi, who is half Hopi (father from Arizona) and half Winnebago (mother from Nebraska)—they met in New York—is also one of the founding members of AICH, located at 254 West 29th Street where the troupe rehearses. “It’s not just the dances with Thunderbird; it’s the whole idea of a community center in New York which is an important place for different activities and helps people who come to the city from different reservations,” he said.
Thunderbird is the oldest resident Native American dance company in New York. The group consists of around 25 members, including a dozen dancers from distinct tribes. Some have been with the group since its founding 52 years ago, in 1963 (the same year AICH was founded), by ten Native American men and women New Yorkers who descended from Mohawk, Hopi, Winnebago and San Blas tribes—they were first generation not born on a reservation. Current members range in age from 15 to 78, with Mofsie the eldest. Since its founding, the company has been all-volunteer.
The program consists of dances and dance competitions, stories and traditional music and food of the Iroquois and Native Peoples from the Northeast, Southwest and Great Plains regions. Native crafts and jewelry will be sold in the TNC lobby. Highlights include storytelling by Matoka Eagle (Santo Domingo, Tewa), a Hoop Dance by Marie Ponce (Cherokee), an Eagle Dance from the Hopi tribe by Raymond Two Feathers (Cherokee) More…