For 35 years, Garvies Point Museum and Preserve has hosted an annual Northeastern Native American Feast the weekend before Thanksgiving, offering an assortment of activities that simulate and celebrate Native American culture. The feast usually draws up to 2,000 people throughout the weekend.
Veronica Natale, who has been the museum director for six years, said the feast is an event that volunteers and visitors look forward to every year. “A lot of work goes into it, but it’s nice to see people enjoy it and hopefully learn something,” she said.
This year, as part of its 50th anniversary celebration, the museum included a new interactive activity as part of the feast. Visitors were encouraged to create a dugout canoe from the trunk of a tulip tree using natural tools such as seashells and sticks. “They learn how much work it really is, and how long it takes to make,” Natale said.
Walking through the different activities offered at the feast, Natale stopped at the stone-drilling station. The red shale stone grindings, she explained, are mixed with water at a nearby station to create tribal face paint.
Outside, people tried spear throwing with an atlatl, a tool that pre-historic tribes used for hunting.
There were other activities to enjoy that are regularly offered at Garvies, like the interactive woodland village. There visitors can get a taste of Native American life by sitting in a canoe and wigwam.
Pottery lessons are also offered year-round. In the craft room, visitors were taking a pottery class on Saturday. With clay from natural deposits at the preserve’s Hempstead Harbor beach, they sculpted bowls and vases.
And it wouldn’t be a feast without food. Tables full of Native American dishes offered a real-life display of the diet of Northeastern Indian tribes, including four types of popcorn, tubers, cranberries and a boiled corn soup, which tasters were surprised to learn was unsalted. “Back in those days, the tribes didn’t use salt,” Natale said.
Volunteer Jason Abdale, who supervised the spear-throwing station, said the feast is one of the more popular events that the museum sponsors. “In our modern world, where everything is pre-packaged, it’s important to see how things were done in the old days,” he said. “Everything you needed you had to work for. If you wanted food, you’d have to harvest it or catch it. If you wanted clothes, you had to make them. If you wanted shelter, you’d have to build everything from scratch.”
Volunteer Dick Doster, who has maintained the preserve’s trails for more than 20 years, assisted patrons at the dugout canoe station. “It’s nice to see that they’re having fun doing the job,” he said.
Carolyn Jimenez brought her four grandchildren to the feast on Saturday so they could learn about Native American culture. “I’ve been to the museum before, and it’s very unique and underrated, and this is an exceptional event,” she said.
Jimenez added that one of her grandsons had asked to bring his Nintendo DS along, which she refused to allow. “Once we arrived, they were engaged the minute we got out of the car,” she said. “People love a museum that’s hands-on.”
Natale said the event attracts people from across Long Island. “Some people come every year, and for some it’s their first time visiting,” she said. “It’s a great opportunity to promote the museum and educate people, but at the same time it’s engaging, interactive and fun.”