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Arts & Culture

Strawberry Moon Festival to celebrate Native American roots in music, provide engaging dialogue


Artpark is welcoming Indigenous programming back to its lineup for 2021 with a festival this Saturday that incorporates traditional and contemporary Native arts and culture. 


In 2019, Artpark in Lewiston hosted the Strawberry Moon Festival, an inclusive celebration of Native American influences on music. It was the first event of its kind hosted at Artpark since the 1970s, and after COVID shut music festivals down last year, it’s back on and with a renewed focus on rekindling roots to ancestors and the natural world. 

Artpark Indigeneous Producer Michele-Elise Burnett, who is Metis-Algonquin, said social gatherings like these are vital to preserving and celebrating culture. 

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Michele-Elise Burnett serves as Artpark's Indigenous Producer, and also runs the Native media & arts firm Kakekalanicks Inc. formed by her mother Dr. Suzanne Rochon-Burnett.

“It's the meaning of the deep roots of our Indigenous peoples that have lived on Turtle Island for a millennia. This concert comes out of the pandemic, to really bring us together to celebrate our Indigenous ways of knowing,” said Burnett, who also runs the culture and arts consulting firm Kakekalanicks Inc. in Southern Ontario. “It’s to celebrate us and to share our ways of knowing with others, so that they can understand who we are, what we've gone through to understand and respect who we are today.” 

Strawberry Moon is not a pow wow, Burnett says it’s different. It does include some traditional music and a smoke dance competition, but with gospel and blues musicians like Martha Redbone and Lakota John in the lineup, she said the Native influence shines through in their work. 

“She [Redbone] comes in with an African American and Indigenous Native background, and has also been influenced by some of these remarkable Indigenous musicians in the past,” said Burnett. “Lakota John just jams it. When I saw him play, it brought me back to our roots. You could hear our drumbeat through his guitar, it’s incredible.” 

The aim of the festival is also to welcome in non-Indigenous people to create a greater dialogue. 

“This is a way for us to really be able to express, to engage, to develop new dialogues with non-Indigenous people,” said Burnett. “It's our chance to really tell our stories, the untold stories, maybe even uncover some harsh realities together. But these dialogues need to start.” 

Part of that dialogue will be shared by two different bands of the Tuscarora. Separated after wars with colonists in the 1700s which led to many moving to New York to join the Haudenosaunee Confederacy, some Tuscarora stayed behind in their ancestral present-day North Carolina. 

Burnett said some of those Carolina descendants are making the trek up to Artpark for Strawberry Moon, and she is hopeful that the music and other programming will bring out the “unity” and “shared common ground” between all Tuscarora people. 

Gates for the Strawberry Moon Festival open at 4pm this Saturday, June 19. The full musical lineup and ticket info can be found on artpark.net. Artpark on Wednesday announced it will be lifting most of its COVID restrictions including proof of vaccination, health screening, social distancing, and mask wearing for vaccinated visitors in-line with New York State guidance.  

Ryan Zunner joined WBFO in the summer of 2018 as an intern, before working his way up to reporter the following summer.
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