American Indians at Woodland Zoo

By Jeff Fehlengerg
News From Indian Country 6-08

What started innocently enough as an idea born in South Dakota may soon turn into a major event in Pennsylvania with Indigenous participants from the U.S., Canada and South America.

Since Kenahkihinén (“Watch Over Us”), a white buffalo calf, was born at the Woodland Zoo in Farmington, PA, a year and a half ago, hundreds of Native American Indians visited the animal they and their ancestors have held in high spiritual regard for thousands of years.

The Lenape (Delaware Indians) whose ancestral land includes much of Eastern Pennsylvania named the calf in December 2006, and a Lakota (Sioux) spiritual leader traveled to the zoo all the way from southwestern South Dakota to perform a ceremony in honor of the calf in April 2007. Now, in 2008, a powwow, a festive gathering, shall bring people from many nations together in unity and in celebration. Indians and non-Indians alike are invited to join the event.

Parts of the expansive Woodland Zoo outside of Farmington, a small community about 50 miles southeast of Pittsburgh, will turn into a camp complete with teepees, tents and modern-day campers from June 20th through June 22nd. American Indians from many different tribes will celebrate with songs, dances and prayers.

The planned event caught the attention of the organizers of “The Longest Walk,” a grassroots effort on a national level to bring attention to the environmental disharmony of Mother Earth, sacred site issues, and to commemorate the 30th anniversary of the original Longest Walk. The Longest Walk started in San Francisco and is scheduled to end in Washington, D.C., in July. The northern route was carefully planned to allow participants to take a well-deserved rest and spiritual refreshening at the powwow.

Indigenous leaders from several Indian nations indicated their intent to come and participate. The public, Indians and non-Indians alike, are invited to join an evening bonfire on Friday, June 20th. The powwow program will commence with the Grand Entry at noon on Saturday and Sunday. Admission charges to the powwow do not include access to the zoo.