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Lehigh Valley Roasting Years of Corn Festival Celebrates Indigenous Culture

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While walking the grounds of the Museum of Indian Culture in Allentown Wednesday morning, Pat Rivera told some of the stories of the Lenape people, saying, “The real history is outside.”

“They built their villages at least 13,000 years ago until the mid-1700s,” said Rivera, who has been the museum’s executive director for 20 years. “Most people don’t know. I get chills when they walk this way. We’re walking down the road that the Native Americans of Pennsylvania have walked for years.”

Over the weekend, the museum will open its grounds at 2825 Fish Hatchery Road and invite residents and visitors to its annual Roasting Ears of Corn Festival. Thirty vendors take part in his two-day event, featuring drumming, singing and dancing. With approximately 5,000 attendees each year, and now in his 42nd year, the festival is Pennsylvania’s oldest and solely focused on Indigenous peoples and culture.

“Their first planting was actually called green corn,” Rivera said. Now comes the roasting, obviously it’s time to appreciate and appreciate the bountiful harvest.”

Indigenous advocates have had recent successes in the Lehigh Valley. In May, the Delaware Nation flag was hoisted for the first time at Allentown City Hall, proclaiming May 13th as Delaware Nation Day.

Festival demonstrations and activities that encourage festival-goer engagement are popular each year, says Ed Gearheart, who has been a volunteer for 15 years.

This year includes activities for all ages to make indigenous crafts such as wampum style bracelets, drums and gourd rattles. There are also life skills demonstrations such as atlatl and tomahawk throwing, flint-napping, primitive fire-making, and flute-making. There are also murals outlined by Bethlehem artist Donna Haney, and visitors are invited to help paint them.

Redding’s 66-year-old Gearheart demonstrated the atlatl, a weapon that predates the bow and arrow.

“Have you been fishing?” Gearhart asked with a smile.

He picked a dart from some on the table and put it in a small wooden frame. Holding it perpendicular to his forearm and placing his hand near his ear, he took a step forward. Like casting a fishing line or a baseball field, Gearheart followed the move, but released his dart and flew it toward the bullseye drawn on the haystack.

It’s easy to see how these weapons (one of mankind’s first mechanical weapons, according to the World Atlatl Association) can dart faster and farther than hand-thrown ones.

“You can explain something to someone, but they can’t really understand it until you try it,” said Gearheart. “When you actually do it, you’re like, ‘Oh, that’s how it works.’ And the more you practice, the better you get at it.”

Museum officials and volunteers are also working to raise funds for a new capital project to build a historically accurate village of Lenape on the site. It is scheduled to open in September 2026 as a tourist destination.

“The museum is small,” said Rivera. “Unfortunately, we are in an old stone farmhouse.

Current exhibits within the museum include “Women Warriors,” which focuses on Indigenous women activists, and “The Great Native American Toolkit,” which features prehistoric stone tools and pottery made from local sources. It is The museum also has a library cataloged by region. For example, one shelf is labeled “Lenape/Delaware & Pennsylvania History,” while another nearby reads “Northeastern Cultures.”

The museum will not be open during the festival due to expected crowds, but tours will resume the following week, Rivera said.

“But the point is, the real history is outside,” she elaborated on upcoming village projects. including lodges. “And we could really expand and have that village here.”

To contact Morning Call reporter Molly Bilinsky: mbilinski@mcall.com.

detail: Gates open at 10am and the festival runs until 6pm on Saturday and Sunday, rain or shine. Admission: $10 for adults, $5 for children ages 8-17 and he’s 62 and over, free for children under 8. Information: https://www.museumofindianculture.org/roasting-ears-of-corn-festival