The sound of drums and smell of venison stew greeted visitors to the old Aquinnah town hall Sunday evening for the third annual Wampanoag New Year celebration.

The event is held as a fundraiser for the Aquinnah Cultural Center (ACC), a nonprofit with the mission to preserve, interpret and document Aquinnah Wampanoag history and culture.

Tribe planner Durwood Vanderhoop said the idea of a new year celebration in April isn’t due to a different calendar but the Wampanoag concept of new year being connected to spring and renewal. Mr. Vanderhoop added that the event is a way to engage the community in a dialogue about tribe culture that can help people of all Island backgrounds understand each other better.

Venison stew was a centerpiece of the meal. — Mark Alan Lovewell

“We are the original people of the Island,” he said. “Our culture is alive and well but we struggle just like everyone else. Aquinnah is our capital. This is the heart of who we are.”

He said there are currently about 1,100 tribal members, with roughly 250 living on the Island.

After a thundering performance of tribal powwow drumming and songs, it was time to eat.

Kristina Hook helped prepare the traditional Wampanoag meal of stew, succotash and turkey with cranberry sauce. She is a member of the ACC board and sits on the tribal council.

Before the meal Ms. Hook led the packed hall of tribal members and non-members in a prayer, thanking the earth for the food and the community for coming out to the event.

She said many people associate the tribe with the recent plans to build an electronic bingo hall, but she said tribe members aren’t all focused on the project. Ms Hook said she is more excited about how the ACC can help share tribe culture with the rest of the Island.

“It’s important to me that people learn who we are and what we are,” she said. “If I can open people’s eyes, then I’m happy.”

The perimeter of the hall was full of informational and craft booths showcasing the tribe’s unique history and art. Photographs of the Gay Head Light covered the walls and an array of wampum jewelry dazzled the eye.

The program ended with a traditional round dance where people held hands and circled the room to the rhythm of the drums. The gathering included people of many backgrounds and skin colors, as well as a gaggle of giggling children.

Kate Taylor, a longtime Aquinnah resident and singer who has no tribal background, praised the tribal events for being open-hearted, generous and welcoming.

“It’s important that people know that this is a living, breathing tribal community,” she said.