Native American Festival this weekend

Published 12:01 am Thursday, May 28, 2015

For the 25th year, Sycamore Shoals State Historic Park will host the annual Native American Festival Saturday and Sunday.

The festival is well-known for its focus on Cherokee art and culture.

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The weekend-long festival will feature traditional and contemporary arts and crafts, traditional Native American song and dance, Cherokee storytelling and legends, Native American flute, Cherokee language workshops and craft demonstrations and sales.

“One of the features of the festival is the educational and demonstration area located within Fort Watauga,” Sycamore Shoals Park Manager Jennifer Bauer said. “The dance circle is located in the center of the fort, where the popular traditional dance and drum performances take place. In addition, flute music, storytelling, lectures, and so much more take place within the circle.”

The interior of the fort will also host a wide range of demonstrations, including a children’s blowgun challenge, beadwork, gourd art, pine needle basketry, stone carving, Cherokee language, wood carving, flint-knapping, corn shuck dolls, native river cane flutes, pottery and a replicated Cherokee cabin from the early 19th century with historical re-enactors Mark and Sherry Finchum.

Outside the fort, Native American arts and crafts will be featured, in addition to ethnic Cherokee food, and a Lakota Tipi exhibit.

“Some of the long standing traditions of the festival are the music, drum and dance performances in the circle,” Bauer said.

The dancing demonstrations will include the fancy dance, hoop dance, the jingle dance, the men’s traditional, grass and straight dances, and many more. Everyone is invited to dance. Newly added will be a demonstration of 18th century Cherokee social dancing. Dale Cloer, Cherokee, N.C., will host this portion of the festival.

Featured Cherokee dancers Eddie Swimmer and Nikki Crisp are internationally known. Swimmer is famous for his traditional hoop dancing, which can include between 36 and 42 hoops, and Crisp is a champion powwow dancer.   

Swimmer is a former world champion hoop dancer and has performed in the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade and at the World Cup Soccer Tournament in Dallas, as well as choreographing the Broadway show hoop dance for “Annie, Get Your Gun.”

Crisp has been performing for over 20 years. Her talents also include traditional beadwork and authentic frybread cooking. Crisp will be providing food vending for this event, including her famous Indian tacos.

Lola Swimmer of Cherokee, N.C., is the featured artist for the 2015 festival. Her specialty is using feathers as her canvas to paint landscape scenes, military style art, angels, warriors, eagles and more. She also does canvas art, prints and face painting.

“All her feathers are one of a kind with no two ever alike,” Bauer said.    

This year’s featured storyteller is Freeman Owle, a noted lecturer, historian and member of the Eastern Band of Cherokee. Owle has traveled all over the eastern United States for more than a decade, lecturing to churches, military units and schools.

Owle serves on the board of directors of the Qualla Arts and Crafts Mutual and is a coordinator for the Cherokee Heritage Trails project of the Blue Ridge Heritage Initiative. He is one of the featured storytellers in the book “Living Stories of the Cherokee,” and he also appears in the video documentary “Cherokee, The Principal People,” which aired on public television in North Carolina, South Carolina, and Kentucky.

Dr. Michael Abram, a world authority on Cherokee culture, will present lectures during the festival. He is the owner of the Cherokee Heritage Museum and Gallery in Cherokee, N.C. Abram is a physician who has devoted his life to studying, preserving, and lecturing on Cherokee culture.

Abram will give two lectures on Saturday, “Cherokee Cultural Masks in the 21st Century” and “The Cherokee Four Winds.” The lectures will be presented inside the circle of Fort Watauga.

Daniel Bigay, Greeneville, will play traditional flute music in addition to having his handmade, traditional Cherokee style flutes for sale. Bigay is a flute maker, artist, performer/recording artist. He has released two CDs, the most recent being nominated for best flute recording at the 2005 Indian Summer Music Awards.

Admission is $5 per adult, $1 for children. All proceeds from admissions go to Friends of Sycamore Shoals State Historic Area, to support the festival.

The event is made possible by the support of Friends of Sycamore Shoals State Historic Area and is sponsored by the DoubleTree by Hilton and the Comfort Inn of Johnson City.

For more information, call 543-5808.