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Native American Festival brings together many experts on Chrerokee culture

Contributed • May 29, 2018 at 7:47 PM

ELIZABETHTON — The 28th Annual Native American Culture Festival will take place this weekend at Sycamore Shoals State Historic Park. The festival brings together some of the most talented and experienced artists, musicians and dancers and also provides a platform for one of the foremost scholars of Cherokee culture.

The event opens on Saturday, June 2, running from 10 a.m. to 8 p.m.; and from 10 a.m. until 6 p.m. on Sunday, June 3. Most activities are held at Fort Watauga, unless it rains. In the event of rain the show will relocate to the Visitors Center.

On Saturday evening, a traditional campfire will be held at the far end of the meadow in front of Fort Watauga at 7, with several guest storytellers featured. Be sure to bring your own chair or blanket.

Sunday morning will feature a special opportunity to visit and shop with the unique artisans and exceptional craftsmen before the day’s activities begin at 11:30.

This 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.

A unique feature of the festival is the educational/demonstration area, located within Fort Watauga. 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, which share native culture and history with our visitors.

The dancing demonstrations will include the Fancy Dance and Hoop Dance, the Jingle Dance, the Men’s Traditional, Grass and Straight Dances, and many more. All are invited to dance, so bring your regalia. Newly added will be a demonstration of 18th century Cherokee social dancing. The host of this portion of the event, Dale Cloer, makes his home in Cherokee, N.C.

Featured dancers include internationally known hoop dancer Eddie Swimmer, head man dancer Dean Swimmer and champion powwow dancer Nikkie Crisp.

The interior of the fort will host a variety of demonstrations, which include a children’s blowgun challenge, beadwork, gourd art, pine needle basketry, stone carving, Cherokee language, woodcarving, 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.

Eddie Swimmer has captivated audiences across the globe using between 36 and 42 hoops. His accomplishments include winning the World Champion Hoop Dancer title, performances in the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade in New York City and in the World Cup Soccer Tournament in Dallas, as well as choreographing the Broadway show hoop dance for “Annie Get Your Gun”.

Dean Swimmer has competitively placed in many powwows across the Southeast for many years and has been the featured lead man dancer in a multitude of Native American festivals.

Nikki Crisp has danced across the world as well, and 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.

Just outside the fort, exceptional Native American arts and crafts will be featured, in addition to ethnic Cherokee food and a Lakota tipi exhibit.

The event’s featured storyteller is Freeman Owle. He is a noted lecturer, historian and member of the Eastern Band of Cherokee, and has traveled all over the eastern United States lecturing to various groups, including churches, military units, and schools. Owle has told stories and presented programs on Cherokee history and culture throughout the Southeast for more than 10 years.

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.

The featured speaker is Dr. Micahel Abram of the Cherokee Heritage Museum and Gallery in Cherokee, who will provide a glimpse into Cherokee history and legend. He will give two lectures on Saturday, "Cultural meaning of Cherokee Dreams" and “The Life, Humor, and Wisdom of Will Rogers," inside the circle of Fort Watauga. Abram has been presenting at this festival since its beginning and is owner of the Cherokee Heritage Museum and Gallery, which is being relocated to a location near Chattanooga. Abram has devoted his life to studying, preserving, and lecturing on Cherokee culture.

Daniel Bigay of Greeneville will entertain with traditional flute music in addition to having his handmade, traditional Cherokee style flutes for sale. Bigay is a flute maker, artist, performer/recording artist and demonstrator, who lives with his wife, Kay, in the mountains of Tennessee. He has released two CDs.

Admission to the festival is $6 per adult and $1 for children. All proceeds from admissions go to Friends of Sycamore Shoals State Historic Park to support the event. The event is made possible by the support of Friends of Sycamore Shoals State Historic Area, the DoubleTree by Hilton and the Comfort Inn of Johnson City.

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