Indian culture highlighted at annual festival

wcrenshaw@macon.comSeptember 21, 2013 

At the Ocmulgee Indian Celebration on Saturday, members of the Cherokee Nation’s Warriors of AniKituhwa invited audience members to join in a “friendship dance.”

Dozens of people of all ages stepped forward, and they began by forming a large circle, holding hands. The Cherokee group led them in a chant and dance, and then the circle turned into a winding movement, like a snake.

Sonny Ledford, a member of the group from the Cherokee Indian Reservation in Cherokee, N.C., explained to the audience that the dance mimicked a snake shedding its skin.

“When we do this dance in that snake motion, we are coming out and feeling like a new person,” he said. “We are leaving the old behind.”

It was the group’s first performance in the Ocmulgee National Monument’s annual festival, which in its 23rd year. The group performed traditional Cherokee dances, and explained their clothing and weapons.

“We are not here to entertain but to educate,” Ledford said after the performance. “It’s what our people picked us to do, was to teach.”

The group was a among many demonstrating American Indian culture at the event, which was attended by thousands.

Marty Haythorn of Thomasville took up making American Indian pottery when he was in his 20s, and now makes a living at it. He makes pieces using the same methods as the Indians, and his pieces sell for as high as $2,000, although he had pieces for sale Saturday for $50 or less.

He was demonstrating how Native American cured pottery in an open fire, which was their version of a kiln. After hours in the fire, he said, the pottery turns to ceramic.

Although a kiln would be easier, he said he uses the American Indian method to preserve the tradition and because it produces an authentic colorization that a kiln wouldn’t. He visits museums and snaps pictures of actual Indian pottery that he replicates.

“This is my mission,” he said. “Native Americans were here for a long time and just had a very important cultural history in this area that most people don’t think about it. This is a chance to show people what Native Americans did.”

Park Superintendent Jim David said the event is by the far the largest held each year at the park, which for centuries was the home of the Muscogee (Creek) Indians. Some 200 years ago they left for Oklahoma on the Trail of Tears, and a Muscogee honor guard comes from Oklahoma each year to open the festival.

The festival steadily grows each year, David said. Last year a record 19,000 people attended. Attendance this year was down some, which David attributed to rain in the forecast.

He estimated over 6,500 people attended Saturday. The festival continues Sunday from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.

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