Cody Boettner has been dancing the hoop dance since he was 5 years old.
In February, the 28-year-old Boettner claimed the title of 2019 World Champion Hoop Dancer with the highest score in a two-day competition in Phoenix.
Saturday, Boettner, a Creek, returned to the annual Ocmulgee Indian Celebration to dance where his ancestors once made their home.
That alone is an honor, Boettner said. But what means most to him is all of the people who come to the festival at the Ocmulgee Mounds National Historical Park to learn about the culture of Native Americans.
“It’s a good thing that people are coming out here. ... These are cultures that could be very easily lost,” said Boettner, noting that Native Americans don’t have to speak their languages anymore or live the way they did 200 years ago. “With these things in mind, these cultures that are very, very diverse and different can very easily be lost because they’re not a means of necessity necessarily for these people.
“It’s important for us to make sure that we pass on these things to our kids, to make sure that the younger generation is learning these things because it is endangered. It’s also important that people around us that aren’t necessarily native learn these things, too. That way, we cannot have so many myths or maybe not be so scared around each other; maybe we’d have a better understanding of each other.”
Boettner uses 14 hoops and might use many as 50 maneuvers to tell a story through his dancing.
The hoop dance came from Pueblo Indians, who would dance to honor the Earth and the cycle of life, he said. A maneuver, or shape, might be an eagle, he said.
“The eagle is very, very important to a lot of Native American people,” Boettner said. “It’s the bird that takes our prayers upward and beyond.”
In addition to dancers, the celebration includes storytellers, music, games, food, crafts, artifacts, displays and living history demonstrations spread out across the 702-acre site. The celebration continues Sunday, following the same schedule as Saturday.
Muscogee (Creek) Nation Principal Chief James Floyd was also glad to return to the celebration.
“For Muscogee people, to me, this is the most profound and sacred property associated with our history,” Floyd said. “Our existence here was documented for more than 600 years of continuous existence on this property and in this area.”
In the 1800s, the U.S. government forced them from the area.
Today, the Muscogee (Creek) Nation is the fourth largest tribe based in Okmulgee, Oklahoma. About 88,000 people make up the tribe today, Floyd said.
“What I would like people to understand when they are here is that we were mound builders ... for ceremonial, religious, governmental purposes, and this represents that,” Floyd said. “It’s intact, and so, I think if they can understand that, then they can understand why ... so many of us have this here — not only for us but for them to understand us. That’s important.”
Kim Croy, of Gordon, has come to the celebration every year for at least the past eight years. She brought her youngest child and her grandchildren.
They wanted to have their picture made with 21-year-old Wilson Dixon of the Mississippi Band of Choctaw Indians.
When asked why he wanted to have his picture taken with Dixon, 10-year-old Steven Croy said, “Because he’s an Indian, and we love Indians and we love history.”
Dixon said posing for photos is a common request when he’s in full dance dress and something that he enjoys doing to share his heritage.
Dixon said he likes to perform the chicken dance. The dance is performed for medicinal reasons, but can also be done as a war dance or as a mating dance by showcasing eligible bachelors, he said.
In the last case, if another dancer gets too close to another dancer, they might “kick up” at each other to portray a chicken fight, he said.
Dixon said he dances in honor of his grandmother who danced the fancy shawl dance and the southern cloth dance and encouraged him to dance at a young age.
Melissa English-Rias, acting superintended for the park, estimated that attendance over the two-day celebration, with the good weather, may reach close to 20,000.
Parking onsite is limited. Additional parking is available Macon-Bibb Health Department, 171 Emery Hwy., with free handicap-accessible shuttle service.
Ocmulgee Indian Celebration
Where: Ocmulgee Mounds National Historical Park, 1207 Emery Hwy.
When: 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Sunday
Cost: $6, $3 for ages 6-12 and military with valid ID; free for 5 and younger
Parking: Limited onsite parking available with additional parking at the Macon-Bibb Health Department, 171 Emery Hwy, with free handicap accessible shuttle service.
Information: 478-752-8257, Ocmulgee Mounds National Historical Park