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Rocking Down at the Red Earth Native American Cultural Festival in Oklahoma City

Jordan Wright
May 24, 2012
Special to Indian Country Today Media Network

Red Earth Festival in Oklahoma City, OK

Red Earth Festival in Oklahoma City, OK

Before the doors open at the Cox Convention Center in downtown Oklahoma City to more than 30,000 visitors, before the drum keeper touches stick to hide and dancers twirl their four-foot buckskin fringe and minutes before the first handwoven basket is purchased or warm fry bread tasted, the day will begin with the ritual smudging of sage leaves.

From Friday, June 8th through Sunday, June 10th, American Indian art and culture will be on display at this year’s 26th Annual Red Earth Native American Cultural Festival where more than 1200 artists and over 500 of the country’s finest dancers come together to compete in one venue and visitors will witness one of the country’s leading cultural events.

Thirty-nine sovereign tribes are headquartered in Oklahoma, each with their own language.  Combine that with over a hundred tribes that will be represented here plus journalists and visitors from places as far-flung as Japan, Great Britain and Germany, you can expect to hear more languages spoken here than throughout all of Europe.  National Geographic and Good Morning America have covered Red Earth, and last year USA Today named it one of 10 Great Places to Celebrate American Indian Culture by.

Partnering with the Oklahoma City Museum of Art, which houses a permanent collection of about 1700 historical artifacts and contemporary art, the Red Earth Master Artist Show will display the festival’s winning artwork from the previous 25 years.  In addition the highly selective juried show and separate art market will exhibit works from celebrated artists along with beadwork, basketry, jewelry, pottery, sculpture, paintings and cultural attire, allowing visitors to purchase both contemporary and traditional examples of American Indian arts and crafts.

“Over the past five years we have seen about a 20% growth each year in our event,” reports festival spokesperson Eric Oesch.  “I think it shows that it appeals to people from every walk of life.  Red Earth is for the purpose of sharing cultures and so we attract people, both Indian and non-Indian, from not only Oklahoma and all over the United States but also from around the globe to experience our unique cultures.”

On Friday morning amid 50-story skyscrapers the Grand Parade will kick off the weekend with an explosion of tribal culture featuring dancers, floats, Indian princesses, a football field-sized flag, honor guards, Indian firefighters, horse-drawn stagecoaches and brilliant regalia.  This year the Navaho Nation Marching Band from Window Rock, Arizona will perform.

During the all-indoor festival children’s activities will be sponsored by a different tribal museum each day.  Lots of hands-on activities as well as beadwork, keepsake boxes, musical performances and storytelling will be conducted by the Comanche National Museum and Cultural Center in Lawton OK, the Citizen Potawatomi Museum in Shawnee, and the Big Brothers Big Sisters organization.

Two other exciting events will take place in Oklahoma City over the same weekend.  The seven-acre Myriad Botanical Gardens, which recently underwent a $43 million dollar renovation, will be the backdrop for the first Red Earth Invitational Sculpture Show featuring 12 monumental sculptures of bronze, glass and water.  The pieces are designed by some of the nation’s most reknowned Native sculptors including Janice Albro, Denny Haskew, John Free, Bill Glass, Jr., and former Oklahoma Senator and former Chief of the Seminole Nation of Oklahoma, Enoch Kelly Haney.

From June 6th through the 10th film buffs will flock to the deadCENTER Film Festival to see more than 150 films.  Known as one of the “20 Coolest Film Festivals in the World” by MovieMaker Magazine, the avant garde festival will screen two important American Indian films including the world premiere of the 1920 historic film Daughter of Dawn, a recently restored film with an all-Native cast.  Screenings for this film will be held at the Oklahoma City Museum of Art’s Noble TheatreThe Dome of Heaven, an indie film by Oklahoman Diane Glancy (Cherokee) starring actor Wes Studi (Cherokee), will be shown at the Harkins Bricktown Cinemas.  Visit for screening times and places.

Beginning Sunday, June 10th the weeklong Nike N7-sponsored Jim Thorpe Native American Games will be held at sporting venues throughout Oklahoma City, where teams participate in the All-Star Native American High School Football and Basketball Tournaments, as well as in nine other sports categories from golf, swimming and wrestling to stickball, martial arts and track and field.  The Olympic-style Games will play host to 3,000 student athletes representing 70 different tribes throughout Canada and the United States.

This year’s Games will commemorate the 100th anniversary of Thorpe’s gold medal-winning performances at the 1912 Stockholm Olympics. Thorpe (Sac and Fox) who played both Major League baseball, basketball and professional football, was voted “The Greatest Athlete of the 20th Century” by the Associated Press and was the first president of the National Football League (NFL).

Executive Director, Annetta Abbott told ICTMN, “This will be our largest event ever and will have a Parade of Nations, Indian dancers and fireworks.”  For additional info and event schedules visit

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