Teaching traditions

Visitors to Camp Kanawahala’s Honor the Children American Indian Festival this past weekend experienced firsthand the joy of American Indian dancing.

“We pray to dance, we dance to heal and we heal to pray. It’s a continuous circle,” said festival organizer Karen Cooper, a member of the Cherokee tribe. “(Dancing) is the lifeblood. Some people go so far as to say this is church.”

The festival, which also featured flute playing and homemade crafts, drew more than 500 people to Camp Kanawahala. This was the first year the festival was open to the public.

Rain on Saturday cut the number of people who attended, but the turnout was good for a first-year festival, Cooper said.

The festival’s focus was mainly on showcasing American Indian traditions for those who had never seen them before. Friday night featured a trade blanket, which was a learning experience for some attendees.

“Most people don’t understand what a trade blanket is. Once you see it in action, though, you understand,” Cooper said. “The blanket was a lot of fun. A set of golf clubs even made the blanket, and it was traded for a case of peaches and a case of salsa.”

Festival workers also taught about the American Indian way of taking care of the earth, as well as American Indian history.

The crowd accepted most of the culture lessons, Cooper said.

“The goal was to teach about American Indian culture, to open up and knock out some stereotypes,” she said. “One of the things we all try to do is say that we’re all one people.”

Attendees were also invited to eat with the Indians and share in the experience of a meal.

“We feed each other because we’re all family anyways, and we become closer by eating,” Cooper said. “That’s one way of helping our people through the hard times.”

The highlight of the festival, however, was the dancing. Children that attended the festival were able to participate in various dances, and there were demonstrators to show traditional dances.

Dancer Corey Colburn, an honorary member of the Cherokee of Northeast Alabama, has been dancing for more than 20 years. Colburn said he dances to keep the tradition alive.

“I’m giving respect for the people who have come before me in dance,” he said. “We wouldn’t be here if they weren’t here.”

The festival will be back next year, and Cooper expects it to get bigger over time.

“We could have probably 5,000 or 6,000 people here. We could have a huge event here. I would love to,” she said.

The festival was also a fund-raiser for the Hawks in the Wind food pantry, and attendees donated enough clothes and food to fill up the back of Cooper’s pickup truck. All money earned by the festival went to Camp Kanawahala.

Although not everything went as planned, the festival was a success.

“We had a good time, we learned, we shared. Things happened on Indian time,” Cooper said. “God was good to us.”