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Native roots

Aimee Williams June 4th, 2014

Red Earth Festival
6 p.m. Thursday, 10 a.m.-7 p.m. Friday-Saturday
1 Remington Place 

Photo: Shannon Cornman

Thursday kicks off the 28th annual Red Earth Festival, Oklahoma’s largest celebration of North America’s rich Native American culture.

“Red Earth focuses on what makes our state unique: our native heritage,” Red Earth, Inc. Deputy Director Eric Oesch said.

While the festival is rooted in Oklahoma, Red Earth represents a diverse range of traditions from hundreds of Native American tribes.

“The majority of the tribes come from places like the Florida Everglades, the Pacific Northwest and upper New York,” Oesch said. “When they were relocated to Oklahoma in the 1800s, they brought a broad range of customs.”

The award-winning festival is one of Oklahoma’s most popular tourist attractions, drawing in journalists from Australia, Germany and Ireland — even foreign tourists driving along Route 66.

Oesch said the festival’s new location presents several advantages for participants and festival-goers.

“We are thrilled to be at Remington this year,” he said. “We have over six thousand free parking spaces and free valet services, but what’s more important about the new location is Remington Park’s connection to the Chickasaw Nation.”

This year, over 1,200 American Indian artists and dancers will compete for prestigious arts awards.

Oesch said the dance competitions are the festival’s main attraction.

“Men’s and women’s fancy dance competitions draw crowds because of the athleticism of the performances — and because they are so exciting to watch,” Oesch said. “We are using Remington’s three-story screen on the race track to broadcast the dance competitions, so no matter where you are in the arena, you’ll be able to watch.”

Along with the dance competitions, the festival offers music, food, a parade downtown around the Myriad Botanical Gardens and an art market.

One of the artists featured at the Red Earth Art market is Les Berryhill, whose art emphasizes traditional Native American beadwork.

“Beadwork is making a comeback in Native American art,” Berryhill said. “I started beading knife cases, which is actually what Native Americans would trade with European trappers for furs.”

A Creek Nation descendant, Berryhill is a self-taught artisan.

“I used to go to a lot of galleries where I would see beadwork, and I became really interested in the process,” Berryhill said. “So I bought a book and started learning how to bead on my own.”

Berryhill said Red Earth was where he first showed his beadwork and where he won his first award in the early ’90s.

“Red Earth has been one of the key factors in my success as an artist,” he said. “The festival gives Native Americans an opportunity to show their unique talents — and to show people that our culture is not dying but actually thriving.”

Red Earth starts Thursday evening at 6 p.m. with an art awards ceremony. The festival itself runs 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. Friday through Saturday.

For a complete event schedule, visit redearth.org.

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