Opening eyes, changing perceptions

By: Phil Johnson

The stereotypes of Native Americans have persisted throughout American culture since the founding of the United States, but the Poarch Band of Creek Indians (PCI) will join with other native peoples to correct these misconceptions at the Southeastern Indian Festival this Friday and Saturday, April 4 and 5.

“We want to enlighten people about how the native people of the southeast actually lived,” Chris Blackburn said.

Blackburn is the Planning and Events Coordinator with The Calvin McGhee Cultural Authority (CMCA), the division of PCI which oversees all aspects of cultural education for the tribe and the community. It was CMCA that made the decision to begin hosting a gathering of southeastern tribes with the goal of presenting a clear picture of their history and culture. This year’s gathering is the second of its kind.

Tribal dancers, storytellers, artisans and others will be on hand from several tribes including Alabama Poarch, Oklahoma Poarch, Oklahoma Chickasaw, Mississippi Choctaw, Cherokees and Seminoles.

During the morning and afternoon Thursday and Friday, the festival will focus on school children, providing a hands-on experience in true Alabama history going far back beyond what the textbooks reveal.

“The school-age children are who we want to reach the most,” Blackburn said. “They are studying Alabama history. We want them to see, hear and touch the living history of the native peoples.”

Friday evening, April 4, and all day Saturday, April 5, the festival opens to the general public. The events include dance demonstrations, story telling in the style that would have been used to pass history from generation to generation, craft demonstrations and opportunities to sample native foods.

Vendors will also be on hand providing opportunities for the public to purchase food and other items.

Stickball, the oldest team game played in North America, will be played as a part of the festival. Stickball dates back to before the founding of the United States and was a vital part of the culture of many tribes. The game played a historical role in the peace kept between tribes who played it. The game was used as a way to settle disputes and grievances among the many tribes. It was also played to toughen young warriors for combat, for recreation and as part of festivals.

A craft tent will be set up providing children a chance to make medallions from clay and witness basket weavers, pottery making and shell carving.

The festival opens to the public at 6 p.m. Friday. Saturday’s festivities begin at 9 a.m. The event ends at 8 p.m. both days. There is no admission cost.

“I would like to invite everyone to come out,” Blackburn said. “It is our hope that they leave with a better understanding of what the southeastern tribes were like.”