During Folkmoot — Waynesville’s two-week international-dance festival held in July — translators are often used to ease the language barrier between foreign groups and their American hosts.
But Robert Jumper, spokesman for the Eastern Band of Cherokee, got a message from Folkmoot that went beyond words.
“We wanted something of that magnitude, but that focuses on native culture,” he says. “So many people have a limited understanding of the vastness of the Native American cultures that exist in America.
“[They] tend to think of tepees and headdresses. In fact, it’s so much more diverse.”
The resulting Festival of Native Peoples will be held Sept. 23 and 24 in Cherokee. So far 10 tribes have signed on for the festival. And Jumper expects a few more to join — but a short list includes the Seneca, Tewa and Alaskan Alutiiq tribes.
It’s expected to be the most diverse collection of native tribes ever assembled in the Southeast.
Among the performers will be the Yellow Bird Indian Dancers of the Apache tribe in Arizona, who include in their number a four-time world-champion teen hoop dancer (Tony Duncan) and the 2003 world-champion youth hoop dancer (Kevin Dakota Duncan). The group, who create dazzling images of eagles and rattlesnakes using more than 25 colored hoops, has performed at the Kennedy Center and at the Smithsonian Institute.
Also attending will be world-renowned flute player Fernando Cellicion, who will perform with the Zuni dancers of New Mexico. Together they will bring to the stage the White Buffalo Dance, the Harvest Dance and other ancient ceremonies.
Not to be upstaged in their own backyard, the local Cherokee will perform their traditional Warrior Dance — a rite that was first documented in 1600.
Jumper also notes that in addition to traditional dance and music, Native American storytellers will be there to share legends and lore that explores the world from the perspective of the individual tribes.
Of course, seasoned festival watchers know that while the mind can be stimulated, the belly must be sated — and Jumper points out that this festival won’t be all corndogs and funnel cakes. “There will be a celebration of Native American cuisine — and it’s just as diverse as the various tribes coming,” he promises.
Selling a cultural event can be tough during the saturated fall-festival season — but few promoters have managed a slogan as tempting as this: “To meet this many authentic Native American tribes, Lewis and Clark spent five years walking, rowing and riding 4,162 miles. All you have to do is drive to Cherokee.”
Unlike Lewis and Clark’s expedition, though, this voyage can be had for $5 a day.
The Festival of Native Peoples will be held at the Cherokee Indian Fairgrounds (on Hwy. 441, in Cherokee) Friday, Sept. 23 (2-9 p.m.) and Saturday, Sept. 24 (10 a.m.-9 p.m.). Show times are 7 p.m. Friday and 2 p.m. and 7 p.m. Saturday. Admission is $5/day (children under six get in free). For more information, visit www.cherokee-nc.com, or call Robert Jumper at (828) 497-8123.