The histories, art and cultures of 39 Native American tribes converge in downtown Oklahoma City during this month’s Red Earth Festival. In its 32nd year, the event offers traditions and new activities, all in honor of Oklahoma’s rich tribal roots.
“Oklahoma is fortunate to have more tribal headquarters than any other state,” says Eric Oesch, co-director of Red Earth, Inc. “Each of the 39 tribes in Oklahoma are sovereign nations. With each tribe working diligently to preserve their Native languages, it is said there are more languages spoken in Oklahoma than in all of Europe.”
Of the tribes represented at the June 8-10 event, three were formed in Oklahoma; the others were forcefully relocated starting in the 1830s. The festival is diligent not to forget this.
“Tribes in Oklahoma have deep roots in their homelands, including the Florida Everglades, Pacific Northwest, Great Lakes regions and even the isle of Manhattan,” Oesch says.
The weekend is packed with activities, and the Red Earth Parade in downtown Tulsa on June 9 acts as a commencement.
“It is unlike any other parade in the world. Where else will one find hundreds of people in full tribal regalia, Native princesses, tribal leaders and honor guards parading through a major metropolitan city? Nowhere.”
The Cox Convention Center hosts a bevy of events, including an Ask the Expert panel, where guests can bring their artwork and artifacts for free evaluation. Art enthusiasts can get their fill at the Red Earth Art Market, which offers shows and competitions for children and adult artists. The festival’s powwow welcomes some of the best Native drum groups in the world. In addition, dozens of tribes descend upon the convention center for two days of performances in stunning regalia.
“The pageantry and beauty of Native dance is not often experienced by our non-Native audience – and it leaves a lasting impression,” Oesch says.
The festival has won numerous awards, including Oklahoma’s Outstanding Event by the Oklahoma Tourism and Recreation Department twice and “One of 10 Great Places to Celebrate Indian Culture” and “Top 10 Best Art Festivals in America,” both by USA Today.
“Every year we host guests from around the world who attend our event to soak up the Native cultures that so many of us in Oklahoma take for granted,” he says. “I love walking through the art market … and hearing foreign languages being spoken.”
For a schedule, visit redearth.org.