A version of this story appears in Wednesday’s The Oklahoman.
Red Earth readies for silver anniversary celebration
The 25th annual festival is set for June 3-5 at the Cox Convention Center in downtown Oklahoma City.
While Oklahoma’s five American Indian ballerinas struck their perpetually graceful poses overhead, a new generation of dancers stomped, spun and strutted, sending fringed shawls flapping, jingle bells chiming and feathered bustles bouncing to a pounding drumbeat.
Dressed in their vibrant regalia, the Soaring Eagles dance troupe, representing Shawnee Public Schools, performed Tuesday at the annual Red Earth media day in the fourth-floor rotunda of the state Capitol. Fittingly, they heralded the 25th anniversary of the Red Earth Native American Cultural Festival under “Flight of Spirit,” Mike Larsen’s mural of the world-renowned ballet dancers.
“Mike Larsen got his start at Red Earth in 1987, 25 years ago,” said Red Earth Inc. Deputy Director Eric Oesch. “He’s grown so much as an artist … and we’ve had so many artists that have gotten their start with us.”
The silver anniversary edition of Red Earth is set for June 3-5 at the Cox Convention Center in downtown Oklahoma City. The event will feature the famed dance competition, art market, youth activities and a 10K run in addition to the 5K event. This year’s festival also will mark a quarter-century of celebrating American Indian culture with an array of special activities, including a June 2 gala, a birthday party and spotlight war dance.
“Everything we’re doing is centered around being a homecoming, inviting people from the past 25 years to come back,” Oesch said. “We’ve invited all our past ambassadors, Honored Ones, Spirit Award (for volunteer service) winners, all our previous board members, our fancy dance champions.”
Known as “the Mother of Red Earth,” Yvonne Kauger, an Oklahoma Supreme Court Justice and co-founder the festival, has been named the 2011 Red Earth Ambassador of the Year. She is excited but not surprised to see the event marking its 25th year.
“It was meant to be, and the support of the tribes has been critical,” she said. “I hope that we have shown the legacy, the history and the tradition, provided some education for the community and inspired young Native Americans to be very proud of their heritage.”
She noted that many dancers, artists and volunteers have participated in the event year after year. Muskogee painter Ruthe Blalock Jones, a master visual artist named the 2011 Red Earth Honored One, has competed at the festival since its inception. Oklahoma City artist Benjamin Harjo Jr., who crafted the Red Earth logo 25 years ago, designed this year’s festival T-shirt.
Actor Wes Studi, astronaut John Herrington, and Olympic track star Billy Mills are among the VIPs planning to attend the June 2 silver anniversary gala that will precede the festival. For the dancers, artists and their families who have faithfully brought their creativity to the event, a birthday party is planned for June 3 after the dance competition.
“For 25 years, the artists and the dancers have been the center of what we do,” Oesch said. “It will be like a big family reunion.”
Past champions in the men’s fancy dance competition have been invited to contend in a special men’s war dance contest that will literally put them in the spotlight in the darkened arena. Dance coordinator Randy Frazier said the 2011 festival also will introduce the Ladies Eastern Cloth competition, a clown contest and a grand entry and competition just for tiny tots younger than 6.
G. Calvin Sharpe, Red Earth board president, said the festival has an annual economic impact of nearly $9 million, while Lt. Gov. Todd Lamb noted that last year’s event drew more than 12,000 participants and 27,000 attendees. The festival was recently named one of the country’s top 10 powwows by USA Today.
“It’s the largest event of its kind in the entire world,” Lamb said. “What a wonderful thing for Oklahoma to brag about and showcase in our great state.”
25th Annual Red Earth Festival
When: June 3-5.
Where: Cox Convention Center, downtown Oklahoma City.
Information: 427-5228 or www.redearth.org.