From Saturday’s The Oklahoman.
Red Earth celebrates silver anniversary
Since 1987 Oklahoma City festival has been bringing together American Indian artists, dancers and tribes to share and honor their culture.
In a dazzling display of feathered, beaded and belled finery, hundreds of dancers wound into the Cox Convention Center Friday afternoon as the 25th Annual Red Earth Native American Cultural Festival commenced in downtown Oklahoma City.
Clad in their traditional regalia, they created a broad spectrum of vibrant hues, from reds, oranges and yellows to purples, blues and greens.
When artist Harvey Pratt reminisces about the first Red Earth Festival, his memories are equally colorful, just in a different way.
“It was in downtown and we had all our show outside in tents. And the Seminoles brought their alligators and put ‘em in a swimming pool, and a guy would jump in there and wrestle them around. And people would just gather,” the Southern Cheyenne traditional chief said.
While the city put a stop to the alligator wrestling, Pratt also vividly recalls the second Red Earth.
“They had a big storm and everybody had the leave, so then the following year they moved ‘em inside,” he said. “That second year I had a bunch of sculptures — my first year of spending money for bronzes — and the storm came and put ‘em in a box and grabbed all my paintings and ran to the car and left that box there. … Someone came and got ‘em and carried ‘em — and the last day they brought ‘em back to me.”
Pratt and his brother Charles have exhibited their artwork in the Red Earth Art Market every year since the festival began in 1987. In 2000, Charles was named Red Earth Honored One, a designation given yearly to a master visual artist. Harvey received the title in 2005.
“I enjoy it. I love seeing the people that come through here that I get to visit with every year. We sell a little art, and it’s home,” said Harvey Pratt, who lives in rural Guthrie and works as the Oklahoma State Bureau of Investigation’s forensic artist. “People get to come from a lot of different places, different tribes come and get to participate … and it shares culture and it shares creativity.
For Charles Pratt, who lives in Gallup, N.M., the event offers a chance to show his work in his native state and reunite with friends and family, including his grandchildren and great-grandchildren. He and his brother typically exhibit in adjacent booths in the Red Earth Art Market.
“It brings a lot of money and tourism,” he said. “I hope it goes on longer than I do.”
Leroy Bridges, one of the festival’s founders, said Red Earth has an annual economic impact of nearly $9 million. Last year’s event drew more than 12,000 participants and 27,000 attendees, and the festival recently was named one of the country’s top 10 powwows by USA Today.
“The artists are able to make money and sell their product. People don’t have to go to Santa Fe to buy their art; they can get art here,” said Bridges, who serves on the Red Earth board of directors. “It’s very important not only to Native American people but to the community and the state.”
He added, “I’ve never missed a Red Earth event in 25 years, and this is probably the best one. It’s got that 25-year spirit.”
As the grand entry dancers filed into the arena with great pomp and pageantry, Floyd
Moses, 88, of Anadarko, watched the tiny tots turned out in their elaborate regalia with a nostalgic smile. A full-blood Pawnee Southern Straight dancer, he remembered his grandmother teaching him to dance when he was 4 or 5 years old. She would sit in a corner and sing for him, cautioning him to never let his dance cane touch the ground and watching his steps with an eagle eye.
“She’d sit me down and warn me to do it right,” he said. “She’d tell me that the Straight Dance is a gentleman’s dance, and the Pawnee are the original Straight dancers.”
Not only has he been dancing most of his life, Moses has participated in every Red Earth Festival.
“I don’t think I’ve missed a year,” he said. “I meet old friends and make new friends and just have a good time. … There’s a lot of good dancers. A lot of good ones. I like to watch the little ones, too. They sure are cute, and they’re gonna take over.”
“I’m glad it’s still going,” he added. “I imagine it’ll be going for a long time.”
The 25th Annual Red Earth Native American Cultural Festival
When: 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. Saturday and 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. Sunday.
Where: Cox Convention Center.
One-day admission: $10 for adults, $7.50 for ages 60 and older and for children ages 6-17, and free for children 5 and younger.
Red Earth Run: Registration begins at 7 a.m. Saturday at Regatta Park, 725 S Lincoln Blvd. The 10K and 5K races begin at 8 a.m.
Information: 427-5228 or www.redearth.org.