Red Earth Festival’s ‘honored one’ lifts up grand tradition
By Patrick B. McGuigan
The 24th annual Red Earth Festival will open at Oklahoma City’s Cox Convention Center on Friday, June 18. More than 1,200 American Indian artists and dancers from across North America are expected.
This year’s event will include the Red Earth Festival Run along the Oklahoma River, expected to attract some 500 participants. The Festival itself will bring some 30,000 people to MidTown Oklahoma City, visitors originating from every continent and many nations of the world.
The Festival attracts substantial private sector funding, and has been named the state’s “outstanding event” by the Oklahoma Tourism and Recreation Department, and one of the American Bus Association’s designated “Top 100 Events” in the nation. Taxpayers also provide funding for the event.
This year’s “honored one” for Red Earth is acclaimed Traditional Cheyenne artist Gordon Yellowman, Sr. Yellowman was introduced to state officials and reporters at a May 17 “media day” in the Capitol Rotunda.
Speakers at the Capitol gala included Lt. Gov. Jari Askins, a Democrat who has served in all three branches of Oklahoma government. She noted that nearly half of all visitors to the festival come from out of state for an event that “gives us a chance to show off our hospitality, to show off the wonderful different kinds of arts” highlighted in the event.
Also speaking was Kym Koch-Thompson, chairman of the Oklahoma Arts Council. She recalled her years as a reporter covering Oklahoma government, including events at the Legislature. She “confessed” emotion and what she termed collapse of journalistic objectivity — experienced when she first attended events at Red Earth. She told attendees the state is “fortunate to have a wealth of American Indian artistic talent.”
A Native American Student Color Guard, organized by Oklahoma City Public Schools, opened the ceremony with posting of the colors and the pledge of allegiance to the U.S. Flag. Members included students from the Junior ROTC units at U.S. Grant (Marine), Northwest Classen (Army), John Marshall (Air Force) and Capitol Hill (Navy).
Interpreting the pledge and the Star Spangled Banner were Sierra Price, Little Miss Indian Oklahoma City (Seminole), Dalecia Satepauhoodle, Junior Miss Indian Oklahoma City (Pawnee/Kiowa), and Sonia Hoffman, Miss Indian Oklahoma City (Cheyenne & Arapaho).
Yellowman endeared himself by devoting much of his brief address to a tribute to his mother. He also confessed his pride as the fifth member of the Cheyenne and Arapaho to serve as “honored one” at Red Earth. He said his predecessors, “those worthy gentlemen,” are “artists and true masters.”
Yellowman, representing the Cheyenne and Arapaho Tribes of Oklahoma, is descended from a principal chief of the Council of 44, traditional peacemakers of the Cheyenne.
Eric Oesch, deputy director of communications for Red Earth, served as master of ceremonies for the Capitol event. He described Yellowman as possessing a deep “sense of duty and obligation to his family, his tribe and the larger community of all people.” Yellowman is known for presenting scenes of Cheyenne life in the ledger style of his ancestors.
The Capitol event was laced with dignified presentation of Native dancing from members of the Soaring Eagles dance troupe which included members of these Tribes: Sac & Fox, Creek, Seminole, Ponca, Kickapoo, Pawnee, Oglala Sioux and Comanche. The “eagles” came to the Capitol from Shawnee Public Schools.
In his remarks, Oesch celebrated “the birth of a dream” 24 years ago, “when local businessmen, civic leaders and government officials” in cooperation with leaders of the state’s Indian tribes brought Red Earth to fruition.
Concluding the May 17 event, Oesch called the highly anticipated Friday, June 18 “grand parade” in downtown Oklahoma City an event “unlike any other in the world.” He predicted, “the streets will vibrate in Native American tribal spirit as participants in full tribal regalia make the Red Earth Parade one of America’s most unique.”
Yvonne Kauger, former chief justice of the Oklahoma state Supreme Court and still a member of the state High Court, is often dubbed “the mother of Red Earth” for her crucial role in its founding. Other long-time supporters include former Chief Judge Robert Henry of the Tenth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, soon to become president of Oklahoma City University.
Sponsors of the 24th Annual Red Earth Native American Culture Festival include the Arts Council, Chickasaw Nation, Oklahoma City Convention and Visitors Bureau, the state Tourism and Recreation Department, AT&T, Phillips Murrah P.C., the James and Madalynne Norick Foundation, Choctaw Nation, Devon Energy, Tinker Federal Credit Union, Chesapeake Energy, Lucky Star Casino and Great Plains Coca-Cola Bottling.