Musicians, dancers and artists from around the country on Sunday highlighted the third year of an American Indian festival in Kansas City that organizers called historic.
“This is the first American Indian festival of its kind in the United States,” said Teresa Bradskey, founder of the Harvest Moon American Indian Festival. “It’s the first with performing and fine arts in a state with absolutely zero Indian tribes.”
The festival, on a blocked-off area of Troost Avenue between 31st and Linwood, featured artists and performers from 63 Indian nations and more than 10 states, as well as Canada and Mexico. Dozens of vendors sold Native American items ranging from clothing and colorful beadwork to turquoise jewelry and Indian frybread.
Why, some wondered, was the festival on Troost Avenue?
“Let me tell you our motto,” Bradskey said. “Urban Indians arereal
Indians, too, keepers of the ancestral soil. For hundreds of years Troost Avenue was the Osage Trail, a strip of Native American Indian commerce and trade. So many traveled this. This is historic Osage Nation land.
“The purpose of having (the festival) here is because we want to renovate this area — specifically this block — and attract the best in arts and performances in the Native American world.”
Wendell Birdhead of Crescent, Iowa, started the festival with a traditional Lakota prayer, asking for no injuries and good health for the elders.
He said he hoped the festival promoted understanding.
“I hope people understand who we are and respect and honor our traditions,” he said. “We’ve been here for 500 years and beyond.”
Bradskey, of the Miami of Oklahoma tribe, echoed that sentiment.
“No matter where you stand you stand on the ancestral soil of one of the First Nations,” she said.
FEO, a Kansas City area Latin-fusion band, gave a high-energy, drum-driven performance. Later Dennis Rogers, a Navajo performer, did a hoop dance, stepping in and out of the multicolored hoops, spinning them on his arms, then stretching them to the sky.
Antoine Edwards Jr., 19, of Omaha, sang contemporary hand-drum love songs with his 13-year-old sister. As they sang, more than a dozen people gathered to do a “round dance.” Adults, some in traditional Native American clothes, taught their children dance steps.
Al Midkiff, the festival’s emcee, said he hoped the festival helped break stereotypes.
“What we are trying to break is the “Chief Joseph” look on the Indian-head nickel,” said Midkiff of the Oglala Sioux tribe. “So many people equate all Indians as looking and sounding like Tonto on ‘The Lone Ranger.’ They don’t teach anything in the schools.”
Bradskey called the festival a celebration of diversity.
“We’re all part of a beautiful tapestry in this city,” she said. “That’s why we wanted to share this. We bring color and joy and pride, and gifts.”