The American Indian Heritage Celebration takes place every year on the Saturday before Thanksgiving. The Celebration is held at the Bicentennial Plaza in front of the North Carolina Museum of History in Raleigh. My husband and I decided to attend this year because the Southeast Tourism Society named it a “Top 20 Event” two years in a row. The all-day event is free to the public and suitable for all ages. We were not aware that the Raleigh Christmas parade was taking place on the same day. Most of the roads downtown were closed and we were not allowed to get to the parking garages near the museum. Next year, we will be better prepared.
Admission to the museum is free and had plenty to offer during the celebration. There were craftsmen selling their handmade goods, storytellers, demonstrations and hands-on activities, such as American Indian games like stickball and chuckney.
The opening ceremony began at 11 a.m. with traditional Haliwa-Saponi music and dance. There were four different tribal drum groups that took turns playing music. The female head dancer, Samantha Simmons Alonso from the Coharie tribe and male head dancer, Malaciah Taylor from the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians, were in charge of starting the majority of the dances.
The Grand Entry was next and was a sight to behold. Each tribe, dressed in brilliantly colored regalia, processed onto the plaza for the roll call of tribes and dancers. There are eight state-recognized tribes in North Carolina: Coharie, Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians, Haliwa-Saponi, Lumbee, Meherrin, Occaneechi Band of the Saponi Nation, Sappony, and Waccamaw Siouan.
Dancers from various tribes performed for the remainder of the day. Each dance was explained in detail before it took place, allowing you to be able to understand what they were interpreting. Powwow dances are rooted in traditional practices that span many decades. My favorite was the Women’s Jingle Dress Dance. Metal cones, made from snuff cans, adorn the entire dress and jingle as she moves.
It was a full day of learning more about the American Indian culture and traditions. All of the American Indians are living their heritage all of the time and passing on the traditions to the next generations. I believe that it is vital for all of us to respect their culture and traditions, as they were the original inhabitants of North Carolina. There are more than 122,000 American Indians living in North Carolina, making it the largest American Indian population east of the Mississippi River.
To find out more about the American Indian Heritage Celebration, please visit their Facebook page, search #AIHC2016, or www.ncmuseumofhistory.org. Mark your calendars for November 18, 2017, so that you do not miss this fantastic event.
On a personal note, as I left the celebration, my heart was full of sadness thinking about Thanksgiving and the events that are currently taking place in North Dakota. Please educate yourselves about the actual events that occurred on the first Thanksgiving and teach your children the truth. Also, pray for the American Indians in North Dakota that are fighting to keep their sacred land, free from the pipelines. You can visit http://nmai.si.edu and search for Thanksgiving to find resources to use in talking to your children about Thanksgiving and the events leading up to it. To find out more information on the North Dakota Access Pipeline, search #NoDAPL.