Festival shares Native American culture

By Ed Brock

There is a legend among the Lakota Nation about a magpie that raced all the creatures in the world to save humanity.

Standing in full regalia before an enraptured crowd at Saturday's Native American Festival at Stately Oaks in Jonesboro, Lakota dancer Frank Hall of Newnan told the story.

He was surrounded by a whirlpool of activity, women cooking venison stew and roasting corn, children practicing with blowguns and hatchets, and a crowd of nearly 300 people who had come to learn about the people who had lived there before.

In a nearby hut sat Ted Key, chairman of the event and another storyteller there to pass on the culture of the Creek Indian who had once lived in the very woods behind Stately Oaks, an antebellum mansion on Jodeco Road.

"We found arrowheads and broken pieces of crockery right here, so we know they were here," Key told his audience.

Key also told the story of an African American McDonough woman who came to him with the tale of her husband's ancestors who were rescued from slavery by the Creek Indians. The widow said that long ago one of her husband's female ancestors, not wanting her two sons to grow up as slaves, put them on a raft and put the raft into the Chattahochee River, knowing the Creek lived downstream.

"She hoped and prayed that the Creek Indians would find them and help them, and her prayers were answered," Key said.

The Creek took the boys in and in 1828 when all the Native Americans in Georgia were displaced to Oklahoma the two boys went with them. They grew up in that distant state, but finally one of the brothers decided to return to Georgia.

"He walked all the way back from Oklahoma to Georgia to find his mother," Key said. "He didn't find her but he did find a wife."

Key's story was particularly touching for 78-year-old Deola Wallace of Decatur. Born in Tennessee and having lived most of her life in Detroit, Wallace is the granddaughter of a Cherokee squaw, but her grandmother and father died when she was young.

"I didn't get a chance to ask many questions," Wallace said.

She came to Saturday's event seeking to reconnect to her heritage, and Key's story of the two African American youths being raided among Native Americans made her more proud of her own mixed heritage.

"Today with more and more people mixing their heritage, maybe there will come a day when there will be no more strife because we are all related," Wallace said.

Terri Lira of Jonesboro is part Cherokee and part Creek, and she came Saturday to learn more about her heritage as well.

"I've really just gotten into it. I've only gone to one other powwow," Lira said.

Originally from the Rosebud Reservation in South Dakota, Hall said a festival he organizes each September illustrates the growing interest in Native American culture.

"We started out with five vendors and 10 dancers," Hall said. "Last year we wound up with 80 vendors and over 200 dancers and more than 5,000 people showed up."

According to Hall's story, long ago all things lived in balance. In the Lakota perspective nature was divided into categories of beings, the four-legged beings (deer, wolves, antelopes and most animals), the winged things (birds) and the two-legged beings which included but was not limited to humans.

"In the Lakota perspective the bear is two-legged, not four-legged," Hall said. "The bear represents wisdom."

As the humans grew more advanced they grew more and more greedy, throwing off the balance of nature and causing a terrible catastrophe. Mother Earth swallowed up and protected the spiritual people, but when they re-emerged they found the world was divided into continents and the remaining creatures were widely scattered.

The four-legged beings were angry about this and called for the destruction of the two-legged because the humans had caused the disaster. But the winged creatures pointed out that if they destroyed all of the two-legged then they would destroy the bear as well, and then they would all lose the wisdom carried by the bear.

So the owl proposed that the winged creatures and the four-legged creatures would have a four-lap race around the Black Hills of Dakota. If the four-legged won they would be allowed to kill the two-legged, but if the winged creatures won then the two legged would be saved.

But a condition of the race was that no flying would be allowed. So the magpie, determined to stop the destruction of the two-legged, joined the race. The creatures began the race but the course was so hard that more and more creatures on both sides began dropping out, until by the final lap it was only the magpie and a solitary buffalo.

As they approached the finish line the magpie was just behind the buffalo, but he jumped up onto the buffalo's hump where the buffalo couldn't see him and, as the buffalo reached the finish line the magpie jumped off and crossed the line first, winning the race.

The four-legged conceded the victory and promised not to destroy the two-legged, but with one condition. Mankind must take care of all the things in nature.

"?They have the knowledge to take care of all of us,' the four-legged said," Hall told his audience.

This was the 21st year for the festival, Key said, and he is especially proud that this year the Moroccan ambassador, visiting Atlanta from Washington, D.C., actually came down with a driver to see the festival and Stately Oaks.

"His parting words were that he wished he had somebody in his country to maintain their culture and heritage like we were maintaining ours," Key said.