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Native American history at Stately Oaks

Native American tribesmen and women from all over the Southeast will gather at Stately Oaks Plantation in Jonesboro to share their food, language, history, and culture during the Native American Heritage Celebration today, and Sunday, from 10 a.m., to 5 p.m.

Representatives from the Creek, Cherokee, Apache, Arapaho, and Lakota nations will share traditional meals, hunting and survival methods, arts and crafts, music, dance, history, games, and even wedding traditions.

Ted Key, a long-serving Stately Oaks volunteer, said the event started as a school project to educate locals about the Creek Indians, once native to the Southern Crescent. It has blossomed into a much larger cultural and spiritual gathering for local Native Americans and the general public, he said.

"It's pure education," said Key. "It's so unique, because so many people in this part of Georgia know nothing about the Creek Indian. This is the 27th Native American celebration and every year we have added something new."

Key said a new feature to this year's festival is an increased number of Native American food vendors.

"We've never had this many vendors before," said Key. Among the foods being offered are buffalo burgers, venison stew, sassafras tea, sagamite -- a survival food made of fried, pounded corn -- sweet potato fries, and fry bread, a Native American staple used in meals and desserts.

Visitors will learn 18th century skills, such as rope making, blow-gun shooting, basket weaving, bead making, and flint knapping -- the process of crafting arrowheads out of flint using deer antlers. Volunteers also will demonstrate Native American games, such as hoop-dart -- an accuracy game using a loop of vines and feathered darts, and the "five-stick" game, a thinking game in which a challenger attempts to guess how many sticks his opponent is holding in each hand.

Musicians and dancers will demonstrate traditional Native American flute playing, drumming, and tribal dances. A Native American trading post will be available for people to purchase hand-made jewelry, instruments, wood carvings, dream catchers, wind chimes, beaded and decorated jackets, and Native American children's toys.

The trading post will also feature horse hair pottery, in which horse hair is vaporized on top of freshly kilned pottery and the powder is glazed to create interesting designs.

On Saturday at 3 p.m., two couples will renew their vows in a traditional Chiricahua Apache wedding ceremony. Both couples will perform ceremonial rituals in full Apache regalia.

Little Bear Longbow, a Chiricahua Apache from Fayette County and one of the brides renewing her vows, said she enjoys the "camaraderie and friendship" the celebration provides.

"This is a celebration of our heritage," said Longbow. "It's to educate and share our knowledge and our history. Without events like this, our heritage will die."

Tickets are $5 for adults, $4 for seniors, and $3 for children. Those who pay for a Stately Oaks Plantation tour, will be granted free admission to the Native American Heritage Celebration.

The plantation is located at 100 Carriage Lane in Jonesboro. For more information, call (770) 473-0197.