By Krista Duhon
MIAMI, Okla. — Since the days of his youth, Ottawa Tribe Chief John Ballard has appreciated the ceremonial beat of the center drum — a sound that draws tribal members together to celebrate, dance and honor their creator.
On Friday, Ballard stood in downtown Miami as tribal singers launched the city’s Native Oklahoma Weekend with the same sound and offered bystanders a glimpse into the heritage that envelops Northeast Oklahoma.
“It is the heartbeat of the Indian people,” Ballard said. “Everything starts with the beat of drum.”
Ron Sparkman, chairman of the Shawnee Tribe and chairman of the Intertribal Council of Northeast Oklahoma, led a council-sponsored opening ceremony and introduced the leaders of area tribes. Sparkman extended appreciation on their behalf and offered the council’s respect for the multitude of efforts that were put forth to create Miami NOW, which wrapped up Sunday.
“I am really glad to be here, and the people who put this event on have a good thing going,” said Chief Leaford Bearskin of the Wyandotte Nation. “This should always be a ‘we’ outfit. Not ‘mine’ or ‘yours’ or anybody else’s, but ‘we.’”
As Ballard clarified common nomenclature of Native American languages, dancers demonstrated the art of competitive dance. Among them were brothers Simon and Ray Washee, of Pryor, who compete as fancy dancers.
“I dance just about every weekend,” said Simon Washee, 14. “We travel to a lot of area powwows.”
Ballard said his objective over the weekend was to offer the public an insight and better understanding into “old style” powwow traditions.
“I want this to be fun, and I want to see the crowd get involved,” Ballard said.
His hopes were satisfied as dancers partnered with people from the crowd of spectators and danced enthusiastically on the streets of the historic district.
“They are doing the Indian two-step,” Ballard said. “It is the only Native American dance that pairs men and women together.”
As the weekend continued, the sounds of drums resounded through downtown, drawing a steady stream of spectators.
Before the drums went silent, festival-goers enjoyed a weekend of activities designed to promote assets found in Miami, including the Coleman Theatre and Route 66.
Runners, dancers, animal lovers, musicians, karaoke lovers, classic-car enthusiasts, artists, chili cooks, taco makers and fried-food lovers had their moments to shine. Some went home with bragging rights; some did not.
Organizers hope Miami NOW will become an event that puts the city on the “to-do” list of tourists.
“We want to showcase our strengths,” said Alex Acupan, president of the Miami Area Chamber of Commerce. “We want to showcase them to a point that we gain national recognition. We want Miami to be a destination.”
Leaders of American Indian tribes who were introduced during the event’s opening ceremony were Chief Glenna J. Wallace, Eastern Shawnee Tribe; Chief Tom Gamble, Miami Nation; Chief Bill Follis, Modoc Tribe; Chief John Ballard, Ottawa Tribe; Chief John P. Froman, Peoria Tribe of Indians; Chairman John Berrey, Quapaw Tribe; Chief LeRoy Howard, Seneca-Cayuga Tribe; and Chief Leaford Bearskin, Wyandotte Nation.
By Krista Duhon
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