Red Earth Native American Cultural Festival
Oklahoma City is brought to life each year during the Red Earth Native American Cultural Festival, when more than 1,200 American Indian dancers and visual artists gather to celebrate their renowned art and culture.
|Photo: Eric Oesch|
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The Red Earth Festival, a three-day cultural event that reverberates with the beat of Native American drums, song and dance, takes over the streets of downtown Oklahoma City each year in early June. Celebrated as a unique and sacred event, as well as a cornerstone festival on the Oklahoma event calendar, visitors to Red Earth are rewarded with a heart-stopping glance into the world of deeply held American Indian traditions and the collective spirit of celebration.
Join over 30,000 annual visitors to Red Earth as they line the streets of downtown to wait patiently for the presentation of Native American dancers, tribal leaders, bands and singers, many of whom are dressed in breathtaking native regalia. Watch the procession flood the streets in-between Oklahoma City’s skyscrapers in the morning hours, and catch a glimpse of what makes each tribe and nation unique.
After the parade, follow the crowds into the nearby Cox Convention Center to enter Red Earth’s center stage. Inside, dancers of all ages and nations gather in the main arena waiting to showcase the originality and skill associated with each tribe’s style of dance. Take a seat in the stands and take in the view: women are garbed in everything from apron dresses with beaded collars to intricate bell dresses, while men’s attire varies from basic loincloths to colorful outerwear complete with feather headdresses and bustles. As impressive as the clothing is, the sound made from each individual strand of bells, beads and shells carries itself effortlessly throughout the arena.
As soon as the competitions begin, the feeling of witnessing a sacred event becomes increasingly palpable. Cries of raw emotion and a booming drum beat akin to the pulsing of the earth echo off the walls inside Cox Convention Center as hundreds of dancers from countless Native American tribes pour into the arena during Red Earth Festival’s Grand Entry. Each dancer strives to be named the ultimate in power and grace in various dance styles including Jingle Dress, Fancy Shawl, Northern Fancy and Southern Buckskin. The spiritual threads woven through the music and dance are impossible to miss as dancers spin, stomp and twist their way around the arena, all the while vibrating with color and movement.
In addition to the masters of dance presenting art in motion, over 200 masters in basketry, beadwork, jewelry, fiber works, pottery, sculpture and two-dimensional art in various media transform sections of the Cox Convention Center into a living museum. Visitors to Red Earth are invited to browse rows upon rows of artwork created or inspired by Native Americans including paintings, animal hides and unique home decorations. The center of the art market is anchored by a towering teepee surrounded by a children’s arts and crafts area.
Nearby, visitors can get a sampling of delicious foods like Indian tacos, pumpkin bread, cinnamon rolls and hot sandwiches. After your appetite is satiated, turn your attention to the cultural performance stage, located within the art market, upon which musicians, singers, poets and storytellers serve up aural side dishes to enhance the visual feast.
There’s no place better to celebrate Native American heritage than Oklahoma’s Red Earth Native American Cultural Festival. The event’s popularity has led to many imitators, but none has approached Red Earth’s exalted reputation or its breadth of events. The festival is presented by Oklahoma City’s Red Earth Museum, which has been promoting the rich traditions of American Indian arts and cultures in Oklahoma since 1978.
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