By ROBERT JUMPER
ONE FEATHER EDITOR
Less than a month to go and we will be celebrating a century’s old tradition. The dates for this year’s Cherokee Indian Fair are Oct. 4-8. Certainly, the Cherokee people have been having harvest celebrations long before the 20th century, but it was in the 1900s that the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians decided to capitalize on the drawing power of the culture to use the Fair as a tourist attraction.
Some have characterized our Cherokee Indian Fair as akin to an annual county fair. With its carnival rides and agricultural exhibits, the Fair does have a look and feel of a local fair. Food judging and vending booths are not unique to our celebration. Lots of other fairs have those.
The Destination Marketing program, under the direction of Tonya Carroll, and the Cherokee Indian Fairgrounds staff, under the direction of Frieda Huskey, spend much money and manpower to provide a special experience for our people and the guests who come to visit.
Each day has a special theme and a “day organizer” is assigned to line up the entertainment that will fill up their particular day. For several years now, the day planners have primarily been assigned from the staff of the Welcome Center. For as long as I can remember, Josie Long, along with her staff, has coordinated the Cherokee Indian Fair Parade. A few years ago, she also was tasked with planning the entire day of the parade. Similarly, each day is created, given the funds available, to provide a good balance of games, food and stage entertainment. Entities from throughout the tribal organization and communities come together to form the five day event, including pageant boards and committees, Harrah’s volunteers, stickball enthusiasts, PHHS, CIPD, EMS, CFD and many other tribal programs with impressive acronyms.
The Agricultural Extension Office and Qualla Arts and Crafts have, year after year, played a critical role in the execution of the Fair. They coordinate and execute the receiving and judging of the agricultural, arts and crafts submissions from the communities and Cherokee people for the exhibition that occurs every year at the Fair. Long hours are spent coordinating, promoting and encouraging the communities to participate in community displays that represent the pride and past of each unique community on the Qualla Boundary. They also create a prize structure for group and individual entries. All of the entries are organized and displayed, all before the gates open on the first day of the Fair.
And, like at many other group gatherings, one shouldn’t be surprise to see a politician or two. With the federal, state and local elections only a couple of months away and the mid-term tribal election just one year away, the Cherokee Indian Fair is the prime event for hand-shaking and baby-kissing.
There is something very different about our celebration. While the tourists are welcome and they are still a part of the reason we have the Fair, the Cherokee people use the Cherokee Indian Fair as a reunion time. When you come to the Fair, you will see Cherokee elders gathering around fences and fires, laughing and “cutting up” with each other or telling each other what it will take to solve the great issues of the day. Cherokee children will bob and weave in and out of the crowd; chasing each other in play. Members of Cherokee families that live far away will plan enough vacation time to come home and ride with the family to the gather at the fairgrounds. Jokes will be told, tales will be stretched, and you will probably hear a little gossip shared.
More than the bright lights and carefully decorated booths, the Cherokee Indian Fair is about people. Actually, it is about the Principal People. I have had the joy and pleasure of being involved in the planning and execution of this signature event of the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians in years past. It is a time when we put our best foot forward. We honor our children, elders, veterans and community. We play Cherokee games and eat Cherokee food. We celebrate Cherokee ingenuity, talent and beauty. Now, I ask you, who would want to miss that?