COMMENTARY: Just like old times

by Sep 19, 2022OPINIONS0 comments


One Feather Editor


Only a few days away from the beginning of the Cherokee Indian Fair. It has been a long time coming for those of us who remember the pre-pandemic days of fun and laughter at the Cherokee Indian Fairgrounds. For those who were involved in the planning of this year’s Fair, time has slid away from those who have been planning for the signature event of the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians.

The conditions have been less than ideal. The venue that has been the home of the Fair was suddenly put out of commission by the canopy that covers the mainstage of the grounds, called the Birdair (so named for the company who produces the stage canopies. At its installation, the Birdair was a state-of-the-art covering. Two decades later, it is no longer viable as a cover for concerts and is in fact a hazard. So much of a hazard that the Tribe had to stop having activities even near it.

As the Tribe assessed the situation, it became clear that it was dangerous to have anyone on the property near the amphitheater (another name for the Fairgrounds mainstage). As Secretary Chris McCoy explained when it was first announced that the Fairgrounds would have to be closed and would not be available for the Cherokee Indian Fair, he said that the Tribe’s first priority must be the safety of the community and public. Later, Principal Chief Richard G. Sneed reiterated that the safety of the public must be the paramount concern in the determination of if and where the Cherokee Indian Fair would take place.

Since that time, weeks, days, and hours have been spent in coordinating suitable, safe locations to conduct the Fair. Every effort was made not to cancel it all-together, which is a hat-tip to the social and psychological significance of the event. COVID-19 took its toll on our community, a community that is as close-knit as any. Family gatherings are a routine part of the Cherokee culture. The Cherokee Indian Fair, or Fall Festival, is the biggest of Cherokee family gatherings. Cherokee culture goes on display, not so much for the benefit of tourists and those not of the community, although they do get a glimpse into the community that is rarely on display for them. No, the community will tell you quickly that the Fair is about and for the community.

If you listen to the stories of our people, you will hear the story of family firsts that are attached to the Cherokee Indian Fair. “I met my wife at the Fair”. “I attended my first Fair as an infant.” I became a Miss Cherokee at the Fair.” “I gave my first speech as a Tribal Council Representative at the Fair”. Some of you reading these lines are thinking back to your first “whatever” at the Fair.

But all those memory-making moments were put on hold two years ago when a history-making event of its own took place. COVID shut down commerce on the Boundary. It also closed the borders of the Boundary to the extent that people were trying to smuggle their friends onto the Boundary past the police blockade used to quarantine those living on the Boundary (actually, the blockaid was limited to the town of Cherokee). The effect on the Fair was straightforward. Closed until the threat lessens.

And here we are. Much has been said about it. Some in the community have said point blank “I won’t go to the Fair because it’s not at the Fairgrounds.” They think that if it is not at the Fairgrounds, then it isn’t the Fair. Some are averse to going to the Fair since it is at the casino. They are not fans of gaming and the Tribe’s involvement in gaming, so they won’t attend any function there, including the Fair.

I hope we all remember that what makes the Fair a special community event is not where it is located, but why and who it is held for. We hold the Cherokee Indian Fair for each other. It is our time to gather.

If you are person who attends church, you know that the church building is not the church. The church is the people. The people are the church. The same holds true for the Fair. We are the Fair. Wherever we gather will make that place the Cherokee Indian Fair. Yes, even the casino.

So, we can dwell on the place of the Fair, or we simply enjoy what the Fair has been for decades, the Cherokee family gathering of the year. Bring your kids and grandparents. Bring your girl or guy. Bring your friends. Make a craft or bring something that you grew and enter it in the contests.

The Cherokee Indian Fair will kick off on Oct. 4 with the Fair Parade. The parade will work its way through town on its traditional route. Floats will float down the street, along with bands and special guests. The Grand Marshals are the Cherokee language speakers. After the parade, Tribal leadership and newly elected Royalty (the Miss Cherokees) will be waiting at the stage to welcome everyone and officially open the event, followed by an evening of dancing and storytelling.

Oct. 5, the kids will be treated to free carnival rides (wristbands will be issued as in previous years). It is Children’s Day and there will be baby crawling, axe-throwing, long hair, dance, and lip-sync contests. The youth will play stickball.

Is all of this sounding familiar?

On Oct. 6, Elders’ Day at the Fair will kick into gear. Stickball games, cornhole games, singing, and a fashion show are on tap. There’s stickball and a concert. And Chris Watty is bringing back Cherokee Idol, not just for elders but for younger folks. The “don’t miss” event for the elders is the lunch meal, where we get a great meal and door prizes. Just give me a chair in the shade and a plate of food. I hope the door prizes are good!

On Friday, Oct. 7, it is time to honor the veterans with Veterans’ Day. Tribal and military dignitaries will be on hand to speak to and about the gratitude of our community and the U.S. for the service of our military men and women. Stories, music, and the always sobering “Roll Call of Fallen Warriors”. Then there is stickball, concerts, and the continuation of Cherokee Idol.

Saturday is the closing of the Fair. We call it Community Day. As in the past, there will be community contests (Snowbird/Cherokee County, Big Cove, Wolftown, Painttown, Birdtown, and Big Y all have events listed on the published schedule). Archery and blowgun. Stickball. In the evening, the Boys II Men concert, the conclusion of Cherokee Idol, and the after-hours event, the Pretty Legs Contest.

If you are feeling a little déjà vu, you should. Even though much of the Fair is not in the same place, it is still has all of the elements that we have enjoyed together over the many decades the Fair has been held. It’s going to be like reconnecting with a life-long friend that we haven’t seen in a couple of years. I hope you get to go, but if you don’t, that just means that there will be more frybread and Indian Tacos for the rest of us. It really is going to be just like old times. Look me up. I will be the old guy carrying two bags of kettle corn.