By ROBERT JUMPER
One Feather Editor
The month of October is bookended with two exceptionally fun and exciting events. The signature event for the tribe is the Cherokee Indian Fair which runs Oct. 3-7, although the initial information from the Fair committee is that there will be a “Fair Week Stick Off”, meaning as part of the start of the Fair, stickball games will be held at Unity Field on Monday, Oct. 2. So, bonus!
Fair time is always homecoming time on the Qualla Boundary. Family members and friends travel from all corners of the U.S., and sometimes from overseas, to reunite families. Old gentlemen and mature ladies of our tribe meet and “chew the fat”, and usually a few ears of roasted corn. We share tales of days gone by and each tries to top the other’s fish tale. It is not uncommon for an elder to pull out his pocketknife and work on his wood carving (the one he carries around in his other pocket) while telling of his experiences “up in the Cove”. The Fair is sometimes the only opportunity for the young to hear the old and the elder to listen to the young.
The team, in what is now called Destination Marketing, puts the Fair together along with the Cherokee Agricultural Extension Office, Qualla Arts and Crafts Mutual Co-op, and other tribal programs. The Cherokee Cooperative Extension Office and Qualla Arts put together a beautiful “Exhibit Book” detailing all the categories that tribal members may enter to win prizes at the Fair. In my opinion, this piece is a collector’s item with great photos, artwork, and historical background information. If you manage to get one, hold on to it.
The Fair is typically planned in day parts and the members of the Cherokee Welcome Center are usually charged with the day planning for this event. Those day planners partner with others in the community to plan and execute each day. Their planning includes the coordination of the Cherokee Indian Fair Parade. The Fair has always been the most complex of the annual events in the tribal event calendar, requiring year-round attention. And having the traditional fairgrounds out of service provides additional complexity to the planning process. It is already challenging when you know the space you have available to put together a day’s worth of activities. Add to that having to recalculate on different property and day planning turns into a hair-pulling contest.
The team at Destination Marketing has excelled in the past and has been able to pivot to accommodate last-minute changes in times and places. This year presents additional unique challenges for the team to rise to. Not only is the team seasoned, having executed several Fair events over the years, but they are also passionate about making the Fair a success because all are from the community and are invested in it. Their grannies, grandpas, moms, dads, brothers, sisters, and children are the audience for the Fair. That is just a little extra incentive to put on the best Fair that they can.
Other unsung heroes of the Fair are the teams at the Cooperative Extension Office and Qualla Arts and Crafts. For years, these two entities have organized and executed the individual and community exhibits and organized the exhibit hall at the Fair. Fair week starts a day or two early for them, as they take in entries, put those into categories (once they have made sure the exhibit meets the official criteria), and get the exhibits judged. They ensure that displays and security conditions are right for both the exhibitors and the public.
Destination Marketing negotiates for a carnival to be on-site for the duration of the Fair. Negotiation includes having a special rate for Children’s Day (traditionally the Wednesday of Fair Week). Trying to get the best and biggest rides isn’t an easy task. October is a busy time for carnival operators, and since they are not paid to be at these events and rely on the income from ride tickets to survive, they tend to pick the bigger cities and festivals to put their biggest and best rides. Some carnival operators book their carnivals years in advance in locations where they get the most bucks for their bang. So, a balance must be struck between wanting the most exciting rides, fitting them in the space available, and convincing the carnival operators that they will make the money they need to be successful.
At the other end of October is the Scare-O-Kee event to be held on Oct. 31 (how appropriate). Last year, this event grew exponentially from handing out candy and dressing up a little to a massive, close-the-road down production with themed booths, light shows, and music. Mollie Grant is coordinating the event this year with an eye toward better organization, more booths and “Haunted Houses”, food, candy, and fun. With Mollie at the helm, as you would imagine, the top of the list is safety for the workers and the guests. She is having regular meetings that include the Cherokee Indian Police Department, Cherokee EMS, Cherokee Fire Dept., CDOT, EBCI Communications, and Destination Marketing, among others. Scare-O-Kee, known as the Safe Trick-or-Treat Night pre-COVID, would bring bring an estimated 1,000+ children and their families to the event. The Scare-O-Kee organizers are hoping for a big number this year as well.
One of the most interesting and fun parts of the Scare-O-Kee experience is the creative spins that the team at each booth puts on their creations. The booths range from the loosely themed “Come as your favorite character” to the very specific “Everybody picks a character from Beetlejuice”. Some just cut holes in a white sheet, drape it over their heads and that is their costume for the night. Others go all out, sewing special garments and accouterments, and constructing elaborate sets for their themed booths. It all done in good taste and keeping in mind that Scare-O-Kee is a very kid-friendly event. When it all comes together, it is more than just a “trick or treat” deal. It is a special experience for the entire family.
I hope each of us takes the time to enjoy these events. While they are open to all, they are widely attended by tribal members. Part of what makes our tribe unique in the region is our sense of family and community. We care about each other and want to share experiences with each other. These are opportunities to do just that. It is a family tradition.
Whether you are into the end-of-the-month “spook fest” or are looking forward to the first of October Fall Festival, October on the Boundary promises to be fun for everyone. I don’t know about you, but I am ready for a little fun after a year that seems to be seriously screaming by. And yes, I will be hunting up the Scraggle Pop booth at the Fair to purchase my annual bags of kettle corn. And I may wear my Danny Zuko costume just for fun.