Native American focus offers fest within Jazz Fest

Described as a “festival within a festival” by Quint Davis, producer and director of the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival, Native American culture is being celebrated in the middle of the 2013 fest through music, dance, food, artwork, demonstrations and discussion.

On stage, flute players filled the air with softly enchanting tunes and dancers showcase traditional Native American dress and dance.

From the bayou country of South Louisiana, Le Traiteur De Bayou plays Cajun and Zydeco-inspired music as a means of healing, while they also “pass a good time.”

From North Carolina, the Stoney Creek Singers form a drum circle and chant with loud rhythms that pulsate deep into the core.

The Yellow Bird Indian Dancers, a family of nine, demonstrate authentic dances in shiny orange and violet fringed outfits, including hoop dances, from the Apache, Southwest and Northern Plains natives.

A Tribe Called Red, the Ottawa-based electronic music group, mixes traditional chanting and drumming with contemporary club sounds including hip-hop, reggae and dubstep.

And that’s just a sampling from the first weekend. Numerous musical groups span both weekends, accompanied by an array of other offerings, such as living history exhibitions and craft booths.

At a panel called “So You Think You Know Me? Native Peoples Confront Stereotypes,” members shared their experience living as Native Americans in a modern world often stuck on Hollywood-type typecasts.

Ricardo Cate of New Mexico, the only Native American cartoonist who draws for a mainstream newspaper, displayed some of his cartoons on a projection screen. One showed a chief and his son looking out over a panorama of mountains and a river, saying “Someday son, none of this will be yours.”

Another showed Christopher Columbus after first landing in the United States, declaring, “Finders Keepers!”

“It’s just my way of seeing it,” Cate said, of his work trying to combine humor with a deeper message of how people view and treat each other.

At the same panel, lawyer Tim Evans talked about his work defending the rights of Native Americans and his experience as a student at Harvard, Cornell and Yale universities and the stereotypes he faced.

He talked about the mascot controversy and being a Washington Redskins fan during his childhood in Washington, D.C. Evans described being regularly asked, in professional settings, “What’s your Indian name?,” to which he replies, “Tim Evans.”

Other panel discussions explore traditional food and medicine, the blended histories of Africans and Native Americans, and environmental challenges facing Native American communities.

One food booth demonstrates the making of fry bread, which according to Navajo tradition, ties to a painful history of relocation by the U.S. government when tribes were provided with rations of flour, sugar, salt and lard.

In the craft booths, members of the Coushatta Tribe sell baskets weaved out of pine needles, Clifton Choctaw Indian artists sell beaded jewelry, and members of the United Houma Nation sell bayou creatures carved out of wood and painted in bright colors.

A full schedule of the Cultural Exchange Pavilion artists, events and displays can be found at nojazzfest.com.