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Canku Ota

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(Many Paths)

An Online Newsletter Celebrating Native America


November 17, 2001 - Issue 49


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Indian Festival Educates, Enthralls


 by Matt Helms-Detroit Free Press Staff Writer-November 12, 2001

The kids were swept up in the music Sunday, swarming into a circle at the invitation of Native American dancers.

Donna Saunders brought members of Girl Scout Troop 689 to Southfield for a chance to explore and enthusiastically experience Native American life through the ninth annual Autumn Harvest Indian Festival.

The festival was an opportunity for the girls to "learn about different cultures out there, and get them to expand beyond their community," said Saunders, whose 10-year-old daughter, Danielle, is in the troop based at West Utica Elementary in Shelby Township.

She and thousands of others attending the two-day event also found a patriotic theme mixed in with traditional drumming, dancing, culture, food and folk art.

On a cedar tree, many visitors hung remembrance notes with names of those killed in the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks. The tree will be planted in a Southfield park, a symbol of life to counter the losses of the attacks on the East Coast. Indians consider cedars sacred for their healing properties.

The festival was expected to draw as many as 10,000 people, said Alyssa Martina, publisher of Metro Parent Publishing Group, which puts on the event. She said the goal is to educate people -- especially children -- about diversity and tolerance.

Bill Memberto of Detroit and a member of the Little River Band of Ottawa Indians in Manistee, said the festival was a time to set aside the historical grievances of a people whose ways of life were all but destroyed by the advance of white settlers.

"We know all people have suffered," Memberto, the festival's master of ceremonies, said of the terror attacks. He said Americans need a process of renewal and healing.

But the festival did not dwell on past wrongs. Its focus ranged from Native American themes of harmony with nature to the intricacies of Indians' daily life.

Festival-goers also heard storytelling and history about the customs of three Michigan tribes -- Ojibwa, Ottawa and Potawatomi. They heard singing and saw the athletic hoop dancing of champion dancers Brian Hammill of Phoenix and Celina Cada-Mataswagon of Sheshegwaning, Ontario.

And like Saunders' Girl Scouts, hundreds of kids got chances to earn merit badges in categories such as folk art, music and world neighbors.

Athina Smick, 11, a fifth-grader at West Utica Elementary, said she enjoyed the dancing and the crafts. She decided she'd take home a blue and white dream catcher -- a webbed circle through which, according to Indian custom, bad dreams are filtered out.

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