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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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Honoring the Culture of Native Americans


 by Eileen E. Flynn American-Statesman Staff -November 4, 2001


Photo by Suzanne Westerly


AUSTIN -- The beating of the drum shook the Toney Burger Activity Center on Saturday morning as hundreds of feathered and bejeweled Native American dancers stomped in a circle, raising their chants to the rafters. Throngs of families crammed into the gymnasium to watch the stirring tribal dances at the 10th annual Austin Powwow and American Indian Heritage Festival.

The all-day powwow was a benefit for the nearly 200 Native American children enrolled in AISD schools through curriculum supplements and college scholarships, and it draws thousands of people from around the country.

Outside the South Austin center, under warm sunshine, people milled about the grounds to inspect a variety of vendors' booths stocked with Native American gifts and food, including fry bread, roasted corn and Navajo tacos. Children marveled at giant dreamcatchers while women gazed longingly at turquoise rings.

Liz Cronen and her 9-year-old son, Matthew McNabb, a fourth-grader at Brentwood Elementary School, attended the powwow as a way to combine education and entertainment. Matthew said he learned about Native American culture in school last year.

"That's part of why we're here," Cronen said. "It's Native American history month. We need to honor and celebrate and understand."

The festival featured Native American storytellers and instructional classes on jewelry- and moccasin-making, as well as health facilities that provided free blood-sugar and blood-pressure tests.

The first powwow was held at McCallum High School in 1991 and drew far more interest than organizers anticipated, said Barbie Atteberry, volunteer coordinator for the Austin Powwow Committee. The festival is now the largest of its kind in Texas.

"We thought it was going to be a real little thing, and it turned out to be so big," she said. "The biggest thing we do here is to have this day so the general public can be more educated in the Native American ways."

Vince Bland, who chairs the Austin Powwow Committee, said there are 60 families registered with the school district's Native American Parents Committee, and members say they think there are many more eligible families who could participate to help raise awareness and support Austin's Native American students.

"We have seen a critical change in the attitude of education," Bland said, recalling the way Native American history used to be taught in schools. "That attitude that the American Indian is a dead race has changed in this community."

William Harjo, a flute maker from Livingston, was a testament to keeping Native American traditions alive. From his booth outside the Burger Center, he had scores of adults and children entranced with the airy melodies coming of his river cane reed.

Between songs, he recounted the legend of a Native American boy who wooed the girl he loved with a flute he made out of a tree branch. "If you can breathe, you can get a tune," Harjo said. "If you can talk, you can make it sing."


     Maps by Travel

The Indians of Texas
For millennia, various tribes of native Americans occupied the region that is now Texas. They were as diverse in culture as the geography of Texas itself.


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Canku Ota is a copyright © 2000, 2001 of Vicki Lockard and Paul Barry.


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