TUSCUMBIA – American Indians from throughout the nation are headed to Tuscumbia to share the stories and traditions of their ancestors. The 19th Annual Oka Kapassa, Return to Coldwater Festival, is September 13-14.
The festival at Spring Park in Tuscumbia has been recognized as one of September’s top events by the Southeast Tourism Society and as a National Park Service Centennial Event. It is also an official Alabama Bicentennial Event.
The free family event features American Indian heritage entertainment and education through hands-on activities and demonstrations.
According to Terry McGee, chairman of the festival, Tuscumbia is a special place for American Indians.
During the forced relocation of Native Americans in the 1830s – which became known as the Trail of Tears - Tuscumbia residents brought food, clothing, and blankets to the Indians as they passed through the town during their journey to western reservations. Chilly McIntosh, a chief of the Creek Indian Nation, responded to the acts of kindness by saying, “As long as our nation remains upon the earth, we will recollect Tuscumbia.”
According to McGee, the other Indian Nations have joined the Creek’s in honoring McIntosh’s promise to return to Tuscumbia.
“This is what the Oka Kapassa Festival is based upon and why the Nations return to Tuscumbia, ‘the Homeland,’ each year,” McGee said.
Among the American Indians attending this year’s festival is Lewis Johnson, an Assistant Chief of the Seminole Nation. Johnson worked at the Seminole Nation Museum for nearly 20 years.
He has been featured in documentaries on Southeastern Native History televised on the Discovery Channel, PBS, and 60 Minutes on CBS. He is also an ordained minister and serves as Associate Pastor of Indian Nations Baptist Church in Seminole.
Several well-known American Indian cooks will attend and prepare foods that were developed by their ancestors.
Juanita Gardinski and brother Billy Thompson (Choctaw) are returning to Oka Kapassa to serve delicious and authentic Native American foods such as buffalo stew and burgers, fry bread, Indian tacos, fish and roasted corn. Juanita also demonstrates bead work and shares Choctaw culture with attendees at Oka Kapassa. She has served on the Oka Kapassa Festival Advisory Board for 19 years.
Mary Newnan (Eastern Cherokee) will be demonstrating traditional outdoor cooking of the 1800’s by preparing foods in cast iron and clay pots over a campfire.
Another popular Native American artisan attending is world-renowned shell carver, Dan Townsend.
Townsend grew up in the Everglades and Florida Keys Townsend carving tikis and totems, sea turtles, and dolphins into coconut shells. Working almost exclusively in shell, Townsend replicates designs found on many Native American sites from the Mississippian period (1000-1600 A.D.). His work is exhibited on several continents.
Festivalgoers are encouraged to bring lawn chairs. Concessions will be available.
Friday, September 13 is school day at the festival. Around 1,000 students will attend from as far away as Walker County in Alabama and southern Middle Tennessee.
Festivities on Saturday, September 14 get underway at 9am with special crafts, fancy and traditional dance demonstrations, storytelling and music. The grand entry of American Indians will be at 10am. Authentic Native American artwork and crafts will be available for purchase. The Coldwater Stagecoach Stop, living history log cabin at 301 S. Dickson St. in Tuscumbia, will also be open from 10am-4pm on Saturday.
The festival concludes at 6pm on Saturday.
Oka Kapassa Related Events on Thursday, Sept. 12 Free to the Public
4–5pm: Killen Public Library - Amy Bluemel Chickasaw Storyteller and Lyndon Alec Alabama Hoop Dancer.
6–7pm: Florence Indian Mound Museum - Amy Bluemel Chickasaw Storyteller and Chickasawdancers. Free to Public
6–7pm: Russellville Public Library - Freeman Owle Eastern Cherokee Storyteller and Will Harjo Creek flutemaker. Free to Public
For more details about Oka Kapassa, Return to Coldwater Festival, call Colbert County Tourism and Convention Bureau at 256-383-0783.
The Tuscumbia trolley and bus will provide shuttle service from 9am-5pm Saturday. Pickup and drop off will be the Colbert County Courthouse parking lot on Water Street and intersections along Main Street from the courthouse to the park.