A version of this story appears in the Sunday Life section of The Oklahoman.
The “Earth” moves
In its 28th year, the Red Earth Native American Cultural Festival is leaving its longtime home at the Cox Convention Center and setting up at the Remington Park racetrack and casino, which is owned by the subsidiary of the Chickasaw Nation. Other changes are coming to the award-winning event, set for June 5-7.
It’s a fitting coincidence that the 28th Annual Red Earth Festival posters, T-shirts and other memorabilia will feature a trio of elaborately adorned horses bearing American Indian riders.
“It’s just serendipitous. When we saw it, we had no idea we would be relocating to Remington, but it certainly fits,” said Red Earth Deputy Director Eric Oesch, looking at reproduction of Pawnee/Ojibwe artist Raymond Nordwall’s “Protectors Waiting.”
The Red Earth Native American Cultural Festival is preparing to dance into a new venue this summer.
The 28th edition of the award-winning event is planned for June 5-7 at Remington Park, rather than the festival’s longtime home at Cox Convention Center.
The festival will include an altered dance competition, art market and competitions, food booths, children’s activities, live music, plus free parking. The Friday morning Red Earth Parade, a longstanding tradition, still will march through downtown on June 6, Oesch said.
“It’s going to be a big change, but I think it’s going to be … a really good fit,” he said. “What worked in 1987 doesn’t necessarily work in 2014, so we’re kind of changing with the times.”
This year’s Red Earth will begin on Thursday evening and continue all day Friday and Saturday, with the art competition winners announced opening night. In the past, the event has started on Friday morning and closed Sunday afternoon, although artists were required to check in Thursday.
“Sunday was always our slowest day,” Oesch said.
With Remington Park’s quarter horse live racing season ending June 1, Red Earth will be able to use the entire building, which boasts 90,000 square feet of indoor exhibition space.
“This worked out well for us time-wise,” said Dale Day, Remington Park’s communications manager , adding the racetrack hosts a variety of events, from boxing matches and mixed-martial arts fights to concerts and weddings. “Basically, spaces of the building go dark … for about a month and half until we start the thoroughbred season in August.”
Organizers intend to set up booths for the juried art market on the ground and clubhouse levels, Oesch said, while the dance competition will take place outside in the saddling paddock. A children’s tent, teepee display and food booths, along with an expanded live music lineup, are planned for the trackside plaza. The festival will add American Indian cooking demonstrations and a jewelry fashion show this year.
“They have the closed-circuit television throughout the building … and one of the things we’re hoping and planning to do is simulcast the dancing. So no matter where you are in the building – looking at artwork or out on the trackside listening to a band or whatever – you’ll be able to see the dancing going on in the same time,” Oesch said. “Won’t that be cool to see dancers on that … 50-foot screen?”
Big changes are planned for the festival’s dance competition. Since Red Earth started in 1987, powwows have become more commonplace, Oesch said, including one with huge prize money that takes place on the same dates at a Kansas casino.
For the first time, the festival this year will crown of a Red Earth National Champion in the men’s fancy dance and women’s fancy shawl dance categories.
“Those are two of the most athletic and colorful dances, and we’ll have great big prize money for them. So, we’re expecting to draw the most talented dancers,” Oesch said. “It hasn’t all been determined yet … and we’ll have other dances. But it will be less of a powwow format.”
Despite the move, downtown-based Red Earth Inc. maintains friendly ties with the Cox Convention Center, Oesch said.
“We’ve got to evolve. That’s what keeps an event healthy,” he said. “We wanted to make changes so we could stay healthy and continue to do this for years and years to come. We did not necessarily outgrow the Cox Convention Center, but it kind of outgrew us.”
Amid the booming popularity of downtown, scheduling has become difficult, with the Barons hockey team’s playoff berths the last two years coming close to conflicting with Red Earth.
“With us being here, we’re going to have 6,000 free parking spaces, and anyone who comes here can have free valet parking. So that’s an amazing thing. It’s right at the crossroad of I-35 and I-44 and right across the street from the zoo and Science Museum Oklahoma,” Oesch said.
“We’re going to be right next door to the National Cowboy (& Western Heritage) Museum, and people who buy Indian art are going to love going over there … during Prix de West.”
Plus, the racetrack and casino is owned by Global Gaming Solutions, a subsidiary of the Chickasaw Nation. The Native connection is not lost on festival organizers or their new hosts.
“We are pleased that Remington Park will host the thousands of visitors who come from all corners of the United States to celebrate Native American culture at the Red Earth Festival. As a long-time champion of Native American arts, culture and heritage, Red Earth has done a great deal to highlight the diverse and fascinating cultures of American Indian tribes from across the United States,” said Chickasaw Nation Gov. Bill Anoatubby, in a statement.
COMING IN SUMMER
28th Annual Red Earth Native American Cultural Festival
Featuring: Dance competition, art market and competitions, food booths, children’s activities, live music.
When: June 5-7.
Where: Remington Park race track and casino, 1 Remington Place.
Parade: June 6 in downtown.