Indian Nations Celebrate Labor Day Indian Style

Aug 24, 2013

Labor Day signals the end of summer but it also means that some of the largest Native American celebrations are going to happen in Oklahoma.

Chickasaw Cultural Center in Sulphur, Oklahoma
Credit Susan Shannon

The Chickasaw Nation Cultural Center is having a one day celebration next Saturday, August 31st, and it will be a full day packed with experiences for the whole family. Valorie Walters, Executive Officer for Cultural Center said, “Of course our traditional village will be open and we'll be able to visit with people, play traditional there, do archery, lots of wonderful cultural demonstrations going on.”

“We'll have language demonstrations going on as well. Just a great place in the village to learn about Chickasaw history and culture, especially some of the past times,” Walter said. “That's about 1700 and 1750, so the demonstrations that you're going to see are a lot about our past.”

The Chickasaws respect the past but have an incredible present day life.

“Our wonderful cafe will be open. And we're going to have a couple of special things happening, throughout the campus. One will be a regalia fashion show at 1 o'clock. That is going to be a wonderful way for us to share our traditional dress with people.”

“Another special we're having that day is artist George Beach will be here with us talking about his artwork,” Walters said. “It’s going to be on exhibit here at the Cultural Center. So he'll be here with us that day explaining to visitors how he created his various art pieces.”

The Cultural Center buildings resemble a ski lodge more than a museum, including the Anoli’ Theater.

“Throughout the day we'll be showing a "Behind the Scenes" which is actually the making of the Chickasaw Cultural Center. It kind of allows people to see the things that took place before it was open to the public,” said Walters.

“You'll see the construction and how we built the exhibit hall. And then of course we have other films that will be playing...ancient mystery films that will come in to play as well and then we'll be using the theater for the regalia fashion show also so the theater will be a big part of the day.”

Another big tribal celebration takes place in Tahlequah, the capital of the Cherokee Nation. It’s a three day event, and Chief Bill John Baker says it’s just not about Labor Day. “This is our 61st annual Cherokee national holiday, it started in '52. It celebrates the signing of the 1839 Cherokee constitution.”

Chief Baker said they are expecting 100,000 visitors.

“The holiday is such a good time to be in Tahlequah, we have something for everybody,” Baker said.

“We’ve got the Region 8 Rodeo Finals and Cherokees or Native Americans that are successful there will go to the national finals in Las Vegas.

“We've got a powwow that has both northern and southern drums that other tribes from all over the United States will flock in here for that,” Baker said. “And you can see as fine a display of powwow right here in Tahlequah as in any place like New Mexico or Arizona or any other place in the United States. They all come here for Labor Day.

Beside a big parade that the Cherokee Nation and community organizations take part in, it’s also a time for the Cherokees to take care of business.

“We have the State of the Nation on the Capital square where I give the speech about what the nation had done and where we're going for the next year,” Baker said. “And it will be the first time since 1928 that the Capital Building on the Capital Square of the Cherokee Nation in downtown Tahlequah will look just like it did 150 years ago when it was built.”

A fire in 1928 destroyed the original but renovations have returned building to its former glory. A new Veterans Center will be dedicated after the State of Nation address. Cherokee registration will also be offered throughout the three day celebration.

A musical play on Chief Baker’s ancestor Nanyehi, “The Blood Woman of the Cherokee,” will be playing at Northeastern State University every night of the holiday.

Other Labor Day celebrations going on is the Choctaw Nation’s Labor Day Festival in Tuskahoma August 29th thru Sept 2nd, with a contest powwow on August 30th, and the 50th Annual Ottawa Powwow & Celebration, August 30-September 1, in Miami, Oklahoma.