Native American artists and performers from across the country gathered at the Yanaguana Indian Arts Festival on Nov. 13 to share their work, culture and history in celebration of Native American Heritage Month at the Briscoe Museum of Western Art.
The day-long festival featured Native American drum and dance performances, indigenous artists displaying and vending their work, American Indian art workshops, flute performances, storytelling and arts and craft stations for all ages.
Among many performers was 78-year-old Milo Colton, a Cherokee tribal member and United San Antonio Pow Wow dance performer.
Colton grew up performing American Indian dances and said he recalls having held powwows in secret because of laws that once forbade tribal customs, ceremonies and dances.
“Now many of us are able to come out and do things like this and we’re not breaking the law,” Colton said.
Colton said one way he celebrates and honors his Native American heritage is through traditional dance and performances at public powwows.
“We’re the first people,” Colton said. “Our [American] Indian people were here thousands of years before the Europeans came and we don’t want to forget that.”
Also in attendance was 55-year-old Amy Bluemel, a Native American storyteller, stomp dancer, artist and registered member of the Chickasaw Nation. Bluemel has been a professional storyteller for over 10 years, educating others across the country about her people.
When storytelling, Bluemel wears her Native American regalia to educate people on what indigenous people like her wear on special occasions.
“It is regalia, not a costume,” Bluemel said. “A costume is what you wear when you’re pretending…this is what I wear when I’m representing my people.”
Bluemel also works to preserve the fast-fading Chickasaw language by incorporating the Native American dialect in her storytelling.
By swapping out a few popular English words in her stories for those in Chickasaw, Bluemel said she believes she can encourage others to help preserve the language of her people.
50-year-old George Curtis Levi, who is a member of the Cheyenne and Arapaho Tribes with ties to the Oglala Lakota people, was another featured artist at the festival. Levi is a Native American fashion designer, rawhide and beadwork artist, painter and photographer, but is primarily known for his ledger art.
During the festival, Levi gave a workshop on ledger art where he discussed the history, meanings, techniques and tools used in this form of Native American art.
Ledger art was originally a way to document the fast-changing environment, customs and lives his people once lived.
Today, ledger artists like Levi focus on creating pieces that depict indigenous life before and during European colonization, Native American regalia and designs and preserving the history of their people.
Colton, Bluemel and Levi all said they believe it is necessary to celebrate their indigenous culture year-round, not just during the month of November or on a few government holidays.
“We celebrate it [Native American heritage] every day when we wake up because we are still here,” Levi said.