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Chehaw: Native American tradition continues today

Jacob Gober of Atlanta performs a grass dance in the arena during the Native American Cultural Festival Saturday at Chehaw Park. The festival continues today from 9:30 a.m. until 5 p.m.

Jacob Gober of Atlanta performs a grass dance in the arena during the Native American Cultural Festival Saturday at Chehaw Park. The festival continues today from 9:30 a.m. until 5 p.m.

ALBANY -- It wasn't exactly follow the yellow-brick road, but the trail proved full of surprises at Chehaw Saturday.

Ralph Wilson, his daughter Danielle Wilson and granddaughter Tori thought they would drive from Taylor County and see Chehaw's zoo.

They got to the park and found the Native American Cultural Festival with dancing, war bonnets, flint arrowheads, blacksmiths at work and even musical treats from the early days of the country.

"This is wonderful. We didn't even know it was happening today," said Danielle Wilson. "I think this is a great thing to bring children to."

Even though she was sidetracked by a face-painter and a flute she picked up from a vendor Tori showed determination to make it to the zoo. She smiled and pointed to the zoo.

She also pointed straight at J.J. Kent, a native American performer/folklorist and historian who had just finished a performance of gentle Plains Indian flute music.

"This is my career," Kent said. "I educate about the Lakota culture from Wyoming where I am from. I lecture and I play songs from my heritage."

Heritage is a big attraction at the festival. It is mixed from the earliest colonial contact with native Americans through Aztec and Plains Indian dancing on to the 19th Century by the artists, artisans, crafters and vendors at the festival.

Some of the presentations dealt with the more primitive tool-making ways that knives, spears and arrowheads were chipped from flint.

That was a treat for Joseph Evangelista, who was visiting the festival from Columbus. He started out studying modern suvivalism and soon found he wanted to know the way earlier, even the earliest, of civilizations handled survival.

While Scott Jones chipped away at a flint rock at his Primitive Technology booth, Jones explained what was going on.

He named the tools, the way the rock was chipped with what looked like the fat ends of baseball bats, but were flint-knapping instruments known as wood billets.

"Flint knapping," Evangelista said, "it is German and means to strike."

Jones, the author of "A View to the Past: Experience and Experiment in Primitive Technology," explained that the wood tools he used were of live oak and red hickory.

Whatever the material, there was much to be learned at the family-friendly festival for those who already appreciate the crafts and lore and for those new to the festival.

"I've been here in the past, probably for five years," Jones said. "I like to teach about the primitive ways. Hey, talk about Indians and I'm chipping arrowheads, it is a match made in heaven."

Or maybe once a year at Chehaw.

The festival continues today 9:30 a.m. until 6 p.m. There is no additional charge to attend the festival. Normal entrance fees of $8.75 for adults and $5.75 for children under 12. That fee also includes zoo admission.