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About 2,500 people from the Carolinas, Georgia and beyond gathered Saturday at the University of South Carolina at Lancaster's Bradley Arts and Sciences Building to celebrate Yap Ye Iswa, or Day of the Catawba.
The cultural festival, which began in 1989, returned after a two-year hiatus.
Yap Ye Iswa, usually celebrated on the tribe's reservation in York County on the Saturday after Thanksgiving, was halted in 2005 due to funding and other issues that forced the tribe to take time to better format and present the festival, said tribal chief Donald "Red Cloud" Rodgers.
Yap Ye Iswa is "a great time for us to highlight our people," Rodgers said.
"Our people have been silent for a long time, both internally and externally," Rodgers said. "It's a good thing to again see and hear the voice of the Catawba people."
The Catawbas, a York County-based tribe with tribal roll of 2,700 members, is the only federally recognized tribe in South Carolina.
USCL, which offers a Native American Studies program, was the host site of the 2007 Yap Ye Iswa festival. It was the first time the festival was held at the campus.
Dr. Steven Criswell, director of the Native American Studies program at USCL, worked closely with the tribe to make the festival transition from the reservation to the college campus "a great success," said Wenonah Haire, executive director of the Catawba Cultural Center.
"It was really nice to bring back what had been long-running," Haire said. "It was interesting being in a new location."
Inside Bundy Auditorium, three drum teams of the Catawba tribe – The River Boys, Thunder Elk and the Native Sisters – presented native songs and drumming. Catawba men, women and children performed several dances.
The Fancy Dance, a courtship dance performed by women, is "a marriage tool to attract young male suitors," said Chris Carpenter, the cultural center's director of programs.
During the Jingle Dress Dance, young girls wore dresses made of 366 jingles. There was a jingle to represent each day of the year and the extra jingle was the girl's "personal jingle," she said.
Tribal members Dakota Fields, 5, Isaac Hardee, 8, and Damion "Bubba" Rollins, 6, danced with the chief and several men in the Men's Traditional Dance.
"I like that you get to do a lot of dancing and learn different styles," Dakota said after his performance.
Sandra Reinhardt, an archaeologist at the tribe's cultural center, showed visitors how to use a grinding stone to grind corn into meal. Josh Drye, 12, of Matthews, N.C., said he enjoyed the hands-on exhibit.
"I learned how to make corn bread," he said.
Outside the Bradley building, the air was filled with the aroma of venison stew and fresh fry bread.
Donnie Boyd estimated that he cooked about 200 pieces of fry bread by 2 p.m.
Billy Curtis was proud of his large stock pot of venison stew, but declined to reveal the secret recipe.
"It's got carrots, onions, potatoes, celery and a lot of love," Curtis said.
Rena Hudler traveled from Georgia to perform with the Reedy River singers. The group of 16 inter-tribal singers and rattle players held a lively practice in the lobby before their performance.
Daniel Goins of Charlotte attended because he had "a feeling in my heart to come here."
"When I hear the drum, I can also feel it," Goins said. "I feel safe when I'm with native people."
Goins, whose Indian name is Crooked Stone, said his grandmother was Dakota Sioux and his grandfather was Portuguese. However, Goins celebrates a rich heritage of many cultures on his maternal side, including African-American, Cherokee and Scotch-Irish, he said.
The festival is for all people because we are "a world of many different people," the Catawba chief said.
As Saturday's festival drew to a close, a middle-aged man greeted Rodgers in the food line and said, "It's good to meet you, chief, and I want you to know that when I played cowboys and Indians as a young boy, I was always the Indian."
The chief shook the man's hand and they both had a good laugh.