Red Earth Inc.

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Finger on the pulse of Oklahoma Native cultures

CANASTOTA, N.Y. - Red Earth Inc. has its finger on the pulse of American Indian culture in Oklahoma. It is a one-stop culture spot promoting traditions through a museum, a festival and educational programs.

Connie Hart Yellowman, Cheyenne-Arapaho Tribe of Oklahoma and executive director of Red Earth, explained how the organization came into existence.

''The Center for the American Indian was established as a museum for Native Americans in the '70s. The location here was the Kirkpatrick Center and the focus was to have one facility where there were a lot of different museums within the one place. ... The members of the community felt there was a need to have a good Native American museum, and also a place where Native people could contribute some items they had collected. ... At the time, it was probably the only museum here - in Oklahoma - that had a specific focus on the American Indian.

''Then, in the '80s, there was a group of people ... [they thought,] 'We have such great artists that we need a place for artists to come and have a market.' Where not only the artist can have an annual location here in Oklahoma, but also, we have a vast number of collectors that had to go out of state to collect. So, that's how the first conversations for Red Earth began.

''In working at it, there was the realization that we need to make this something unique ... something that's unique to us. It was at that time they decided, 'We need to have a dance competition.'''

The Red Earth Native American Cultural Festival was born. Having just celebrated its 22nd year June 6 - 8, plans are already under way for next year's festival, slated for June 5 - 7.

The festival provides a venue where visitors can learn about American Indian culture from the artists, performers, activities and dancers present.

''We have received numerous e-mails, letters and phone calls from participants and event attendees thanking us for having another great event,'' Yellowman said.

Another major focus for Red Earth as part of its educational programming is the ''Newspapers in Education'' supplement.

''Several years ago, we partnered with The Oklahoman to produce a 'Newspapers in Education' supplement for delivery to Oklahoma schools in November and April,'' she continued. ''We selected November because of Native American Heritage Month and selected April because of the number of requests we receive from conscientious educators who want to present information to their students during the month that many schools are re-enacting the Land Run of 1889. The number of requests we receive for the supplements since posting them on our Web site is quite rewarding.''

Rounding out its successful endeavors is Red Earth Museum, which includes Oklahoma's largest collection of Pacific Northwest totem poles and the Deupree Cradleboard Collection. It is the Southwest's most extensive private collection. Also housed there are American Indian contemporary and traditional artifacts including paintings, pottery, basketry, beadwork and sculptures.

The museum currently showcases ''They Know Who They Are,'' a collection of 24 oil paintings of Chickasaw elders by noted Chickasaw artist Mike Larsen. A fall launch is planned for ''The Guardian & The Shield.'' The concept of the exhibit is how the tribal flags are the modern day ''shield'' of each tribe. Once the exhibit is placed on the Web site, clicking a tribal flag will take the visitor to a Web site of each tribe.

''I think the museum has continued to grow and inspire other museums in the area to expand its Native American exhibits,'' Yellowman said. ''At the time of its founding, no other museum in the Oklahoma City metro area had a specific focus on Native American culture. Since that time, there are other museums that have expanded their permanent and temporary exhibits to include Native arts and cultural exhibits. That is a good thing.''

The Red Earth Museum is located in the Science Museum Oklahoma (formerly the Omniplex). Admission rates are adults (13 - 64) $9.95, and seniors (65+) and children (3 - 12) $8.75. The museum is open Monday - Friday 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., Saturday 9 a.m. to 6 p.m., and Sunday 11 a.m. to 6 p.m.

Red Earth also received three awards during ceremonies at the Oklahoma Heritage Museum.

''Oklahoma has six tourism marketing associations in the state, all funded in part by the Oklahoma Department of Tourism and Recreation,'' Yelloman said. ''Red Earth was nominated in three categories for annual awards within the association area. Red Earth received the Grand Award in each division we were nominated - Outstanding Cultural Tourism, Outstanding Public Relations Campaign, and Outstanding Web site. We are very pleased that our peers recognized our organization in these three areas. ... For the 22nd annual Red Earth Native American Cultural Festival to be selected for Outstanding Cultural Tourism is something to be proud of.''

Red Earth is run by a 33-member board of directors, a 20-member advisory board, three full-time staff members and three part-time members.

''It may take a village to raise a child, but it takes a good team to run a successful organization,'' Yellowman said.

Red Earth accepts donations in the form of monetary contributions, membership and property. For more information on Red Earth and all of its programming, visit www.redearth.org.