One of the themes that run through Native American culture is the reverence for nature and the environment and the many blessings that nature offers the people who live from it and protect it.
Two of the best known nature preservationists and promoters of Native American culture in the South – Okefenokee Joe and Chipa Wolfe – are working together to bring about the first Oka’Chaffa Indian Festival this weekend at Phinizy Swamp Nature Park near Bush Field airport.
There will be dances, tribal gatherings, arts, crafts, games, music, storytelling, a birds of prey demonstration, Thunder the buffalo, food and many more offerings from 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. Saturday, Nov. 10, and 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. Sunday, Nov. 11.
Admission is $12 for adults and $6 for children 6-12. Kids 5 and younger are admitted free. Military veterans (including active duty) with any ID also will be admitted free on Veteran’s Day, Nov. 11.
Discount coupons for $2 off adult admission and $1 off child admission are available by calling (706) 828-2109.
“We are really excited about creating this festival in Augusta,” said Wolfe, who is part French and Indian descent and who heads Rolling Thunder Enterprises in Jasper, Ga., north of Atlanta.
Wolfe has been staging pow wows and Indian festivals for almost 25 years.
“This will be a fun weekend for Augusta-area residents to learn about the people who lived here before General Oglethorpe and all the other folk came here,” Wolfe said. “We hope our visitors leave with a better understanding of the diversity and rich ties with local native peoples that were here not that long ago.”
The name Oka’Chaffa means “one water” in Chickasaw, which applies to Phinizy Swamp’s being the last natural cleansing that Augusta’s wastewater receives on its journey back into the Savannah River.
The festival came through the efforts of former Augusta Mayor Bob Young, the president and chief executive officer of the Southeastern Natural Sciences Academy at Phinizy Swamp, who wanted to attract more visitors to Augusta’s natural treasure.
He originally wanted to have musicians and was put in touch with Okefenokee Joe, who last April performed his songs about nature for Earth Day. Joe, who was formerly Nashville hit songwriter and singer Dick Flood, put Young in touch with Indian naturalist Wolfe.
And from that meeting the Oka’Chaffa Indian Festival was born.
“I love Joe,” said Wolfe earlier this week. “I stayed at his house last night, and we sang and played songs together.
“I have known him from pow wows, and native peoples love his caring about the earth. Joe is legendary in the Southeast, particularly in the school systems that both he and I work with. I hired him for one of my festivals, and we have been close friends ever since.”
Wolfe’s passion is protection and promotion of the world’s ecosystem, but he also has a passion for writing songs, singing and playing his guitar. He has made a CD of his songs called Tears of Surrender.
“I don’t pretend to be a performer, but I do like to consider myself a writer,” he said.
Wolfe’s love of entertaining and love of the Native American culture was inspired by his uncle, Indo Vasquez, who was a popular wrestler in the 1940s and 1950s as “Chief Lone Eagle.”
As a result of his uncle’s Cherokee heritage, Wolfe began embracing his own ancestors.
“Before (the 1990 movie) Dances With Wolves, it wasn’t cool to be an Indian,” Wolfe said. “Most native people when I was growing up were just trying to stay alive like anybody else.
“Even in the ’80s, other than the summer drama at Cherokee, N.C., the only pow wows and Indian festivals were out west in Oklahoma and Arizona and New Mexico.”
Wolfe really got hooked on the culture when he went to an all-Indian rodeo to ride bulls. He came back home and began working up his own Indian festival, with one of his first being in Tate, Ga., that continues to be held Mother’s Day weekend.
“Most of us in life have something beautiful to offer,” he said, “and, through these festivals, we get to share our culture. I hope everyone turns out this weekend, because it’s going to be a heck of a production.”