The sounds of pounding drums and tribal chants permeated the thick woods surrounding Phinizy Swamp Nature Park on Sunday as thousands sampled Native American culture at the second annual Oka’Chaffa Indian Festival.
After walking down a winding dirt trail and past a makeshift tepee, patrons were led into a clearing where Native Americans ditched modern apparel for traditional wear.
Guests were treated to performances by tribal dance groups and birds of prey while they perused booths selling traditional Native American weapons and attire.
Amye Morris, of Evans, watched one of the performances with a handcrafted arrow tucked into her purse. A collector of arrowheads, Morris said she was immediately drawn to the item when she passed it in a booth.
“I have Cherokee in my family, so I’ve always been interested in the culture,” she said. “Once that music is in your blood, it kind of never goes out.”
Bob Young, the president and CEO of the Southeastern Natural Sciences Academy, said the event, produced by Rolling Thunder Enterprises, was a tribute to Native American Heritage Month.
“(The patrons) are seeing things that they’re not used to seeing in Augusta: Indians,” he said with a chuckle. “There’s not much orientation toward Native Americans in Augusta, but you have to consider that these are the folks who were the original settlers here in the Savannah River Valley.”
Young said the two-day event helped to raise funds for operations of the park and the academy.
The festival attracted more than 7,000 people last year, and Young said he expects that number to continue growing. Veterans were admitted free Sunday.
“There are events that are held out here throughout the year, but they’re usually pretty small,” he said. “This is a great way to fully utilize the park and expose people to it who otherwise wouldn’t come here.”
Chipa Wolfe, the festival’s producer, said the name Oka’Chaffa, which means “one water” in Chickasaw, is a reference to the many creeks and streams that flow into Phinizy Swamp.
“We come here as maybe indifferent to other peoples, but we leave here as one,” he said.
In the festival’s second year, Wolfe said he is already feeling a positive response from the city.
“It’s like we’re creating a surreal moment for them,” he said. “When they come down the dirt path and cross the wooden bridge, it’s like stepping into yesteryear, but we still have the commercial elements. I’ve had a lot of praise from Augusta, and I see that people here are hungry for diversity. We work real hard to see this come to life.”