Ocmulgee National Monument Association Celebrates Native American Culture at the Ocmulgee Indian Celebration

By Amanda Keith posted 10-20-2016 01:14 PM


In Macon, GA, thousands of people travel across the country each September to celebrate native ancestry in Ocmulgee National Monument. Now, in its 25th year, the Ocmulgee Indian Celebration drew its biggest crowd yet, with more than 20,000 visitors participating in educational events and cultural demonstrations to learn about groups such as the Muscogee (Creek) Nation, who have called the mounds their homeland for more than 500 years.

In addition to the Creek people, the 702-acre National Park Service monument has been home to native people for thousands of years, with archaeological evidence dating back to the Paleoindian Culture in 17,000 BCE.

When this celebration was first established in the 1990s, the intent was to bring together Southeastern Native Americans and educate local communities about these people’s culture and homelands. Now, the event brings together more than 200 craftsmen, dancers, storytellers and living history demonstrators to educate the community about the diverse and distinct cultures between native groups across the nation.

Touch%20The%20Earth%20dancer%202016%20PC%20SA_thumbnail.jpg"Touch the Earth" dancer performs in central arena
during the annual Ocmulgee Indian Celebration

From the beginning, the park’s nonprofit partner, Ocmulgee National Monument Association, has helped play a pivotal role in making this event happen.

Lisa Lemon, Executive Director for the association explained that, since the 1990’s, the nonprofit has helped host different Native American groups to come to the event and has assisted with the educational programs that take place across all three days of the celebration.

“People that come and do this, never stop. They just love doing it,” Lemon said in reference to the educators that have come year after year to join this event.

People like retired National Park Service Ranger, Alan Marsh, for instance, who helped establish the first celebration also have returned to the event year after year. He has specifically returned to play the role of emcee for the celebration and lead interpretive talks to fill the interludes between events taking place in the center arena.

One of the things he’s learned over the celebration’s past 25 years, he said, is the importance of bringing so many different groups together. “All things, all people are connected at this festival,” he said. Whether groups are native to the Southeast or from other parts across the country, the festival provides a space for them to share their culture and teach people about their ancestry.

In addition to the groups the association hosts each year, this year it hosted representatives from seven different groups in Alaska to share their stories, demonstrate their winter games, and participate in the festival. In the picture below, Lemon explained that this Alaskan game, called “Alaskan High Kick” involved kicking a ball eight feet in the air and then maintaining balance after the kick.

Alaskan%20games%20PC%20Madison%20Brumbaugh.jpgDemonstrator plays in a game of "Alaskan High Kick" during Ocmulgee Indian Celebration.
Photo Credit: Madison Brumbaugh

The event also brought more than 4,000 schoolchildren from central Georgia to attend for one day, for free. The children not only learned about different native languages, traditional clothing and storytelling, but they also practiced skills such as pottery-making and participated in dances, such as the Friendship Dance.

Daniel (Sonny) Ledford, who is a long-standing educator at the event and belongs to the NVNVHI (pronounced “Nuna-hee”) Warrior group with the Eastern Band of Cherokee, said that he appreciates the event’s focus each year on education.

"It ain't like a carnival," Ledford said, and added that, "the festival helps educate a lot of people."

He went on to explain that, unlike other Indian celebrations he’s experienced, the Ocmulgee Indian Celebration successfully provides opportunities to meet different native groups, see them practice their different cultural traditions and learn from them directly.

“When they’re learning by Cherokee -- about Cherokee -- you know they’re getting the truth,” he stated.

Sonny, as well as many other educators at the celebration, returns each year to see this event grow and to share stories with a growing audience.

“We get society to understand us better as people, before Europeans, and how we changed after,” he said. “It’s a plus, no matter what nationality you are.”



Groups perform in central arena during Ocmulgee Indian Celebration. Photo Credit: Madison Brumbaugh

About Ocmulgee National Monument Association

Since 1942, the volunteer, membership supported Ocmulgee National Monument Association (ONMA) has provided the resources to support the educational & interpretive programs at Ocmulgee National Monument. Learn more at