Celebrate Native-American culture


American Indian Center presents daylong event


For many children, Native Americans meant the not-so-politically-correct game of cowboys and Indians. But organizers of the 50th anniversary celebration of the American Indian Center are hoping to expand cultural understanding with its Native Sounds by the Lake, a free, daylong event on Sept. 7 in Chicago's Millennium Park.

"It gives Native Americans [the opportunity] to share and dispel some of the stereotypes and myths about [them]," says Joseph Podlasek, executive director of the American Indian Center. The center serves the 73,000 Native Americans living in Illinois, about half of whom are in the Chicago area.

More important, Podlasek says the celebration will help broaden cultural awareness of his people. "It gives kids the chance to interact with Native Americans and to understand it's not just about cowboys and Indians."

The special guest will be Irene Bedard, the actress and singer who provided both the voice and image for Walt Disney's animated movie, "Pocahontas." She will perform with her electronic band, Irene Bedard and Deni.

Lakota hoop dancer Kevin Locke, a storyteller who twirls dozens of colorful hoops around his arms and legs, is also scheduled. While his movements are beautiful to watch, Locke says that Native Americans use dance not just for recreation and socializing, but also to express deeper spiritual feelings. And these feelings are not to be celebrated alone-Locke will select children from the audience to spin the hoops and perform dance steps with him.

There will be plenty of other dancing for children, too. One hundred dancers will perform native numbers such as grass dancing, fancy dancing and shawl dancing, and will encourage children to step with them. The audience also will be invited to join in one big circle for the friendship dance. The perfect way, Podlasek says, to end the event with a good feeling.

"It's to make sure we're making new friends, renewing old friendships and leaving in a circle of friends," he said.

The festival is a companion to the '50 Years of Powwow in Chicago" photography exhibition now showing at the Field Museum. The photos show dancers, drummers, craftspeople and others trying to retain their cultural traditions in a modern world.

Native Sounds by the Lake will be from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. Sept. 7 at Millennium Park (Michigan Avenue and Randolph Street). Admission is free. Call (773) 275-5871 for more information or visit www.aic-chicago.org. The American Indian Center's '50 Years of Powwow" photography show will be at the Field Museum through January 2004.


-- Sandra Nygaard, Medill News Service


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