The Norman Transcript

April 20, 2012

Caddo Festival features original American song, dance and art

By Doug Hill
The Norman Transcript

NORMAN — For a long time Caddo traditions were not recorded and passed down to younger generations.

But some Caddo tribe members are determined to preserve their heritage.

Michael Edmonds, Caddo historian, said after returning to Oklahoma from college he was shocked to discover Caddo dance was rarely performed anymore.

Every time an elder died, part of the culture was lost, he said.

With his father, Randlett Edmonds, Michael began reviving vibrant traditions, and established the Metro Caddo Cultural Club in the 1990s.

Michael partnered with Jeri Redcorn, Metro Caddo Cultural Club project director, and the Caddo Nation, in hosting a festival themed “Generation to Generation, Handing Down Traditions,” to celebrate Caddo history, music, dance and art.

The festivities will include a symposium focusing on late Randlett’s life. Randlett was instrumental in preserving ancient song, dance and language of the Caddo Nation.

“We’d set up a drum and begin singing at gatherings in Binger (Caddo Nation headquarters) and people would immediately get excited about hearing the old songs,” Michael said. “My dad was a genius. He had the ability to hear a song one or two times and learn it.”

This preternatural talent helped preserve Caddo treasures in the form of over a thousand songs. Michael said he has learned from these songs humility, spirituality and how to treat other people from his culture.

These art forms are inextricably linked with Caddo history, values and traditions.

“They are part of our whole being as a people,” Michael said. “It’s a way of promoting who we are.”

Redcorn, Norman resident and artist, said her early personal experience with Native American art forms was intertribal until she learned Caddo-specific activities were occurring in Anadarko and Binger.

“When we started gathering in Oklahoma City, Michael, his father and others would always be there,” she said. “We have learned so much from the elder Caddo singing.”

Today Redcorn points to youthful Caddo Princesses Naia Montoya and Shoshoni Murphy as being strong reason for hope that their culture will always be preserved. Both young women will be dancing during the festival.

“We think people will enjoy our sharing Caddo culture with them and learning about the diversity in Oklahoma and the United States,” Redcorn said. “We are the people that were here first and we’re still here now continuing the dances that are unique to our tribe.”

At one point the U.S. Bureau of Indian Affairs had banned Native American religious practices.

“It was a crime to sing the Turkey or Ghost dances,” Redcorn said. “You could be arrested and sent to Fort Marion.”

Now, Caddo culture is celebrated and revered.

Michael and his family have shared Caddo music and dances in places like Carnegie Hall in New York City and Harvard University campus.

Their culture is a reason for pride, Michael said, and pointed out that the Caddo were the original people living in what we now call Oklahoma.