Moments after he entered Expo Hall at Century II on Saturday morning, 4-year-old Damien Smith was steeped in American Indian culture.
He started at the Hands-On Education Display, which allowed him to play with animal skins, bones, arrowheads, rattles and drums.
Then he went to a table where he used a mallet to pound out a leather medallion with etchings of buffalo heads, bear claws, birds and deer.
“I like the buffalo, ’cause it’s the biggest,” Damien said, holding up his handiwork.
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The activities were available at the American Indian Festival under way at Century II through Sunday. The powwow features hundreds of dancers from more than 70 tribes, mostly Plains Indians, and includes an arts and crafts fair. It is the largest event put on each year by the Mid-America All-Indian Center.
Damien also liked the story about the “dream catcher,” a handwoven web made from imitation sinew and rattan that, when hung over a bed or crib, catches bad dreams and allows the good dreams to travel into the dreamer’s head. Michelle Conine, a Shawnee-Delaware from Wichita, was teaching kids how to make them.
“When I have bad dreams at night, the bad dreams get caught, and the good dreams go through the tiny hole,” Damien said.
Shirley Barnes, his great-grandmother from Hutchinson, brought Damien to the event.
“I like the Indian culture, and I wanted to introduce him to some of it,” she said. “We only just got started. I think he’s going to learn a whole lot today.”
Educating children was the purpose of the hands-on display, said Melody Rutledge, secretary of the board of trustees for the Mid-America All-Indian Center.
“They need to understand that there’s people who have been here for thousands of years. They have a lot of traditions that are old. and we are still practicing those today. We want our children and our grandchildren to know this way so they can continue them on into the future.”
Adults as well as kids found ways to interact with Indian artifacts and even take a piece of Native American culture home with them.
A group of 16 adults from Hays who bused to Wichita for the festival filled the hall with the sound of mallets pounding etchings into the leather medallions, which they then strung around their necks.
Elouise Miller, of Hays, made one in about two minutes.
“I used to be a kindergarten teacher, so these kinds of things intrigue me,” she said.