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A Celebration of Baltimore's Indigenous Cultures | August BxB Highlights

August's edition of Baltimore By Baltimore is best summarized by the words of its host, producer, performance artist with the Native American Protectors, LLC, and the Administrative Director of the Maryland Commission on Indian Affairs (MCIA), Keith Colston:

"Today is not about what makes us different, but what brings us together."  

Colston's words were on time and in line with what the artists and vendors of this fantastic festival represent. Appreciating the uniqueness of an individual's culture is only magnified when they can see and embrace the humanity found in others opposite of their own. Keith has over 20 years of experience learning, teaching, and sharing the mores and traditions of his own Tuscarora and Lumbee Tribes and the customs of other native peoples spanning the United States, Canada, and Mexico. He is a descendant of the Lumbee who originally came from North Carolina to Baltimore during the 1950s/1960s to eventually settle and create a blossoming community in Fells Point along Broadway. Attendees could hear his library's depth of knowledge on everything from the meanings behind why dancers never move backward or turn in a complete circle while moving as he introduced the next group to the Baltimore By Baltimore stage. The interwoven theme of diversity and the significance of indigenous culture was seen and heard, being celebrated all day. 

Adorning the traditional attire of her people, the Cree of Alberta, Canada's First Nation, Angela Miracle Gladue was welcomed to The Amphitheater's center by the crowd's applause as she began her history lesson of her people using the moves learned during her over 20 years on the international pan-indigenous and break dance scenes. The Fancy Dance, created in Oklahoma during the 1930s, is a modern addition to the vast catalog of native dances from thousands of years ago. It is a familiar 'freestyle dance' seen across tribes and borders and can be seen at events today. It celebrates the individual personality of the dancer and the cultural influence of their respective tribe. Gladue, in garb the shades of red, white, brown, orange, and turquoise, showed her in-step footwork to Duncan Munson's hand drumming before calling on members in the crowd to come up and show what they learned. She even discussed how she had to 'school' a few B-Boys while in Australia and how the Fancy Dance was the first version of 'The Shuffle' two-steppin' internet dance craze of today. 

Gladue's quick exhibition of the dances' similarities made the audience clap, but her hoop dance alongside Duncan Munson left the onlookers standing as they gave their ovation. Like all performers, these cultural expressions were not to entertain the audience but to educate those watching about the meaning behind the choreographed movements and their cultural significance. 

All of the artists featured at every Baltimore By Baltimore have made the passersby who stopped in place to view and hear the artistry on display instantly invested members of the audience. This monthly festival's interactivity creates the vibe of the community and an instant sense of rapport that has been felt since our first gathering in June. August's version elevated this feeling as more visitors continued to pour into the Amphitheater throughout this picturesque Saturday afternoon at The Inner Harbor.   

 

Even for the most 'woke' spectators, the resounding presence of the Moschika broadened the awareness of the full scope of indigenous history across borders–north and south. They kept time with their moves and opened the eyes of the pupils, following their dancing movements side-to-side and all-around.      

Through dance, thanks were given for the elements we commonly take for granted daily. The sun warming our faces and winds guiding us forward on our paths are represented by the symbolic act of lifting stone chalices skyward while offering their gratitude for each. Dancers stepped out from the vividly-colored ensemble to solo out the redbrick center of The Ampitheater to dance to the thunderous drum patterns of the drums echoing off of the glass facades of towering skyscrapers lining The Inner Harbor. The ways of the indigenous societies throughout Mexico–coast to coast, are often erased in many of our history books. 

 

Amplifying the history of the indigenous peoples whose ancestors inhabited this land before the sails of any explorer's ship appeared on the Atlantic Ocean's horizon is what Colston does all year long as the host of many Powwows and other ceremonial events. The customs that have endured to its thriving, modern international presence within communities of tribes across and throughout The Americas is what Colston does with pure eloquence.

The crowd of visitors who filled The Amphitheater at Harborplace for Baltimore By Baltimore this past Saturday afternoon were welcomed to experience these rituals being carried forth by those currently living in the light of their ancestors' vibrant heritage. Child performers were commonplace in each set. The next generation really is when it comes to preserving these invaluable customs. It was a glowing reminder of the expression of how the oral tradition via sound and dance while reminding Indigenous culture and history is too varied to be monolithic. Tribes from the shores of The Atlantic, living on the Gulf Coast, across the endless plains of the Midwest, and to the woodland-barriered and seaside beaches of The Pacific, their stories cannot be told from just one point of view. 

A beating drum will forever unify; never will it discriminate. Evidence of that oath steeped in sound was seen and heard from  Keur Khaleyi, the African dance troupe based at the Eubie Blake National Jazz Institute and Cultural Center on Howard Street, which took the stage as the sun began its glorious fade into dusk. They entered with djembes, kutiro, and dundun drums and left with the crowd riveted to their seats. This dance troupe, with classes of students from all cultural backgrounds ranging in age from young children to active elders, presented its best routines to the mesmerized audience. 

"Without drum, without the heartbeat of the people, the dance would not take place. The drum is not only meant to be heard; it is to be felt by the mind, body, and most importantly, the spirit of all" -Keith Colston.

"Honor, Respect, Perseverance, Togetherness" were words we heard over and over delivered from Kieth to the crowd. While central to every Baltimore By Baltimore so far, it was very apparent at this celebration of Charm City. It was essential to Keith, who was celebrating another year around the sun on his BxB birthday. Colston shared the traditional Round Dance as family, friends, and strangers held hands and chanted for a happy birthday.