American Indian Festival is an educational event

Cultural education.

That is, and has always been, the main concept behind The American Indian Festival, being held Saturday through Monday at the Gwinnett County Fairgrounds, 2405 Sugarloaf Parkway in Lawrenceville.

Now in it's 17th year, the semiannual event (it's held once in the spring and once in the fall) honors the myriad traditions and customs of a number of Native American tribes, featuring drums, dancing, storytelling, crafts and more, all underneath an expansive covered arena.

"We will have 35 to 40 vendors selling Native American wares," said Toadie Eddy, who runs the festival with her son Ryan through their company, Voice in the Wind.

The event and the company were both founded by Toadie's late husband Paul Eddy, a full-blooded Yankton Sioux, as a way to bring authentic American Indian culture not only to non-Native Americans, but to his own people as well.

Toadie said Paul used to go to plenty of powwows, and was shocked at how few of the participants knew the history of what they were doing, or the proper techniques.

"He was like, 'We need to educate,'" Toadie said. "'Our own people get out there doing the dance, and they're wearing the regalia, and they do not even know what they're representing.'"

So Paul sought out talented musicians, storytellers and craft vendors, putting together a true-to-life Native American experience.

Unfortunately, after years of doing exactly what he set out to, Paul passed away of lung cancer in 2006. Since then, Toadie and Ryan decided to take on the mantle and keep the tradition alive.

"I had worked real close with Paul in this event, and how he wanted it run and everything," Toadie said. "So ... we're trying to do it in the way that Paul would have it done."

Her husband's festival was and remains a success, largely due to the efforts of Toadie and Ryan, the latter of which has turned out to be a chip off the old block.

"I tell him he has his dad's voice," Toadie said, "because his dad had a wonderful voice. Paul was a Native American storyteller."

And surely, if he could see that his family has carried on his labor of love, he'd be proud.

"We feel his spirit," Toadie said. "We know it's out here."