STONE MOUNTAIN -- The gathered crowd hushed as the tribal drumming and chanting began. Dozens of elaborately dressed Native Americans began to beat their feet into the ground and saunter across the lawn. Children and elders danced side-by-side with beads and feathers swinging through the air.
On Saturday, Native Americans representing tribes from across the U.S. and Central America gathered at Stone Mountain Park for the Indian Festival and Pow-Wow, which has been named a Top 20 event by the Southeastern Tourism Society.
As the largest Native American gathering in Georgia, the Indian Festival offers attendees opportunities to witness and partake in cultural traditions and demonstrations. Intertribal dancing, the most anticipated and popular demonstration, allows Native Americans to compete in dance and drum competitions.
The festival kicked off the competitions Saturday with performers dressed in colorful shawls, feathers and loincloths circling the lawn in a great procession.
Melissa Fisher, who traveled from Michigan for the festival, is a descendant of the Oneida tribe. She believes the festival is a way to expand the public's perceptions.
"I think the festival portrays (Native Americans) in a better light," Fisher said. "Some people don't even know we still exist in Georgia."
Performing the "Jingle," a medicine dance, Fisher was in a pink dress with attached silver chimes. Like many other Native Americans' attire, hers was symbolic and historically significant to her family. The beadwork for her stole was inherited.
"The feeling that this dress still represents medicine and healing even though we are in modern times means that this dress transcends time and modern technology," Fisher said.
The same passion Fisher has for her heritage could be found throughout the other aspects of the festival.
As the dancing and drumming continued, other demonstrations and booths were located around the site. Spectators were able to learn about skills such as flint-knapping, bow-making, fire starting, open-fire cooking and pottery.
Attendees were able to shop for handcrafted items, including birch bark earrings, deerskin purses and porcupine quill baskets.
World-renowned Native and Native-inspired artists exhibited their skills. There were also stations set up for music, storytelling and wildlife presentations.
While the festival is an interactive opportunity for the community to experience Native Americans' rich history, for performers, like Fisher, the festival is a chance to reunite with friends. For her, it is about community and family.
"For performers, it is great to hang out with others and be around people who have similar traditions, heritage and outlooks on life," Fisher said.