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Mid-Missouri's Indigenous communites are showing the state who they are

Smiling members of Beyond the Circle, a Native American dance group, shared tradition and conversation at Columbia's Annual Heritage and Craft Show.
Sarah Petrowich
Cholena Falcon, Randy Falcon and Chante Falcon sit beside their table of handmade crafts after performing an indigenous dace program on Saturday, Sept. 17, 2022. Randy is Cholena and Chante's father, and all three are a part of the performance group Beyond the Circle.

Native people of Missouri attended Columbia's Annual Heritage Festival and Craft show to share Indigenous culture, past and present.

Columbia’s weekend-long Annual Heritage Festival and Craft Show showcases and celebrates skills and cultures of the state's heritage.

The smell of food trucks filled the air as cast iron cauldrons, antique spinning wheels and reenactors dressed as pioneers covered the grounds at Nifong Park.

Throughout the fair, people were in both traditional Indigenous attire, as well as skinny jeans and graphic t-shirts, and they were all advocating for the same thing: More knowledge, awareness, and consideration — as well as celebration — of Native American heritage.

In the middle of the festivities, Richard Troupe stood in front of a white tent as his wife, Glenna Calvert, and a growing crowd of spectators listened to him speak about Native American history.

A Cherokee couple sit next to each other outside; the woman wearing a red Tear Dress and the man is wearing a hat and tan linen shirt with tribal jewelry.
Sarah Petrowich
Glenna Calvert and Richard Troupe came to the Heritage Festival to teach about Native American culture to attendees on Saturday, Sept. 17, 2022. The couple is wearing the same traditional Cherokee outfits that they wore for their wedding day on May 4, 2019.

Troupe is one-quarter Cherokee, and Calvert is half Cherokee. This was the couple’s first year at the Heritage Festival, but Troupe is no stranger to teaching about Native American traditions. He goes to similar events and presents on the history of Indigenous tribes to school groups, but he pulls information from personal and family experiences.

“Everything I teach, it’s not from the history book, it’s from the Native Americans,” Troupe said.

Calvert chimed in with facts and additional information every once in a while, but she trusts her husband to talk about what’s important: “There’s a lot of ignorant people everywhere, not just Missouri. And if people want to take time, come and listen to my husband, and also myself, you can learn a lot about the Native culture. I mean, we don’t let out all secrets, but we can teach, and if you have an open mind and you’re willing to listen, think it over. Different cultures learn from each other.”

Troupe and Calvert were not the only ones promoting Indigenous culture at the festival. A Native group called Beyond the Circle came from Springfield, Missouri to perform a variety of traditional songs and dances.

A large group of people, some in indigenous attire and some in t-shirts, pants and dresses, hold hands outside in a big circle standing on green grass.
Sarah Petrowich
Beyond the Circle members brought volunteers from the audience onto the grass to teach them some traditional Native dances on Saturday, Sept. 17, 2022.

Randy Falcon is the group’s leader, or the “dad” as he put it, and almost all of the dancers are his own children.

Aside from performing, Falcon has been working on political projects to spread awareness about Native history and culture. His current focus is getting Native college students four years of free tuition at the University of Missouri.

“MU is actually on Osage-ceded land," he said. "They never paid them for it. When you look it up, it will tell you how much the land was worth, and then when it comes down payment, it will say zero.”

Falcon's statement refers to the Morrill Land Grant-Acts passed in 1862. These statutes allowed for the creation of land-grant colleges in U.S. states using the proceeds from sales of federally-owned land, but in most cases, the land belonged to Indigenous people. In August, the University of California system became the latest collection of schools to offer a tuition waiver for students enrolled in federally recognized Native tribes.

“I think it’s time," said Falcon, "and I think everybody standing up and kind of saying, ‘We want this. This belongs to us. You took this from us; give it back.’ We’re not asking for everything; we’re just asking for the fair deal. The fair deal that wasn’t done when you actually took this."

Falcon has also empowered his daughters to spread awareness about their family's heritage. His oldest daughter, Chante, recently wrapped shooting as a dancer on the set of one of Marvel Studio’s latest web television series called Echo. The title character is the Marvel Cinematic Universe’s first Native American superhero.

He’s also been helping one of his youngest daughters, Cholena, start the first Native American organization at Glendale High School in Springfield. American Indian Leaders of Today and Tomorrow is an all inclusive club that teaches its members traditional drum beats and dances, how to make ribbon dresses, how to make cultural crafts and is working on bringing in guest speakers and going on field trips.

“Starting to give awareness about Native Americans is kind of scary," said Cholena, "and it’s hard. But I feel like I’ll get through it. I mean, having a lot of people there for me and having my back to help me start something that is very important to myself and other people is pretty cool."

While the Annual Heritage Festival and Craft Show won’t be back until next Fall, mid-Missouri’s Native American community is working hard to show Missourians that Native Americans are not a people of the past, but a people of the present, and most importantly, a people of the future.

Sarah Petrowich studies cross platform editing and producing within journalism, as well as political science at the University of Missouri - Columbia.