Cherokee fair plans for 111th year
The Cherokee Indian Fair will return Oct. 3-7 for its 111th year, but in a new location. This year’s event will be held at the old high school site, also called the Cherokee Expo Center, located at 1501 Acquoni Road.
The fair traditionally takes place at the Cherokee Indian Fairgrounds on Tsali Boulevard, also referred to as the Ceremonial Grounds, but has been temporarily relocated to allow for a complete renovation of that property. In July 2022, Tribal Council approved spending to demolish existing facilities and create a comprehensive master plan for the site. The renovation required temporary relocation of the annual fair, as the project was expected to take 18-24 months to complete.
Last year, the fair was held at the Cherokee Convention Center at Harrah’s Cherokee Casino. Special Events and Fairgrounds Supervisor Lisa Frady said she’s looking forward to using the Expo Center, which is a larger facility. She hopes to hold the event there next year as well. Delays with the Fairgrounds renovation project mean the fair is unlikely to return to its traditional location by 2024. However, fair organizers say they have high hopes for the new location.
“The more I’ve spent time up there, the more I’m seeing potential for that area,” said Destination Marketing Director Sean Ross in an Aug. 21 EBCI Planning Board report.
The theme for the 2023 fair, “They Made the Way,” honors Cherokee people past and present who have played pivotal roles in shaping the community’s vibrant culture. Over the course of five days, fairgoers will experience everything from traditional stickball games and authentic crafts to an array of rides and games. During an Aug. 21 meeting, Ross told the Planning Board that the carnival portion of the fair is expected to feature 15-16 rides, up from nine last year.
“The favorites are usually your stickball games,” Frady said. “Everyone enjoys coming out watching.”
The stickball tournament will precede the official kickoff of fair week, starting at 4 p.m. Monday, Oct. 2. Stickball, which evolved into the modern sport of lacrosse, is still played the traditional way among members of the EBCI. An intensely physical sport, it was more than just a game. Referred to as the “little brother of war,” stickball was used to settle disagreements within the tribe. This year’s fair will feature three stickball tournaments — men’s and teen’s divisions, to be played at Unity Field, and a tournament for kids, to be played at the Expo Center site. Of note, Frady said, will be the participation of a stickball team from the Cherokee Nation of Oklahoma.
On Tuesday, Oct. 3, fair week will launch with the annual Cherokee Indian Fair Parade at 4 p.m., running from the Casino Trail intersection through downtown Cherokee to the Museum of the Cherokee Indian. Fair gates will be open 5-11 p.m., then 8:30 a.m. to 11 p.m. the next day for Children’s Day, a day that will be “brimming with joy” for people of all ages, according to a press release, and feature stickball games, games and activities. Gates will be open 8 a.m. to 11 p.m. Thursday, Oct. 5, for Elders Day, which will feature a fashion show spotlighting both traditional and contemporary Cherokee fashion at 2 p.m. Throughout the week, elders will receive on-site parking with golf carts running to bring them to the main fair area. During Veterans Day Friday, Oct. 6, gates will be open 8 a.m. to 11 p.m. for a day honoring the sacrifices of the armed forces and fostering community unity.
The final day of the fair, Community Day, will continue a friendly competition between the communities making up the EBCI that began last year.
“They [each] choose a competition or activity that they sponsor, and whichever community gets the most participants wins a plaque,” Frady said. “That community gets to keep that for that year that they win.”
Painttown, which won last year’s competition, will have a chance to defend its title and keep the plaque, or bequeath it to the new winner.
Lasting from 8 a.m. to midnight, Community Day will feature community-led games, stickball matches and shared festivities in a “celebration of unity [that] will continue until midnight, forging lasting bonds,” according to a press release. The day will also feature performances by the American rock bands The Romantics at 8 p.m. and Starship at 9 p.m.
Throughout the fair, a variety of displays will be open in the exhibit hall showing the entrants and winners of a variety of contests. Exhibits must be entered Friday, Sept. 29, at the Yellowhill Activity Center, except for baked goods and livestock entries. Baked goods must be brought to the EBCI Extension Center between 8 a.m. and noon Oct. 2, and livestock must be brought to the Extension Center for judging Oct. 7. For more information about entering these contests, contact Tammy Jackson of EBCI Cooperative Extension at 828.788.0878.
Fair admission is free for enrolled members of federally recognized tribes but otherwise costs $20 for Saturday and $10 for any day Tuesday through Friday.
For fair updates, visit cherokeespecialevents.com/calendar/event/cherokee-indian-fair1.