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Tourist site owned by Kiowa revamped

Anadarko, Oklahoma (AP) 5-08

The Creator shone a spotlight onto the Tonkawa Hills and whispered a subtle breeze into the Indian City courtyard as the Kiowa Tribe presented its grand opening of the historic park as well as a grand display of gratitude to its benefactor tribe.

“It’s a beautiful day,” said Modina Waters, park manager. A member of the Kiowa Tribe of Oklahoma, pride resonated in her voice as she called the park by its new name, the Kiowa Indian City USA Cultural Center.

Waters referenced the day’s beauty in the weather and the emotion in completing the journey to purchasing the park.

Waters was one of the main catalysts in the tribe making it through the process to receive a $1 million grant from the Shakopee Mdewakanton Sioux Tribe, said Lyndreth Palmer of the park’s governing board.

The park, located 21/2 miles southeast of Anadarko on state Highway 8, was built in 1955 by George C. Moran and a group of University of Oklahoma anthropologists. The grounds include realistic, life-size villages, tours, wildlife, a gift shop and information center and an amphitheater. It was for sale since 2004. The Kiowas have worked on the purchase since 2006 and sealed the deal in February after receiving the grant.

“I want to thank my mother and to honor my mother, Modina Waters, for all the time and hard work she put into this,” said Randi Lynn Sunray, Waters’ daughter. A chorus of lulus sounded from the audience in approval.

It was a day that shone with Kiowa pride. Down the road and west of the museum and cultural center, the 50th annual Kiowa Black Leggings – Tohn-Kong-Gau – Armed Forces Day weekend dance carried on.

Palmer, also a member of the Black Leggings Warrior Society, spoke with emotion of the journey he’ll take back to the camp after the ceremony.

“We’re going to be able to go down there and know this is going to be there. This is ours,” Palmer said as he pointed in the direction of the grounds.

After the initial ribbon-cutting ceremony, the Kiowa and Shakopee flags were raised and plaques unveiled in appreciation of the Shakopee, the Kiowa Business Committee and the park’s board of directors.

Events moved to the courtyard to start the honor ceremony planned for visiting Shakopee representatives. Kiowa Chairman Billy Evans Horse offered an appreciation to the mildness of the noontime heat.

“Believe it or not, we’re actually running pretty much on time,” Horse said to the sound of laughs and lulus shared by the multitribal and multiethnic audience. Everybody in this little part of Caddo County was Kiowa for a little while.

Horse presented a Kiowa lance to Keith Anderson, the Shakopee secretary/treasurer. Shakopee Chairman Stanley R. Crooks was unable to attend the ceremony due to health concerns, Anderson said.

“I was up until 5 a.m. finishing this,” Horse, a renowned beadsman, said. “This is unique. It is the best I’ve done. I wanted to give you something that represents some of the best works shown by the Kiowa people.”

The Shakopee representatives were presented with many gifts, from the drum performance of the Northern Honor Song and the Kiowa Honor Song, to the handcrafted Kiowa moccasins made by internationally known Kiowa beadworker Vanessa Jennings.

Anderson said he was really touched by the gifts and offered a thanks from his people to the Kiowa people.

“Those are for me? Those are for me!” said Palmer, as Jennings presented him with a pair of black buckskin moccasins with long, white fringe trailing perfectly behind. She said long fringes were part of the Kiowa heritage of being great horsemen and a mark of honor for a Kiowa man. Palmer’s work for the park, as a veteran, for his people and for his family made him worthy of the gift, his sister said.

Fawn Tsatoke, a park guide and member of the Kiowa Tribe, told the first group to tour the villages what a blessing they are.

“Instead of investing in a casino, you’re investing in our culture,” Tsatoke said.

A descendent of Chief Hunting Horse, she said the Kiowa devotion to tradition is the source of the people’s pride and a cause for respect by other tribes.

The sounds of the afternoon gourd dance at the Black Leggings’ camp rolled through the Tonkawa Hills and offered another sensation of what it means to be Kiowa. The gourd dance was originated by the Kiowa people, Tsatoke said.