Spencer Horton

(Rock Hill, S.C.) – The Catawba Nation’s annual cultural festival will return next month, after it was canceled the last two years due to the COVID-19 pandemic, and citizens of the nation are working to showcase traditional Catawba dances at the event.

“This is the return of the Yap Yè Iswà Festival after being closed for COVID,” dance instructor Kassidy Plyler said. “So, this is a really important day, because it’s a day to not only showcase Native American culture, but to show Catawba culture, which is not always the same as all Native American cultures.

“Some of our dances are traditionally just performed by Catawba people here on the reservation, some of our songs are in the Catawba language, which is only spoken here on the reservation. It’s basically a day to showcase who we are and that we’re still here and thriving,” Plyler said.

The festival, Nov. 19, also celebrates the history of the Catawba tribe and helps to bring the nation together for what is known as the Day of the River People.

“The significance is really just about us getting together,” festival organizer Frankie Sanders said. “It’s just a space where we can all kind of get together and celebrate being Catawba.”

Nation citizens are preparing for the festival by participating in dance classes at the Catawba Cultural Center and learning traditional dances that often imitate nature.

“So with the snake, you see us moving through the field as a snake would and the other is the wild goose dance, which is a traditional Catawba dance that is done here to imitate the migrational patterns of wild geese that fly through the area,” Plyler said.

“The significance of the hoop dance is travelers of the tribe, of the Catawba tribe, when they would travel, they would come back and they would do this dance for the people to show them what they would show on their journeys,” River Rogers, a Catawba citizen, said. “So, as you can see out there with the hoop dance, you would see things like birds and eagles and alligators and they would just, you know, show the people.”

Classes are open to any Catawba citizen who wishes to join and are held every Saturday at 11 a.m. All ages and genders are welcome.