Indian Nation Returns

About the time your eggnog buzz wears off, so does the negligible charm of your houseguests. So like any gracious host, you smile and say, "Hey, let's go for a ride!" You then drive for miles into the Everglades and ditch them. (Martha Stewart would understand.) But when they escape the wrath of the turkey buzzards and miraculously return with fragrant pumpkin bread on their breath, decked out in silver and turquoise jewelry, carrying intricately woven sweet-grass baskets, you think perhaps Ms. Stewart didn't approve after all and rescued them. As they track mud on your new carpet, you sense (correctly) another explanation. Turns out the swamp is in full swing, hosting the 26th annual Miccosukee Indian Arts Festival. Curses, foiled again! If only you'd consulted your free local paper, before using it as fish wrap.

Up to 25,000 people will go west for this weeklong gathering to savor the cultural heritage of the Miccosukee Indians, as well as the Cherokee, Navajo, Sioux, Zuni, and other Native Americans from around North America who will share traditional stories, food, music, arts, and more. Of course the Miccosukee Indian Village is open as a year-round attraction to educate and entertain with its museum, chickees, and alligator arena, but this concentration of various tribes at one event is a unique occurrence for Miami-Dade County. Unlike a powwow, where dancers compete in a series of categories for prizes, these groups, such as New Mexico's Zuni Rainbow Dancers and North Carolina's Bird Chopper Dancers and Drum, have already been shown the money to present what Miccosukee committee member Deborah Tiger describes as a "variety show of Indian dancing," complete with vibrant outfits, feathers, and flutes. Also offered: airboat rides, alligator-wrestling demonstrations, and a Miccosukee fashion show, featuring symbolic and colorful patchwork designs.

Although the majority of attendees are non-Native American, the nonprofit event seems a smooth blend of continuity and preservation for the tribe, commerce, and tourism. Tiger echoes these sentiments. A non-Indian who grew up in Florida and has worked for the attraction division of the village since 1983, she's also the daughter-in-law of former tribal chairman Buffalo Tiger. When asked how much the festival nets for the Miccosukee's education department, Tiger says she doesn't know, but adds they'd continue to throw it even if it didn't break even. "It creates an awareness of the tribe, who they are, and what they're doing," she explains. "If they were to stop doing that, people would acquaint the tribe with just gaming, and that's not what they really are."

As for your visiting "loved ones," they're so excited about it all, they've decided to stay an extra week! But buck up, Native Americans have survived ill-mannered company for centuries. And look on the bright side: Maybe they'll bring you a pair of handmade moccasins to protect your feet from the shards of your upended Tiffany vase, or a Navajo sand painting to cover up where their two-year-old tagged your wall with her indelible Crayolas. (By now Martha Stewart is mocking you.)