As the sun makes its’ ascent over the mountains, the valleys of Snowbird begin to almost glow. The dew that covers the grass captures the rays of light, and a blanket of fog rises off the surface of Little Snowbird Creek.  Deep in Little Snowbird lies a playground, a portico with tables, and a covered stage, all of which will be utilized today at The Fading Voices Festival.

Fading Voices is a celebration of national Cherokee traditions. It is a rare glimpse into a culture almost lost to time, history, and genocide. Snowbird area is one of the strongholds in the state, dedicated to the preservation of tradition and language, so it is fitting that this beautiful celebration is held here.

Beginning with The Sacred Mound Ceremony, the festival is open to everyone, and participation is encouraged. There are demonstrations set up to watch, and in some cases take part in. Wander through the beadwork, pottery, Wood Carving & Coffin building sections. Watch strong, sinewy arms churn fresh milk. Listen to the voices float through the air, or watch kids and adults practice their Blow Gun skills. Sample Bean and Chestnut Bread or Wild Greens. Wait in line (it’s worth the wait) for freshly fried traditional Frybread, golden and warm. Try and Indian taco, or strawberry covered frybread. Watch, or if you’re brave, play Fish; an all gender version of Stickball that pits women against men.

It should be noted that there are almost no rules, and the women are historically vicious in their pursuit of victory (the Women almost always win). After you watch the brave men get their butts kicked by the awe inspiring women, then watch Stickball.

The opening of Stickball Ceremonies has a certain amount of reverence. More than just a game, its historical roots played a role in keeping peace between different tribes who played it, as well as training for young warriors. Here at Snowbird, leafy tree branches are driven into the ground, two on each side, for “goals”. As the game begins, there is almost a holy silence throughout the spectators waiting for the first cry. The two teams, at opposite ends of the field, start their battle cries. Answering and responding, the cries echo across the field.

The game here is relatively small. The players today number less than 20 and are as young as 10. Each player is matched up against an opponent roughly their size. If one of them is unable to continue the game for any reason, his opponent must also leave the game.  The “Sticks” are wooden sticks generally made from hardwood saplings or trunks, bent around with leather strips stretched across the back of the loops to catch the ball. In the past, there were no rules to the game which led to some fatalities. In modern day, while injuries are common, there are rules in place. No touching the ball, no hitting below the knees, etc. Today, in the hot sun the players all play well, and end the game in good spirits, some taking a dunk in Little Snowbird Creek to cool off after their exertions.

After Stickball, the festival starts to wind down. Visitors and participants make their last purchases, perhaps grab some frybread for the road, and start wandering to their vehicles. This year’s celebration is over. But next years is only 364ish days away, and everyone is already anticipating another great celebration of culture, history, and community.