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Market brings 'real, live Indians' to Eiteljorg

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Hoop dancer Tony Duncan, who starred in the music video for Nelly Furtado's "Big Hoops (Bigger the Better)," headlines this year's Indian Market.
  • Hoop dancer Tony Duncan, who starred in the music video for Nelly Furtado's "Big Hoops (Bigger the Better)," headlines this year's Indian Market.

This weekend marks the 21st year for the Eiteljorg Museum's Indian Market, an outdoor festival packed with Native American artwork, entertainment, food - and most importantly, Native Americans.

"It's one of the few times a year we have real, live Indians," said Jaq Nigg, festival and events manager at the Eiteljorg. "This is the time that we can step back and let the natives tell their own story. It's not white guy Jack translating something hanging on a wall."

The Eiteljorg opened its doors in 1989, and the Indian Market launched in 1992, welcoming 12,000 visitors that year, the highest number of attendees in the history of the market. 57 artists were involved in the first year; that number has now risen to 160.

"The first year we accepted every artist that applied, but over the years we've really fine-tuned our selection," Nigg said. "It's a juried show now. People have to send us slides of their work and experts look at it."

Art is one of the biggest draws of the market. Native artists from all over the country submit their work, and if chosen, travel to Indianapolis to showcase their creations as well as sell to the public. And it's not exactly what many people may expect.

"The Indian market talks about the continuum of Native American expression," said Jennifer McNutt, curator of contemporary art at the Eiteljorg. "There's traditional art, but there are artists who are doing things that are very contemporary or things that combine traditional with innovation."

"People come to see a certain level of "Indianness." They want to see the headdresses and feathers and they get surprised and pleased when they see the contemporary stuff," Nigg said.

For dedicated lovers of native art, the market starts off with a preview party, which gives the public a chance to come and view the artwork before the masses, meet the artists and see who will be voted Best in Show, among other awards.

"You're with the artists before they're really working, they're just hanging out and everyone is in a good mood," Nigg said. "Plus, there's a cash bar."

For those who aren't quite as dedicated, the market offers jewelry, performances, including storytellers and dancers, traditional and contemporary music, and something called an Indian Taco. The fried bread crowd pleaser can be eaten as a desert with powdered sugar or honey, or as a dinner with taco fixings.

Apparently, the wait time for one of these confections can reach an hour, though Nigg claims they are well worth it. "I eat two a year. One for dinner, one dessert," she laughed.

When the Indian Market came into being in 1992, it followed in the path of the country's big two markets: the Santa Fe Indian Market and the Heard Indian Market. Nigg mentioned that Santa Fe's market has nearly 12,000 artists, although she believes the Eiteljorg's more modest 150-200-artist count makes the event more intimate.

Throughout the Eiteljorg's existence, the Indian Market has remained its largest, most visible event.

"The staff all comes together, it gives us this opportunity to work with living artists and we put our money where our mouth is. People come together here, and it's just neat," Nigg said.

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