190914 Oka Kapassa 5

This file photo from 2019 shows the traditional grand entry, or parade of colors, during the  Oka Kapassa Native American Festival in Spring Park. This year's event has been cancelled because of COVID-19 concerns. [MATT MCKEAN/TIMESDAILY]

TUSCUMBIA — This year's Oka Kapassa: Return to Coldwater Festival has been cancelled due to COVID-19 concerns.

Committee chairman Terry McGee said the festival, which was scheduled for Sept. 11-12 at Spring Park, would have celebrated its 20th anniversary this year.

The festival, which celebrates Alabama's first inhabitants, is one of the largest Native American educational festivals in the state, hosting 15 to 20 tribes each year. The festival has a day set aside for school groups from throughout northwest Alabama.

"We had special events planned for this year's festival because it's in its 20th year, but we just had to consider the safety of the Native Americans who would be traveling here, as well as festival-goers," McGee said.

"Many of the tribes have shut down their traveling for the year, so we knew we couldn't have a lot of our regular participants, artists and vendors. I just hate that it isn't happening this year."

McGee said the committee waited on making a decision to cancel in hopes COVID-19 statistics would improve.

"At first, there was a chance of a vaccine and we waited to see, but now we don't even know for sure what schools will be doing in the fall. There were just too many unknowns."

Colbert Tourism President/CEO Susann Hamlin said Oka Kapassa has grown into one of the most highly anticipated events of the year.

"We're certainly disappointed because it's a really good fall event, a really fine cultural event that everyone looks forward to," Hamlin said. "It draws many people to Tuscumbia, and is extremely educational, not just for the school children who come on Education Day but for all who attend."

McGee said some of the Native American participants called and thanked the committee for not pressuring them to come.

"We certainly don't want to endanger anyone," he said. "This event is a homecoming for our Native Americans and a family-like atmosphere for them, and we certainly didn't want to make anyone uncomfortable."

McGee said the committee is planning to celebrate the festival's milestone anniversary next year and has set the date for Sept. 10-11, 2021.

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