Mary Kirkconnell has been drawn to the mystique and natural wonder of American Indian culture for nearly 20 years. Once a sales trainer for a Fortune 500 company, she left corporate America for a more down-to-earth lifestyle and has owned Peace Tree Trading in Brooksville for nearly 11 years.
For quite a few years, Kirkconnell has wanted to share her passion on a larger scale. Those dreams began to take shape last year when she started to plan a local festival.
With the help of her partner, Paul DeLuna — who is of Apache descent and has traveled the powwow circuit for years — and Tammy Heon, Hernando County tourism development coordinator, Kirkconnell's dreams will come to fruition this weekend with the inaugural Brooksville Native American Festival. The two-day event will be Saturday and Sunday in the large field behind Beef 'O' Brady's on Horse Lake Road.
The event will include music, dance, primitive skills demonstrations, food and more than 20 vendors selling American Indian and American Indian-inspired arts and crafts.
Among the featured performers will be the Big Mountain Family, headed by Little Big Mountain, a dancer, singer and native culture educator who has been performing for more than 40 years. His show includes about six dancers, and various native dance styles will be represented.
"He is just fabulous," Kirkconnell said. "He comes from a long, long line of entertainers."
Also performing will be the Chicahua Yolotli Aztec dance troupe and Chippa Wolfe, who will perform with his horse, Kiddo, in a "Warriors on Horseback" show.
Primitive skills demonstrations will be presented by Ben Kirkland from Georgia, including flint-knapping and fire-making, along with setting up a primitive camp. Kashka, an 85-year-old storyteller from Alaska, will also entertain.
The event emcee will be Mike Serio, a flute player, guitarist and singer.
"The entertainment will be absolutely nonstop," Kirkconnell said. "There will be something new every 30 minutes."
There will be a food vendor selling Indian delicacies such as fried bread, buffalo burgers and Indian tacos. Beef 'O' Brady's will also have a variety of foods available.
The event has drawn vendors, and visitors as well, from throughout the United States — even from Puerto Rico.
"We are really excited," said Heon, who helped secure a grant and sponsorship with Visit Florida. "We are already selling advance tickets, and there is a great buzz in the community.
"Paul and Mary are amazing people," she added. "With their expertise, they did the bulk of the work, finding the talent, entertainment and vendors."
Heon said her role was helping to secure a "minority convention grant" through Visit Florida, which allowed creating a website and purchasing regional billboards and advertising, as well as national advertising in Native American publications such as Whispering Wind magazine.
The result, Heon hopes, will be an event that attracts a large number of new visitors to Hernando County.
"This is a launch of another community collaboration, and more reason for people to visit Hernando County and see what we have to offer," she said. "And this (festival) is an excellent reason to come visit."
Heon said the weekend will be educational, as well as entertaining, where people can come out, "have fun, learn a few things, enjoy the music, food and camaraderie."
Said Kirkconnell: "The event as a whole has come together so beautifully. It is way bigger than I even thought of in my head."