Second-ever Clay Days returns becoming permanent event celebrating local history and culture

Beginning last year as a one-off celebration marking Clay Township’s bicentennial, Clay Days has grown to become a permanent educational and cultural event for visitors and community members to look forward to each year.

“We came up with our tagline of ‘Remember, Honor, and Celebrate,’ and had our first Clay Days last year,” says Artie Bryson, Clay Township Supervisor. “The event was such a success we decided to make it a yearly event.”

Held at Clay Township Park, the cultural event is host to a variety of artists, dancers, musicians, vendors, and local organizations, bringing together local residents and visitors from across the region.

Joe Jacobs, member of the Aamjiwnaang First Nation in Sarnia, and his wife Joan, of the Little Traverse Bay Bands of Odawa.

A new attraction open to the public during this year’s event was the Clay Township log cabin which dates back to the late 1800s. Members of the Algonac-Clay Township Historical Society gave tours sharing how people lived in the city’s early days and several other historical facts including the meaning behind the saying “Sleep tight, don't let the bedbugs bite.”

“The springs on the old beds were actually not springs, they used rope tied across the frame to support the feather mattresses, and you had to tighten them so that you didn’t sag while you slept,” says Mary Adkins, volunteer for the Algonac-Clay Historical Society. “So that's where the sleep tight came from — tightening the ropes to have a good night’s sleep.”

However, one of the main features of Clay Days is the Native American Pow Wow; an annual celebration put on by the American Indian Communities Leadership Council (AICLC).

Members of the American Indian Communities Leadership Council, Chairperson Sharon Kota (left) and Vice Chair Susan Wrobel, pose for a photo during Clay Days.“Supervisor Artie Bryson asked if we would be interested in participating and having our annual Pow Wow here at the park alongside their celebration. It was such a fantastic success for us, the crowds were bigger, the vendors did better, so we decided to be a part of it again this year,” says Sharon Kota, AICLC Chairperson.

Founded approximately 45 years ago, the AICLC aims to empower indigenous youth and families through culture, education, and community.

“We love it here, we see so many of our old students and families who we’ve taught over the years,” says Susan Wrobel, AICLC Vice Chair. “It’s so heartwarming, and we will continue to be a part of it as long as we can.”

A pow wow involves a blend of traditional and ceremonial activities including singing and dancing, and opens with prayer and blessings over the event and those participating. Dancers of all ages performed in traditional regalia at Clay Days as the drums were played and singing of traditional songs filled the air.

They were followed by women dancers, in which the crowd was asked to stand and remove their hats, as the women are honored and revered as the caregivers and vessels from which life is brought forth. 

Blankets featuring indigenous artwork were available at vendor booths during Clay Days.
Vendors who provided traditional Native American cuisine were present at the event, serving dishes like Indian tacos, scone dogs, and fry bread. Additionally, various other vendors showcased and sold a variety of products and artwork including bird whistles, jewelry, clothing, and much more.

Other activities at Clay Days included a dream catcher class, quilt show, antique boats, vintage cars, and storyboards sharing information about the local history. The storyboards touched on topics including transportation such as ships and railroads, as well as individuals tied to the area who have made a major impact in Clay Township history.

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Read more articles by Harold Powell.

Harold Powell is the Community Correspondent for The Keel and owner of Phantom Pen Media offering multimedia services to individuals and organizations across the Blue Water Area. He is a current board member for the Blue Water Area Chamber of Commerce and the most recent Chamber Choice recipient at the Eddy Awards. Harold is an avid volunteer for the YMCA of the Blue Water Area as well as Bridge Builders Counseling & Mentoring and in his spare time, enjoys spending time with his son, writing and listening to music, playing video games, and not folding laundry.