5th Annual Southeast Tribes Festival held at Cherokee

By Albert Bender
Cherokee, North Carolina (NFIC) October 2010

Amid the scenic beauty of verdant valleys and majestic mountains the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians (EBCI)welcomed all other original major southern Indian nations for a celebration  and revitalization of tradition during September. 

This was the 5th holding of the Annual Southeast Tribes Festival at the EBCI Reservation. The Festival was held at the Cherokee Indian Fairgrounds. From its start several years ago it was the brainchild of John Standingdeer, Jr. who had a visionary perspective to promote tribal unity.

“Its all good to have a gathering of the main five Southern tribes so that all our voices can be heard at an event where we can exchange ideas and we can display our arts and crafts in friendly competition” said Standingdeer. He continued “We need to get together as one Indian people and we need to help each other. This will make us all stronger.”

Standingdeer, is also an official cultural ambassador of the EBCI and a member of the Warriors of AniKituhwa, a traditional cultural dance group of the EBCI. One of the goals of the Festival, envisioned by Standingdeer, was to bring greater unity and a greater appreciation of Indian identity.   

Besides the Eastern Cherokees, who were the host tribe, other nations participating in the Festival were the Creeks, Seminoles and Choctaws. These included the Muskogee Creek Nation of Oklahoma, the Poarch Creek Band of Alabama, the Seminole Tribe of Florida, the Mississippi Band of Choctaw Indians, The Cherokee Nation of Oklahoma and the United Keetoowah Band of Cherokee Indians of Oklahoma.       

“We need to remember who we are and bring pride to our children and have it passed on. We need to ask more about our history and learn and grow” added Standingdeer.

Under the arts and crafts tent at the Festival sat representatives of the five original major tribes of the Southeast.  The arts and crafts included beadwork, pottery, basketry, and works in stone and wood and palmetto.

Other parts of the Festival included traditional dancing, storytelling, games and traditional food. A high point of interest   for the Festival was Cherokee stickball. It was with rapt attention that the spectators watched the Wolftown stickball team give a rough and tumble display exhibition.             

There were cultural sharings with social dances such as the Horse dance, Quail dance, Ant dance and dancing by  the Warriors of Ani Kituhwa, the EBCI Raven Rock Dancers, the Mystic Lake Choctaw Dancers, the Squirrel Ridge Stomp Ground Dancers and the Cherokee Head Start Traditional Dancers.

Blowgun competitions took place Saturday morning. There   was also a 5K Run at Kituhwa field at Bryson City a few miles from Cherokee. The coordinator for the Run  was Eddie Swimmer, an EBCI member and Manager of the Museum of the Cherokee                  “ This Festival is  for all of the nations to get together. It’s a great opportunity to showcase our social dances and also just to share and rekindle friendships with one another” said Swimmer.

An integral part of the Festival was the Southern Indian Writers Gathering held at the Museum of the Cherokee Indian. The gathering was organized by the celebrated, prolific Cherokee author, Robert Conley. Scheduled in the included list of writers were Geary Hobson (Cherokee, Quapaw and Chickasaw) , Chris Teuton (Cherokee) , Sean Teuton (Cherokee), Holly McClure(Cherokee), Daniel Heath Justice(Cherokee), and Kim Roppolo (Cherokee, Choctaw and Creek). There were group discussions and one-on-one sessions for Indian writers on  September 16 - 17. There was also a free workshop , readings and booksignings at the Museum. This was the first ever Southeast Indian Writers Conference.

There was an opening reception for Gohigwuiyv  Tsigi “This is Modern,” featuring Cherokee Contemporary  Art  by  distinguished  EBCI artist Sean Ross and acclaimed Cherokee Nation artist Roy Boney, Jr. at the Museum.  There was also an opening reception for the show of celebrated EBCI artist Shan Goshorn.

The Master of Ceremonies for the Festival was Rob Daugherty of the Cherokee Nation. Daugherty is a frequent MC for Powwows and festivals held at Cherokee and other locations throughout the Southeast.

The Festival achieved its purpose of  bringing together the original major tribes of the Southeast for a cultural and truly thought provoking reunion of revitalization and celebration of  tradition that showcased an  unbroken thread of  flourishing tribal existence encompassing thousands of years from ancient times to the present.