Cherokee culture remains important part of Mountain Heritage Day

CULLOWHEE – Archaeological evidence has shown that people have lived in what is now called Cullowhee Valley for thousands of years, and several Native American villages once stood on what is now the campus of Western Carolina University.

Campus sites that have been identified indicate that Cherokee ancestors built mounds, villages, towns and campsites; cultivated crops and gathered wild resources; celebrated achievements and annual events; and taught their children and carried out the activities of daily life.

Cherokee basketmaker at work.

Cherokee basketmaker at work.

The Cherokee influence remains strong in Cullowhee Valley today – not just in the form of Cherokee students who come to Cullowhee seeking a college education, and through the university’s vibrant program in Cherokee studies, but also in the representation of Cherokee culture that has been a part of Mountain Heritage Day since the festival’s beginnings.

Well-known Cherokee traditionalists Goingback and Mary Chiltoskey were among the participants at the first Mountain Heritage Day in 1975. The Cherokee presence has been consistent since then, with the festival featuring demonstrations by a variety of Cherokee artists and performers, including weavers, potters, stone carvers, wood carvers, singers, dancers and storytellers.

Mountain Heritage Day 2004 featured some new participants from Cherokee – members of the Wolftown stickball team presenting a lively demonstration of the ancient Native American game for an enthusiastic crowd.

In his book “The First Americans: Then and Now,” historian William Hodge wrote that the Cherokee people often visited other villages to participate in ball contests. “The ball game was indigenous to the eastern part of North America, and it was related to present-day lacrosse, the national game of Canada,” Hodge wrote.

The object of the game, Hodge wrote, was to move a small, tightly wrapped animal-skin ball from the center of a field to the other team’s goal line. Sticks with pouches were used to carry or throw the ball, but it also could be carried any place on the body.

Today, the game’s tradition continues on the Qualla Boundary, with stickball, which is sometimes called “Indian ball,” being a featured attraction at the annual Cherokee Indian Fair.

For Mountain Heritage Day 2005, members of the Wolftown stickball team will be on hand to demonstrate the game at 11 a.m. and 1 p.m. in a field located between the festival arts and crafts midway and the University Outreach Center.

Another feature of this year’s Mountain Heritage Day will be the first performance at the festival by the Warriors of Ani Kituhwa, a dance group that is revitalizing Cherokee dances from centuries past,

Designated as official cultural ambassadors by the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians, the dancers include John Grant Jr., Daniel Ledford, John Bullet Standingdeer, Bo Taylor, Daniel Tramper, Robert Tramper, Will Tuska and Pat Smith. Their singer is Walker Calhoun, a respected Cherokee elder and recipient of several awards for his role in preserving Cherokee music and dance, including Western’s Mountain Heritage Award.

The Warriors of Ani Kituhwa will perform on the Norton Stage at Mountain Heritage Day at 2 p.m.

Western’s Mountain Heritage Center presents exhibitions and demonstrations of authentic Appalachian folks arts at each Mountain Heritage Day, and this year will present three Cherokee artists – Bernadine George, pottery; Lloyd Owl, stone carving; and Tom Hill, storytelling.