Gourd dancers proud to honor culture

BY CHAD HUNTER
Reporter
08/24/2020 12:30 PM
Video Frame selected by Cherokee Phoenix
Main Cherokee Phoenix
Gourd dancers Calvin Pidgeon, a Cherokee Nation citizen, front, and Apache Tribe citizen Daniel Martinez take part in a gourd dance prior to the 2019 Cherokee National Holiday intertribal powwow. CHAD HUNTER/CHEROKEE PHOENIX
TAHLEQUAH – Resurrected by the Kiowa decades ago, the gourd dance is a part of tribal traditions across Oklahoma and beyond with devoted dancers.

“It’s a gentleman’s dance,” said dancer Daniel Martinez, an Apache Tribe citizen and U.S. Marine Corps veteran from San Carlos, Arizona. “It’s how we honor the elders and other veterans, as well. It’s really sacred and it’s good.”

Martinez and others took part in last year’s gourd dance that preceded the intertribal powwow at the Cherokee National Holiday.

“The Kiowa people invented the gourd dance, so it’s kind of trickled off to other tribes,” Martinez said. “It’s really great to do it, to honor the culture, honor our veterans and pray to the Creator. You just get out there and enjoy yourself. We’re dancing. We’re praying. Usually you’ll see a guy with eagle feathers out there praying, and we’re out there stomping the grass down. He’s blessing the grounds and we’re preparing the grounds for the powwow.”

The COVID-19 pandemic has impacted events throughout the Cherokee Nation, including this year’s Cherokee National Holiday. Many aspects of the holiday will be virtual, including the popular – and spectator-heavy – powwow at the Cherokee Cultural Grounds, which is typically preceded by a gourd dance.

“We’re not using the powwow grounds for anything this year,” Austin Patton, holiday coordinator, said.

Last year’s event featured local gourd dancers from the Cherokee Gourd Society and others who traveled from other parts of the country such as Martinez and CN citizen Calvin Pidgeon, of River Oaks, Texas.

“These guys, they’ve danced all over the country, some of them,” Pidgeon said of his peers. “They prepare this out here so when they do the grand entry (powwow), it’s ready for them. A lot of guys are veterans. But it’s not just a veterans’ dance. It’s actually a warriors’ dance.”

The gourd dance music is heavy with drums.

“You can’t have a dance without a drum,” Pidgeon said. “It’s sort of like you commune in there. That drum, it draws you.”

Gourd dance accoutrements include the gourd rattle, which is a small tin or silver cylinder filled with beads on a beaded handle topped with horsehair; red and blue slash draped around the neck and sometimes decorated with ribbons earned in military service; and a velvet-like sash worn around the waist and draped to the knees, beaded on its fringes.

“Since they made me a gourd dancer, my son is a gourd dancer, so that would make my grandkids, the boys, it would make them gourd dancers,” Pidgeon said. “It stays in the family.”

Today, many tribes have gourd dance societies and perform the dance at powwows. Some believe the dance originated in the 1700s. According to historians, it disappeared in the 1930s, but was revived around 1957-58 in Carnegie by Kiowa veterans of World War II and the Korean War.

Typically, dancers are male veterans of war, former military personnel or others who have achieved distinction.

Click here to watch the video on our YouTube channel.
About the Author
Chad Hunter has spent more than two decades in the newspaper industry as a reporter and editor in Arkansas, Oklahoma and his home state of Missouri. He began working for the Cherokee Phoenix in late  ...
chad-hunter@cherokee.org • 918-453-5269
Chad Hunter has spent more than two decades in the newspaper industry as a reporter and editor in Arkansas, Oklahoma and his home state of Missouri. He began working for the Cherokee Phoenix in late ...

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