Cherokee Holiday Powwow brings families, traditions together
TAHLEQUAH, Okla. – After a year of preparation, organizers and dancers celebrated and honored traditions on Sept. 1-2 at the Cherokee Cultural Grounds in the annual Cherokee National Holiday Powwow.
“This just keeps to be getting a bigger powwow,” Rob Daugherty, powwow head staff emcee, said. “It just doesn’t happen overnight, you build it. Now this is a recognized powwow. We’ve often heard, I have often heard, we have one of the best dance arenas around.”
The powwow began with a gourd dance and concluded in the late night hours on Sept. 2, inviting toddlers, teens, adults and elders to participate.
Daugherty said the powwow is the culmination of a year’s worth of work, and when one powwow concludes the staff begins preparing for next year’s.
“The planning should be pretty quick. So right after you finish one you should be getting ready for the next year to secure your head staff and start working on every other phase of putting on a powwow. They’re one, two, three years booked in advance,” he said.
Daugherty has emceed powwows for nearly 36 years, including the Cherokee National Holiday Powwow for the past four years. His duties include coordinating with the other head staff members, keeping the powwow’s flow going and informing spectators of powwow etiquette.
He said while powwows are not historically Cherokee culture, it hasn’t prevented Cherokee people from hosting or participating.
“We all know that Cherokees don’t powwow,” he said. “Ours is more the Southeast culture, the stomp dance culture. A lot of the dancers that you see that are Cherokee that have been introduced to the ways of the Plains Southern or Northern Plains style of powwow. They’ve either been taken in by a family or they’re married into that family or sometimes simply taking that way. We adapt and adopt.”
Cherokee Nation citizen Lindsey Ketcher-Williams, who was part of the head staff, said Tribal Councilor Joe Byrd asked her to serve as the head lady dancer, calling it “an honor.”
“It’s a huge honor to bring in the whole powwow, all the other dancers and such and be in that lead. I’m the first lady out into the arena and then all the other women will follow me,” she said.
Ketcher-Williams began dancing at an early age and learned from friends and family. Now that she has her own family, she finds it more important than ever to carry on the tradition.
“I kind of tapered off after I started college, but then I started a new family, and now that my son is old enough to travel I’ve started back pretty regularly dancing,” she said. “A lot of powwow people, we call each other brothers and sisters because we see each other pretty much every weekend if we’re consistently dancing.”
Powwow spectators can count on seeing Ketcher-Williams annually in her signature red beadwork regalia, which signifies her Wolf Clan and holds sentimental value.
“My regalia was beaded by my aunt, and she’s no longer here so I think that’s extra special,” she said. “When somebody has either beaded (regalia) for me or has given it to me, whether it’s just a lapel pin or something like that, I wear that for them. If they’re no longer with me then I feel that I’m dancing for them since they are no longer here to do so.”
Family tradition and sentimental value are also behind the red- and flower-beaded regalia of CN citizen Kitana Foreman.
“I didn’t make my dress,” she said. “My mom made my dress, and I think she took about three weeks to do it and I helped her put on the jingles and we put it on together. It’s like family traditions passed down.”
Foreman, who began dancing at age 8, does traditional and jingle dress dancing at the powwow.
“We take this very sacred,” she said. “The jingles, when they clap, that’s just for the healing when we dance, when we move our feet. Whenever we dance, we dance for, I guess for my family’s healing and for any friends and family, the healing of our people.”
The inter-tribal nature of the annual powwow also draws in dancers from other parts of the country, including Starr Morales, an Ojibwe from southern California.
She participated in the Jingle dance. She said with her husband Steven Morales being a Cherokee Color Guard member her participation at the event was special for her family.
“This is my first time here at the Cherokee (National) Holiday, and I’ve heard a lot about it from other family. But now with my husband being part of it, I have to be here, but I’m really excited,” Starr said. “I’m very happy to be here amongst these beautiful people and these beautiful grounds.”
Dancers competed for more than $35,000 in prize money in various categories. The men’s dance categories consisted of Southern Straight, Northern Traditional, Fancy Grass and the Chicken dances. The women’s dance categories consisted of Cloth, Southern Buckskin, Northern Traditional, Fancy, Jingle and the Cherokee Tear Dress dances.