PARK HILL, Okla. -- The Echota Ceremonial Ground operates with the assistance of the Cherokee Nation and with the assistance of its members and other ceremonial grounds in the area.

The ceremonial ground is on CN land near the Cherokee Heritage Center. It moved to Park Hill in 2001 from Adair County.

"It (land) was provided by the (Tribal) Council for the relocation of our fire. We were losing the property where we were at, but before we did we started looking for a new home, and the Council offered several pieces of property and we chose that one for our use," Echota Ceremonial Ground leader David Comingdeer said. "Since then we've had a healthy land-use agreement with the Tribal Council and our chiefs."

The Echota Ceremonial Ground's history is older than the state's, Comingdeer said. It began near the Peavine Community in Adair County and later moved to Coon Mountain, also in Adair County. There the ground struggled as its leadership aged or became ill until the ground was turned over to Comingdeer, who was serving as second chief, in 2002.

"It's a struggle to keep the ground going, but it's very rewarding at the same time," he said.

A benefit stomp dance will be held for the Echota Ceremonial Ground from 7 p.m. to midnight on Feb. 7 at the Tahlequah Community Building located at 908 S. College Ave. Members from all ceremonial grounds are welcome for fellowship and fundraising for improvements to the ground. The emcee will be Opv Mack.

Raffles, cake walks, an auction and drawings for grocery baskets will be a part of the fundraiser. Also, a concession stand will be available for guests.

Comingdeer said some maintenance needs to be done to the ceremonial ground and he wants to update the restrooms available to members and guests.

"There are so many people who come out there. We have primitive restrooms, and we just want to improve things a little bit for our visitors and make it more comfortable when they come," he said.

Comingdeer said he's proud that the Echota Ceremonial Ground is still a member of the "Four Mothers' Society." He said it is the only Cherokee ground that is still a member of the more than 100-year-old society.

The society began because Cherokee ceremonial people, along with Muscogee (Creek) ceremonial people, opposed the allotment of the tribal lands during the Dawes Commission allotment period in the late 1800s and early 1900s. The people feared it would open up "surplus lands" to white settlement, which did occur.

He said several Muscogee (Creek) ceremonial grounds are still part of the "Four Mothers' Society." At the ceremonial grounds stomp dances, stickball games, meetings and ceremonies are held.

"My ancestors from that ground (Echota) and the other core families from that ground, allied with the Creeks," he said. "To this day, when they have meetings in the Creek Nation, I get invited to meet with the Creek ceremonial chiefs to discuss different issues. The Creeks still acknowledge us as part of the alliance."

Comingdeer said he expects to receive support at the benefit stomp dance from Muscogee (Creek) ceremonial grounds and local Cherokee groups. He said members of the Echota Ceremonial Ground also support the Muscogee (Creek) grounds with their fundraisers and events.

"We are a Cherokee community, and we embody the Cherokee ceremonial culture. We work hard to perpetuate, nor preserve, our ceremonial values and ceremonial ways the way they were passed down to us," he said. "That's what makes us a tribe. It's not enterprises or businesses or whatnot. You can take all that away as long as we still have our ceremonial ground and our language and our ceremonial beliefs, we're still a tribe. That's what gives us our federal recognition...so it's important that we uphold that."

Members of the Echota Ceremonial Ground have five dance meetings during the spring and summer with the first dance in April.

For more information about the benefit stomp dance, call Comingdeer at 918-822-2302.