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Native American Festival tells story of Cherokees at Sycamore Shoals

June 1st, 2013 9:43 pm by Kayla Carter

Native American Festival tells story of Cherokees at Sycamore Shoals

Jeremy Ray and Blake Ricker sell Zane Hope's handmade hair and leg garders as well as a war club and bear skin.


ELIZABETHTON — Jeremy Ray and Blake Ricker said it was their first year dressing up for the annual Sycamore Shoals Native American Festival. 


With their face paint and Native American clothing on, they were sharing some history with passers-by inside the park’s fort.


Just to see what it was like, Ray said they spent the night in a Cherokee-style camp just outside the fort.


“We’ve set up a camp like they would have,” Ray said. 


Ricker said he was dressed up in honor of Native American ancestors his mother has told him about.


“I’m portraying three ancestors,” Ricker said. 


He said he was proud to have a place to come to in honor of and to share stories about his family.


Through the festival and his own research, Ricker said he has learned many new pieces of information about the culture.


“I could write a book,” Ricker said. “We just like to share what we know about the culture.”


Sycamore Shoals State Historic Area Manager Jennifer Bauer said everyone involved in creating the festival’s aesthetic hope to keep Native American traditions alive today.


“Most of the folks that are here pulling this together are here because they want to share the story,” Bauer said.


Bauer said the area’s staff get excited every year to share stories about Native Americans to people in the community and beyond. 


“There are a lot of things about this that are exciting to us,” Bauer said. “I think what we enjoy the most is being able to present an event that focuses solely on Native American culture, primarily the Cherokee, because the Cherokee were so important to the history and events that took place here at Sycamore Shoals.”


With Native American history at the forefront of the event’s appeal, Bauer said visitors can sit together in a circle and listen to the presentations.


“We want it to be an educational and hands-on event,” Bauer said. “To me, the most important part of the presentation, and it’s all equally important, but it is where the stories take place inside the circle, which is in the fort.” 


The event offers Native American flute, dance, storytelling and a blowgun demonstration, which were all showcased inside the fort.


“They usually start off with the men’s traditional dance and it’s one of the more showy dances,” Bauer said.


Having just experienced the community circle inside the fort, Erin Askew said she was invited to the festival by some friends and has never experienced it before.


“We love it,” Askew said. “We’ve been having fun. It’s something fun to do as a family.”


The Saturday morning dance and drum presentation was Leigh Murrell’s favorite part of the festival.


Murrell said she enjoyed the dancing, especially the person who was balancing at least 15 hoops while dancing.


“They got to talk to the hoop dancer and meet some of the other people dancing,” Askew said.


Bauer said there is one piece of information she hopes all visitors understand by the time they leave the festival.


“There are several things we hope people take away from this, but one of the more important things is the fact that this land that we are on today, this land that was ultimately settled by folks from England and other European countries, was Native American land,” Bauer said. “Here, the Cherokee played a big part in that story. They lived and worked with the settlers for a great period of time. As history progressed, there were conflicts between the two different cultures.” 


Despite the conflicts, Bauer said it’s important to learn how to share and come together for a common goal.


“It’s really nice to see everybody coming together and working toward a common goal and that’s to share the story of the native people here at Sycamore Shoals,” Bauer said.


The festival will continue today beginning with a Native American flute presentation at 11 a.m. and end with a Cherokee dance and drum demonstration from 2:30-4 p.m.


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