By SCOTT MCKIE B.P.
One Feather Asst. Editor
KITUWAH – “We’re still here” was the message as members of the three federally recognized Cherokee tribes gathered at Kituwah – the Mother Town of the Cherokee. Members of the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians (EBCI), Cherokee Nation, and the United Keetoowah Band of Cherokee Indians (UKB) gathered at Kituwah for the Kituwah Celebration on the evening of Friday, June 9.
Renissa McLaughlin, EBCI director of youth and adult education, served as emcee for the event and started by saying, “We welcome you home.”
“We’ve had a busy week. It’s been very busy, but it’s been very bountiful, and I feel so overwhelmed with gratitude. Most importantly, I’m grateful to the Creator for making me Cherokee.”
She noted that three buses of Cherokee language speakers from the Cherokee Nation and the UKB traveled to Cherokee for the events. “This is a big deal to have this many from our community and from Oklahoma coming home – coming home to be with us, coming home to be with their ancestors, our ancestors.”
Several other events were held during the week including a “Teach What You Know, Share What You Have” language symposium as well as a tour of Cherokee sites.
McLaughlin commented, “We stood at Cowee. With over 140 people, we made a circle on top of that mound, and we prayed, and we sang, and we cried, and we yelled – a warrior yell to let our ancestors know we’re here. We’re still here. We’re not going anywhere, and look, we brought some people back.”
Principal Chief Richard G. Sneed told the crowd, “Our connection to this land is in our DNA. We can feel it when we are here. It is a connection that is innate.”
He spoke of the sense of belonging that Cherokee people feel at Kituwah. “You know it when you go to water at this place. I always envision, in my mind’s eye, generations of Cherokee living, working, worshiping, and playing at this place. It is our home. It is our Mother Town. There would have been a true community of Cherokees living here. Community is a word I hear used more than any other amongst tribal people because being a community is also in our DNA. It is how our ancestors lived and how they thrived. They understood that it takes all of us working together to be successful. Being a community is what we must get back to. We must get back to helping one another, caring for one another in our words and our deeds.”
Chief Sneed concluded with a challenge to love, be kind, and have a grateful heart. “Allow being in this sacred place to remind you that we all have so much to be grateful for each and every day.”
The contributions and legacy of the late Garfield Axe-Long and the late TJ Holland, both EBCI tribal members, were highlighted during the event. Axe-Long, a first language Cherokee speaker, worked at New Kituwah Academy and was frequently called upon for translation work and language expertise. Holland served the EBCI as the cultural resources supervisor and did important research into many aspects of the Tribe’s history and culture.
Bo Lossiah, Kituwah Preservation and Education Program curriculum specialist, was a close friend to both. “TJ would offer any moment, any time of his day to help you. He was younger than me, but he acted wiser…when we read any of the work done by TJ Holland, it was done with great respect and honor. He was my good friend. He was my brother. I won’t ever forget him.”
Lossiah related that he was a long-time friend of Axe-Long having gone to high school with him. He said that Axe-Long was a dedicated linguist who took extensive notes and worked diligently to preserve and expand the Cherokee language and was ever-present in the community. “He was at all of these events from the first one…I miss him. We all do.”
UKB Chief Joe Bunch thanked the EBCI for its stewardship for Kituwah, and he acknowledged and expressed gratitude to former EBCI Principal Chief Joyce Dugan who was instrumental in the Tribe purchasing Kituwah during her administration. “I thank the Eastern Band for memorializing this Kituwah Mound.”
During the event, traditional Cherokee Fire Pots were given to the head of each tribe. McLaughlin noted, “In 2006, when the first Tri-Council was held and the flame was carried in, a bit of the coals was put into a handmade fire pot. The fire pot was used to bring coals from the central fire to every home.”
Friday’s event also included several exhibition stickball games by the Kolanvyi Indian Ball Team, flute playing by Matt Tooni, and singing by the Cherokee Language Repertory Choir.