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Sycamore Shoals celebrates Cherokee culture

May 25th, 2014 3:00 pm by Entertainment Staff

Sycamore Shoals celebrates Cherokee culture

Contributed photo

For more than 20 years, Sycamore Shoals State Historic Area has offered visitors an opportunity to experience various facets of Native American culture — particularly that of the Cherokee. This year is no different.

The 24th Annual Native American Culture Festival will be held Saturday, May 31 and Sunday, June 1 at the Elizabethton park. Hours are 10 a.m. to 8 p.m., May 31 and 11 a.m. to 4 p.m., June 1. Most activities are held inside Fort Watauga. In the event of rain, however, the festivities will relocate to the Visitors Center.

This year's festival commemorates the 175th anniversary of the Cherokee Trail of Tears.

The weekend-long event will feature traditional and contemporary arts and crafts, traditional Native American song and dance, Cherokee storytelling and legends, Native American flute, Cherokee language workshops, craft demonstrations and sales.

Dancing demonstrations will include the Fancy Dance, Hoop Dance, Jingle Dance, Men's Traditional, Grass and Straight dances and, new this year, a demonstration of 18th-century Cherokee social dancing. The host of this portion of the event, Dale Cloer, makes his home in Cherokee, N.C.

This year's featured Cherokee dancers are internationally known hoop dancer Eddie Swimmer and champion powwow dancer Nikki Crisp.

Swimmer has captivated audiences around the globe with his dancing, which incorporates between 36 and 42 hoops. His accomplishments include a former World Champion Hoop Dancer title, performances in the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade in New York City and in the World Cup Soccer Tournament in Dallas, Texas, as well as choreographing the hoop dance for the Broadway show "Annie Get Your Gun."

Crisp has been performing for more than 20 years. Her other talents include traditional beadwork and authentic frybread cooking, and she will be selling her famous Indian tacos and other dishes during the festival.

The featured speaker for the 2014 festival is Dr. Michael Abram, owner of the Cherokee Heritage Museum and Gallery in Cherokee, N.C., which is in the process of relocating near Chattanooga. Abram will provide a glimpse into Cherokee history and legend through two lectures on Saturday — "The Role of Games in the Cherokee Culture" and "Traditional Cherokee Dance" — both of which will be held inside the circle of Fort Watauga. Abram has devoted his life to studying, preserving, and lecturing on Cherokee culture, and has presented at the Native American Culture Festival since its beginning.

The featured Cherokee artist for 2014 is Lloyd Carl Owle, who is known for his carved stone pipes. Owle is a member of the Eastern Band of the Cherokee Indians and has a deep love for the Cherokee cultural traditions that are interpreted through his work. Owle's sculptures can be found throughout the world in private collections and major museums.

The featured Cherokee traditional storyteller will be Freeman Owle, a noted lecturer, historian and member of the Eastern Band of Cherokee who has told stories and presented programs on Cherokee history and culture throughout the Southeast for more than 10 years.

Well-known in the Cherokee community, Owle serves on the board of directors of the Qualla Arts and Crafts Mutual and is a coordinator for the Cherokee Heritage Trails project of the Blue Ridge Heritage Initiative. He is one of the featured storytellers in the book "Living Stories of the Cherokee," and he also appears in the video documentary "Cherokee: The Principal People," which aired on public television in North Carolina, South Carolina and Kentucky.

Owle will also host a traditional evening campfire at 6:30 p.m., Saturday in the amphitheater behind Fort Watauga.
Another highlight of the 2014 festival is entertainment and demonstrations by Greeneville's Daniel Bigay. A flute maker, artist, performer and recording artist and demonstrator, Bigay has released two CDs, one of which was nominated for best flute recording at the 2005 Indian Summer Music Awards. He and his wife, Kay, are passionate about education and sharing of the Cherokee culture in the school system, at Pow-Wows and various shows and festivals.

Bigay will also have his handmade, traditional Cherokee-style flutes for sale.

Throughout the weekend, the interior of the fort will host a variety of educational demonstrations, including a children's blowgun challenge, beadwork, gourd art, pine needle basketry, stone carving, Cherokee language, wood carving, flint knapping, corn shuck dolls, native river cane flutes, pottery and a replicated Cherokee cabin from the early 19th century manned by historical re-enactors Mark and Sherry Finchum.

Just outside the fort, visitors will have the opportunity to peruse Native American arts and crafts and a Lakota Tipi exhibit, and sample ethnic Cherokee foods.

Admission is $4 per adult and $1 per child. Proceeds from the event go to Friends of Sycamore Shoals State Historic Area to support the event.

For more details or a complete schedule of events, call (423) 543-5808 or visit the website at

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