(Written by Isabel del Rio and IZara). The Cherokees are original inhabitants of the American southeast region, particularly Georgia, North and South Carolina, Virginia, Kentucky, and Tennessee. However, most Cherokees were forced to move to Oklahoma in the 1800’s along the Trail of Tears, a terrible episode which killed very many Indians and broke their traditions. Different artistic manifestations changed since the necessary materials didn’t exist in the new reservations. Descendants of the Cherokee Indians, who survived this death march, still live in Oklahoma and they are currently trying to revive their crafts. Then, we will speak about traditional and modern artistic manifestations:
Traditional Cherokee art includes:
-Pipe carving: tobacco and pipe smoking had a ritual and religious importance in many tribes. Cherokee craftsmen made smaller one-piece stone pipes and ceramic pipes too.
-Rivercane baskets: basket-weaving is one of the oldest known Native American crafts. Archaeologists have found ancient Indian baskets from the Southwest that have been identified as nearly 8000 years old. However, there were multiple distinct basketry traditions in North America. Cherokee and other Southeast Indian baskets are usually from bundled pine needles or rivercane wicker.
-Gourd art: traditionally, Cherokee crafted gourd masks for storytelling. However, Cherokee mask art fell into decline when they were forced to move to Oklahoma, where their traditional mask materials were not available. Today, some artists are working to revive the tradition
-Pottery: nearly 2,000 years ago, Cherokee potters beg an using carved wooden paddles and sharp objects to stamp thin-walled, hand-built pottery with intricate cross-hatch, spiral and other designs with really artistic results.
After moving to Oklahoma, the Cherokees concentrated on other crafts like beadwork and textile arts.
-Beadwork: Native American beads were originally carved from natural materials like shells, coral, turquoise or other precious stones, copper and silver, wood, amber, ivory, and animal bones, teeth, and horns. Glass beads were not used until the colonists brought them from Europe 500 years ago, but they quickly became part of American Indian culture.
However, when the Cherokees arrived in Oklahoma they saw that the reservation was nothing but bare rocks and sand and nothing. Their culture and beadwork arts were soon forgotten, replaced by the fight for survival. They began hunting and growing crops, building homes, schools, and shops… They suffered an acculturation and some of them no longer wished to be identified as Indian. Beadwork was also forgotten but since the 1980’s, it has seen a revival, with the use of seed beads, leather backing for pendants and traditional designs and motifs: flowers, animals, geometric symbols and leathers.
-Textile arts: leather-trimmed, stamped or stitched fabrics, lots of color and symbolism. Textile arts are today peaked.
Those who are at the forefront of teaching our culture are our artists and crafts people. People like Martha Berry, Lena Blackbird, Anna Mitchell, Knokovtee Scott, Bill Glass, Talmadge Davis, Mary Adair, and many others memorialize and teach our culture and traditional arts. But as each of them know and would tell you, their Cherokee projects must be historically accurate and culturally true; otherwise, they have compromised the value of their work.
~Excerpt from “Let Us Build One Fire” – 2002 State of the Nation Report, by Cherokee Nation Principal Chief Chadwick “Corntassel” Smith
Video: Cherokee dance