You’ve heard it before: “My great-grandmother/grandfather/long-lost aunt on my mother’s side was a full-blood Cherokee.” People like to claim native heritage, though few could actually prove it in court.
The same could be said of some cultural-heritage festivals. They claim to represent this or that cultural group, but may include craftspeople and session leaders who are anything but representative of the featured group.
You won’t have to go looking for the “Made in China” sticker on any of the arts and crafts available at Cherokee Heritage Weekend, however. A part of the Swannanoa Gathering for four years running, the event doesn’t just feature Cherokee-made goods; it offers workshops in which people can learn to create these things. And, to address the issue of authenticity, the folks in Swannanoa have teamed up with the Museum of the Cherokee Indian to make sure the weekend is led by actual Cherokees.
Reuben Teesatuskie and his brother, Richard, will be among the Weekend’s crafters/presenters, teaching a workshop on Cherokee medicine and selling their work.
“We make traditional Cherokee masks — we carve animals and men, not abstract stuff,” explains Reuben. “We’re traditional people — full-bloods,” he adds.
The Teesatuskie brothers own and run Full Blood Indian Traders in Cherokee, N.C. “We buy strictly from Native American people — not wannabes,” says Teesatuskie. “We’re strong on native people.”
Teesatuskie says he and his brother like Cherokee Heritage Weekend “because [it] uses actual Cherokees. So many times, people want to promote Cherokees, then they hire non-Indians to do it. [Cherokee Heritage Weekend] is Cherokee people telling Cherokee stories and doing Cherokee things.”
If you’re concerned about the authenticity of an event purporting to represent Native American culture, there’s one thing you can check into, says Barbara Duncan, education director at the Museum of the Cherokee Indian and coordinator of Cherokee Heritage Weekend. “The simplest way is to ask performers/craftspeople if they are enrolled members of a federally recognized tribe,” says Duncan, who is white.
“I really encourage the public to seek out people who are members of tribes,” she says. “They’ve maintained their traditions and struggled to stay on their land. They really have a lot to offer.”
Among the offerings at this year’s event are workshops in Cherokee language, river-cane flute making and performance, dance, carving, pottery, and basket making, the last program led by Betty Maney for the fourth year.
Maney says she does the Weekend both as a means to sell her baskets and to further people’s knowledge of real Cherokee culture. “It gives us an opportunity to get out there, not just for business but for our local people,” she explains.
“I learned basket weaving from my mother — she was my mentor and my teacher,” adds Maney. In her own workshop, Maney doesn’t sacrifice any step of basket building in order to expedite a finished product. “I start with identifying the white oak and the natural dyes: bloodroot, butternut and walnut. I show [participants] what [these things] are, how to gather [them], when it’s time to dye the materials, and how to do it,” she says.
“We hate destroying a tree,” Maney emphasizes, “so we go around to clearcuts and ask people for the trees they are cutting down.”
Though she initially learned basket making “as a way to make extra money, now it’s an art for me,” notes Maney. And deciding where and when to share that art has apparently become part of her creative process.
“I got involved [with Cherokee Heritage Weekend] because the Cherokee Museum is involved in it, and they’re always so wonderful about showcasing Cherokee artists.”
Cherokee Heritage Weekend will be held Friday, June 20 through Sunday, June 22 at Warren Wilson College as part of the Swannanoa Gathering, a series of weekly music and folk-heritage workshops lasting through August. Workshop and session leaders include: Betty Maney, basket making; Melissa Maney, pottery; Garfield Long Jr., Cherokee history and culture; Driver Pheasant, storytelling; Shirley Oswalt, the Cherokee language; Davy Arch, carving; Bo Taylor, dance; Eddie Bushyhead, river-cane flute making and playing; Walker Calhoun, blowgun and dart making (with his son Danny). Other performers include the Raven Rock Dancers, the Cherokee Children’s Dancers, the Alfred Welch Family, the Long Family Singers, Lloyd Arneach and Jerry Wolfe. For more information, visit www.swangathering.com or call 298-3434.