Pow Wow

Wilson Spotted Bird of Oklahoma participates in Intertribal Dancing Saturday afternoon at the 10th annual The Echota Cherokee Powwow at Sportsmans Lake Park, which continues today. Gates open at 9 a.m.

In the old days, when some Native American tribes held ceremonies or feasts, it was traditional to start with a grass dance, which served two purposes.

First and foremost, it blessed the land, but also, it flattened the grass for the ceremony as dancers slowly circled the area to steady a drum beat.

While the grass was well-mowed at Sportsmans Lake Park Saturday, it didn't stop members of the Echota Cherokee Tribe of Alabama from performing a traditional grass dance, and many other dances.

"That was back in the day, before they had weedeaters and sling blades," said Echota Cherokee member Darrell Childers of Eva, who admits there are several other interpretations of the grass dance.

In addition to the Echota, Childers is also a member of the White Horse Singers, just one of the musical groups performing at the 10th annual pow wow.

The event featured food, arts and crafts, story telling and the main event, traditional dancing, singing and drumming.

Dancers came from all over the state and the Southeast to participate.

According to 13-year-old dancer Zachery Bell, it can take up to two years to learn a single dance.

"If you have someone to teach you, it's faster, but I mostly learned on my own."

In addition to his dance, Zachery said it takes many hours to craft their dance regalia. His sequin-studded regalia was a gift from a friend.

After participating in the men's fancy dance, Donald Stalk Wolf Coleman, explained how Native American names are derived.

According to Coleman, while Cherokee tradition says the eldest man or woman in the tribe names all children when they are born, it is more common today for tribe members to pick their own name.

In either case, the name is meant to describe the tribe member.

His own name, Stalk Wolf, comes from his love of hunting and tracking. His son's name, Hunter Snake Eyes, came from an incident when he spotted a snake and warned his father before it bit him.

"He saved my life," Coleman said.

According to Chief Charlotte Hallmark, all funds raised during the pow wow go to benefit the tribe. Funds come from the $5 admission fee, which is split with the park. They also come from renting booth space.

"We are just delighted with the turn out this year, especially since it's so hot out today," she said. "We always try to get stuff here that people don't see every day."

The pow wow continues at Sportsmans Lake Park today, beginning at 9 a.m.

Hallmark said the Echota Cherokee Tribe of Alabama is made up of a group of Cherokees who incorporated in 1984 with the passage of the Davis Strong Act.

The word Echota means "rising from the ashes," a reference to the former Cherokee capital of Echota, Ga.

That city took its name from the original Chota (Cherokee Town), the first Cherokee capital, which was located near present-day Monroe, Tenn.

While Chota grew to have more than 500 residents, earning the name "metropolis," on maps, it was burned by colonial forces during the American Revolution in 1780.

Though the city was rebuilt, it never regained its former strength, and most of its members were scattered.

Eventually, they formed another capital, New Echota, near their hunting grounds in Georgia.

The Cherokee stayed there until 1838, when they were relocated to the western U.S. in what is commonly called The Trail of Tears.

According to Hallmark, many of the present-day Echota Cherokee of Alabama tribe members descended from people who either returned to the East after their removal or hid in the area for years, hiding their true identities to avoid removal.

Many claimed to be "Black Dutch" to assimilate in white society. While they managed to stay closer to their original homes, much of their language and customs have been lost.

The Echota Cherokee of Alabama have more than 32,000 tribal members across the state and nation.

"We choose to gather to preserve our culture and learn the old ways," Hallmark said.

To contact the Echota Cherokee Tribe of Alabama, call 734-7337.

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