When regional Native American pow wows convene in Chattanooga’s First Tennessee Pavilion, you’ll find me there, too. This year, the gathering seemed larger and more energetic than ever. I come to admire the colorful dress, hear the drum circle, and watch the dancing. The booths full of Native American arts and crafts are irresistible and my drawers are full of jewelry purchased there. I also come for the honor guard, a promenade of Native American veterans, police, firemen, and war mothers.
There is much beauty to celebrate in Native American art, but that it’s a struggle to create given the devastating historical events surrounding Native Americans. The Cherokee Nation had a culture that thrived for almost 1,000 years in the Southeastern United States: in Georgia, Tennessee, North and South Carolina, and parts of Kentucky and Alabama. Life of the traditional Cherokee changed drastically with European expansion and cession of Cherokee lands to the colonies in exchange for trade goods. Migration from the original Cherokee Nation began in the early 1800s as Cherokees wary of white encroachment moved west and settled in other areas of the country’s vast frontier. Their eventual removal by force prompts the question of whether there is any Cherokee cultural presence remaining in the Southeast.
This tale takes you into the heart of the Native American so you can feel as he does about the natural world. The Native American has followed closely the lives of the forest animals, especially the wolves who travel in packs, live in community with other wolves, and have great respect toward the older wolves. It is said that wolves are the eyes and the ears of the forest and in this story, the wolf is the hero and man is the intruder. My storytelling shares the Native American respect for our environment and appreciation for these woodland creatures who are unable to speak for themselves.
Beginning in colonial America, the myth of the drunken Indian persisted throughout the 19th and early 20th centuries. The current, more “enlightened,” explanation for the high incidence of alcoholism among Native Americans, concludes that since they were exposed to alcohol for only the past few hundred years, they were genetically unprepared and, therefore, have little genetic “immunity.” American Native people, therefore, have little tolerance for alcohol, become intoxicated on small amounts, and, consequently, experience high rates of alcoholism. This belief, like many others concerning Native American culture, adds to the stereotype of genetic inferiority that continues to influence white American thinking.