Chief Grey Elk was making his way around after smudging an area where members of the tribe could bring ashes of their loved ones and spread those ashes on sacred tribal ground. Chief Grey Elk is a nice, genuine man who took the time to regale us with some interesting stories of the past year.
He told about how much the eagle means to the tribe and their sacred history. Of course, there is a law in place where it is illegal to own eagle feathers. But he told us of a new license you can get to allow you to retain the eagle feather in your possession. Before you call PETA, they are not killing eagles for their feathers, it just allows them to keep the sacred feathers.
He also informed us the tribe is finally at a place where they can submit an application for federal government recognition. This recognition is a huge stepping stone for the tribe, and if all goes according to plan, we could be celebrating federal recognition before the 2015 Pow Wow.
The buildup was in full force for the Grand Entry, Flag Song and Intertribal Dancing which marks the opening for the day of the Pow Wow. In the background soothing music played with flutes surrounded, us which felt fitting as the participants of the opening ceremony were busy putting on their regalia. The gourd dancers would soon be filling the sacred circle, blessed earlier via smudging and chanting by Chief Grey Elk. The gourd dancers represent the warriors of the tribe and a moment when they can honor our American Veterans.
The Indian heritage within me started feeling completely at home, and I could feel a veil overcome me which felt calming. The only other thing I can compare it to is the feeling I used to get when I meditated daily many years ago.
Many interesting stories were told, and I wish I had the foresight to have had a recorder out to capture these stories. One very touching one was of a woman and her lifelong friend who was not able to be here today due to being in the final stages of her life. The story was about how she received her “grown-up” name ten years ago. Her childhood name was Two Shoes (she jokingly states “more like bare feet” as she claims to have not liked to wear shoes as a child). Ironically, she stood telling me this story in her bare feet. Her Native American name is Calm Spirit.
Her friend, who was not able to make it, said that many years ago she had a dream where the Chief had given her the name “Autumn Leaves.” When Calm Spirit told the Chief about this, he quickly became very uncomfortable with it. When questioned about it, the Chief explained that the name she had dreamed about meant “crossing over.” He felt given the state her friend was in it would not be appropriate, but Calm Spirit told him that she would love it since they were not afraid of death. Upon hearing this, the Chief decided to give her the name Autumn Leaves.
Since Autumn Leaves was not able to be here and her friend, Calm Spirit, was celebrating the 10th year of being given her adult Native American Indian name, she asked that her friend come in memory of her. Plus, she wanted her to bring her a t-shirt back.
The dancing and singing continued on throughout the day. One of the highlights was getting to talk with Janice Smith, one of the tribes most treasured medicine women who made the trek down here from Aurora, Colorado. She is a sweet lady and an ardent lover of animals.
I remember talking with her last year about some eagles flying in the area, and she had stated they come every year to welcome the Cherokees. It was fascinating. Even more exciting is when I saw them today flying around. I spoke with the Medicine Woman about it, and she stated that earlier in the day, the two adults were flying around and then disappeared for a few seconds and then returned with two younger eagles. She was excited by this as she had never seen an adult pair of eagles have more than one young eagle survive. As she told the story, she animatedly told about how the parent eagles were showing the younger ones how to dive and search for food.
This is our second year coming the Pow Wow, and I must say what I treasure most is the time spent with our family, as we try and get as many of them as we can to come. The second is speaking with Janice, the medicine woman. There is so much knowledge and insight to gain in a conversation with the medicine woman.
So the Pow Wow came to an end for the night, and we returned to our motel. I still remain in thoughtful reflection of all that has happened today. I look forward to coming back next year as well as the encouragement that the long fought battle for federal recognition for the Northern Cherokee Nation Tribe could be coming to a definitive and positive end.
I will continue to fight for equality in all aspects of my life, but today was about reconnecting with the heritage and traditions of days long gone, but I stand hopeful the next generations will continue on the fight, to continue to want to learn about the mystic and tribal traditions.
Have a peaceful night!
Johnny Bryan Ward