“Some estimates put the percentage of people in Appalachia with native blood as high as 92 percent
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Kentucky’s rich Native American cultural heritage
August 3rd, 2010
SPECIAL FEATURE LENGTH ARTICLE by Kathy Witt “Kentucky has a rich Native American presence,” says musician Sarah Elizabeth Burkey, a Native American who lives in Kevil. “And it is not just in the history of the land and what happened here hundreds of years ago. It is alive and well in the everyday lives of people of the Commonwealth.”
Sierra Mullins of the Lumbee Tribe of North Carolina dances at a Kentucky Native American Heritage Museum Benefit Powwow
Native American Heritage Month is marked in November in Kentucky – but several events including powwows will have unfolded beforehand in celebration of the contributions Native Americans have made to the state’s rich cultural heritage.
The events, which combine education and hands-on activities like tomahawk throwing, bow and arrow and blow gun shooting and Indian dancing and drumming, help raise awareness about and appreciation of Native American culture and play an important role in preserving Kentucky’s Native American traditions.
“Some estimates put the percentage of people in Appalachia with native blood as high as 92 percent,” says Kenneth Phillips, a Cherokee from Corbin. “The Cherokee Trail of Tears went through the southern half of Kentucky, during which many of our ancestors slipped away and lived as white people while hiding their ancestry due to fear of being removed to the reservation. Much of what we call folk art, folk music and folkways today is actually Native American originally and has been handed down by these native ancestors who have been forgotten.”
“We want to educate the public, especially the children, about true Native American culture and keep it alive – not the Hollywood stereotype,” adds Jan Quigg, whose ancestors were Cherokee. Jan and her husband Dan organize the powwow in Richmond that takes place at Battlefield Park.
Glenda McGill agrees that the events cater to kids. McGill, whose ancestry tapestry includes Cherokee, Shawnee, Delaware, Choctaw, Chickasaw, Scotch-Irish and French, helps organize the All Nations at Westport event each year. Two kid favorites are the candy dance and the potato dance. The former is like the cakewalk at so many fairs and festivals but with a candy grab when the music stops; the latter is reminiscent of that old childhood party game of pass the potato – only with two kids holding the potato between their noses as they dance in a circle.
A highlight of the Native American Heritage Museum Benefit Powwow, held in early September in Corbin, is an appearance by Emerson Begay, a well-known traditional Navajo dancer and artist, who will be Head Man Dancer. Another is the mobile museum that travels the state with its collection of war clubs, smoking pipes, arrows, jewelry and fire starter kit, among other artifacts. The mission of the museum is to teach about the Eastern Woodland Tribes – Cherokee, Shawnee, Mohawk and Creek are the major tribes represented – that inhabited this region when Europeans arrived