Cherokee visitors share their culture with students
Sonny Ledford and Michael Crowe spoke to fifth-grade students at Southside Elementary School on Friday, April 15, about the culture, traditions and history of their people - the Cherokee. As cultural ambassadors for the Eastern Band of the Cherokee Indians, Ledford and Crowe share their people's story with students in schools and universities, and during programs at festivals and other events across the country. Ledford and Crowe began last Friday morning's program by greeting students in their native language before talking about the "Trail of Tears" - a period in history when Cherokees and other Native American tribes were forced from their homes in the southeast United States after President Andrew Jackson signed the Indian Removal Act of 1830. Ledford told students, who recently completed writing pieces on the Trail of Tears, about how his people remember their forced removal to Oklahoma as the "trail where they cried" because "a lot of our people died along that way. Some were buried. Some weren't." In the years after their forced removal, Cherokees, including his parents, weren't allowed to speak their native language in school, he said. "They were trying to make us quit being Cherokees and be like them," Ledford said. He told students that his parents and other Cherokees did not stop speaking their native language. By choosing to continue speaking their language, Ledford and others can share the Cherokee culture with school groups and others. "We love doing this," said Ledford. "It's something that's an honor to be able to do," he said. At Southside Elementary, Ledford and Crowe explained the workmanship and natural materials used by Cherokees in their basket-weaving and pottery-making. They also talked about how their people fashioned tomahawks and war clubs, as well as bows and arrows. Earlier, Ledford discussed commonly held misconceptions and stereotypes about Cherokee Indians and other Native American tribes, which were perpetuated by old black-and-white westerns on television. "We were really a non-warring tribe," said Ledford. "We started fighting a lot after the Europeans came and they would give us treaties to sign," which they did not honor. Also, Cherokees did most of their traveling on foot, not horseback, he said. And they didn't wear lots of beads or large headdresses. And while many identify his people as Indians or Native Americans, Ledford told Southside students, ".If you see one of us, call us Cherokee." Crowe led the students in a traditional friendship dance to close the program, which began with Vice Chief Richard Sneed telling students that about 7,000 Cherokee Indians live in Cherokee, N.C. He said their government has an executive branch and legislative body, a 12-member tribal council. Ledford and Crowe are cultural ambassadors for the Warriors of AniKituhwa, sponsored by the Museum of the Cherokee Indian. Located in Cherokee, N.C., the museum preserves and perpetuates the history, culture and stories of the Cherokee, according to its mission statement on the www.cherokeemuseum.org website.