Friday, November 28, 2008

With a little patience, some old-fangled equipment, and a lot of yarn,
Lucille Hair has become a living legend for Cherokee weavers.

It's just before 11 a.m. on a Thursday, and the Cherokee weavers are a little slow getting started. They're leaning back in their chairs, sipping at Mountain Dews, savoring the sunlight that pours through the tall, open windows that surround their spacious shop. A wood stove crackles away in a corner.

The Cherokee weavers could be working, making a colorful assortment of blankets, rugs, and whatnot -but they're not. They just don't feel like it. "Every day, we act like we've never seen each other," said Wynona Dreadfulwater. "We just sit around this table and talk. Then again, we're a little on the lazy side." "We're our own boss," said Lucille Hair. "We do what we want to do." And who's to argue? Living history, and living legends, are hard to find. They should do as they like.

Hair, 85, has been weaving away in this faded, rickety building off State Highway 10 almost every day for the past 53 years. At some point in there she taught the art to Dreadfulwater, her daughter, and a little while later to her granddaughter, Shirlene Proctor. Of her 47 offspring (including two great-grandchildren), they're the only ones carrying on a legacy of Cherokee weavers that Hair started in 1949.

Though others have come, they've also gone. Weaving isn't for everyone, it seems. "People think it's easy," said Dreadfulwater. "But it's not easy. We've had a lot of people start blankets that we've had to finish." "It's a lot of work, but it's not hard work," said Hair. "I guess I just like to weave."

Bill Ames, an instructor at Sequoyah High School, taught Hair and nine other Cherokee women the art of weaving. They made blankets, mostly, and Ames helped the women sell their wares. It was a way to make a money, at a time when very few women worked.

Ames also managed to talk the U.S. government out of an old barracks building at Camp Gruber, moved it to Briggs, and renovated it with the help of some of his students. He even got a steal on some used looms from the Chilocco Indian school, north of Ponca City.

"At one time, there were six looms in here, but people started taking them. They'd put them in their houses," said Hair. She shrugs: "Who knows where they are now."

When Ames left to take a job on a reservation in Montana, he gave the weaving ladies one last directive.
"He said, 'keep it going, now,'" said Hair. "He wanted us to teach people who wanted to learn."

Of the original six looms, only three remain, their hardwood frames polished smooth by a lifetime of busy hands. Hair shows them off, proudly. She knows them well, as well as she knows any of her children. They're beautiful antiques, dinosaurs of the early industrial age: Wires and pedals and giant weights to keep the fabric taught, a spindle of yarn as big as a filing cabinet. Everything on a loom seems to move, and when they're all going, they can create a cacophony.

"You have to like doing it," Hair said. "If you don't like it, you're not going to learn. There are people who learn how, but they quit. Then they forget how it's done."

She gives a quick tutorial on the process of weaving. After loading 20 spools of yarn for the body of a blanket, and 10 spools for a border, they wind them on a giant warp-wheel. That wheel is then placed on the loom, the yarn threaded, and the actual weaving process begins.

She demonstrates the sequence of pushing the pedals that create different types of weave: straight, herringbone, diamond, twill. "One, two, three, four, then three, three, four, then one, three, four ... it's easy to get confused, and lose your place," she said. "You get distracted." A blanket can take days to finish, and usually sells for around $100.

"You can't make a living off it," said Hair. "There's no place to sell them, really."

There's no sign outside the building. The weavers get business through word-of-mouth, and from orders taken at the Cherokee Heritage Center. Their latest coup was selling three blankets to Crystal Gayle, at the recent Cherokee Medal of Honor awards, where Hair was an honoree.

"She said she'd buy some more," said Dreadfulwater. "She gave us her phone number in Nashville, and mom's going to give her a call."

Hair also donates her blankets to charitable causes. One was raffled to raise funds to send the Cherokee Children's Choir - of which one of her grandsons is a part - to Ground Zero in New York City.

Despite her age, Hair gets around like a woman who still has at least a few more blankets in mind. After going through triple-bypass surgery a few years ago, she was back working on the loom in no time.

"Two weeks later she was out pulling weeds in the garden," said Dreadfulwater. "I said, 'get back on the porch!' but she wouldn't listen. She doesn't listen."

Which may all be a part of Hair's legacy. She doesn't have to listen, and she does what she likes. After all, she's a living legend, living out a part of history.

©Tahlequah Daily Press 2002

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Cherokee National Youth Choir Nominated for Native American Music Awards

The 2008-09 Cherokee National Youth ChoirThe 2008-09 Cherokee National Youth Choir

TAHLEQUAH, OK — Celebrating the Cherokee language in song, the Cherokee National Youth Choir has been nominated for two Native American Music Awards (NAMMY). The group is nominated in the “Best Gospel/Inspirational Recording” and “Best Historical Recording” categories, for its latest CD, Precious Memories.

“This has been a busy year for the choir and these NAMMY nominations make us forget all the hard work,” said Mary Kay Henderson, Choir Director. “It’s very exciting to be nominated by your peers.”

According to the organization, the Native American Music Association and Awards have nominated approximately 1,500 artists and honored 300 winners over the past decade. The awards ceremony will take place on Saturday, October 4, at the Seneca Entertainment Center in the Seneca Casino and Hotel in Niagara Falls, New York. This year artists are nominated in 30 different music categories.

“These nominations throughout our 30 music categories reflect a diverse and impressive range of new and established talent from our community,” said Ellen Bello, Awards President. “We are looking forward to a spectacular Awards celebration running the full spectrum of today’s most popular contemporary and traditional Native American music initiatives.”

Fans of the Cherokee National Youth Choir and other Native American musicians can vote online for their favorite artists at or Voting will end on Saturday, October 4, the day of the awards ceremony.

The Cherokee National Youth Choir performs traditional Cherokee songs in the Cherokee language. The Cherokee National Youth Choir came into existence from the vision of Principal Chief Chad Smith, who saw it as a way to keep children involved in the Cherokee language and culture. They function as an important symbol to the world, demonstrating that Cherokee language and culture continues to thrive in modern society.

Since being founded in 2000, the group has recorded six CDs, including Voices of the Creator’s Children, featuring two-time Grammy® Award winner Rita Coolidge, which garnered two Native American Music Awards (NAMMY) nominations and a win for “Best Gospel Christian Recording” in 2002. In total, the group has received four NAMMYs. Precious Memories, an acapella compilation, was released in 2007.

The Youth Choir acts as ambassadors for the Cherokee Nation, their beautiful voices showing the strength of the Cherokee Nation and its culture more than 160 years after the Cherokees’ forced removal from its eastern homelands. The goal of the choir is to increase awareness of Cherokee culture both within the Cherokee Nation as well as among the dominant culture.

Through the success of the group, interest in the Cherokee language has been rekindled among young people throughout the Cherokee Nation. Several area schools now use the CDs as learning tools, and other schools are interested in developing curriculum to teach Cherokee language and music. Principal Chief Smith and Deputy Principal Chief Joe Grayson, Jr. have pledged to make preserving language and culture a priority at the Cherokee Nation, and the success of the Cherokee National Youth Choir has helped spark a cultural renaissance among the Cherokee people.

For more information about the Cherokee National Youth Choir, contact Mary Kay Henderson at (918) 478-4473 or Kathy Sierra at (918) 453-5638.

Wednesday, August 06, 2008

Cherokee Little People

The Little People of the Cherokee are a race of Spirits who live in rock caves on the mountain side. They are little fellows and ladies reaching almost to your knees. They are well shaped and handsome, and their hair so long it almost touches the ground. They are very helpful, kind-hearted, and great wonder workers. They love music and spend most of their time drumming, singing, and dancing. They have a very gentle nature, but do not like to be disturbed.

Sometimes their drums are heard in lonely places in the mountains, but it is not safe to follow it, for they do not like to be disturbed at home, and they will throw a spell over the stranger so that he is bewildered and loses his way, and even if he does at last get back to the settlement he is like one dazed ever after. Sometimes, also, they come near a house at night and the people inside hear them talking, but they must not go out, and in the morning they find the corn gathered or the field cleared as if a whole force of men had been at work. If anyone should go out to watch, he would die.

When a hunter finds anything in the woods, such as a knife or a trinket, he must say, 'Little People, I would like to take this' because it may belong to them, and if he does not ask their permission they will throw stones at him as he goes home.

Some Little People are black, some are white and some are golden like the Cherokee. Sometimes they speak in Cherokee, but at other times they speak their own 'Indian' language. Some call them "Brownies".

Little people are here to teach lessons about living in harmony with nature and with others. There are three kinds of Little People. The Laurel People, the Rock People, and the Dogwood People.

The Rock People are the mean ones who practice "getting even" who steal children and the like. But they are like this because their space has been invaded.

The Laurel People play tricks and are generally mischievous. When you find children laughing in their sleep - the Laurel People are humorous and enjoy sharing joy with others.

Then there are the Dogwood People who are good and take care of people.

The lessons taught by the Little People are clear. The Rock People teach us that if you do things to other people out of meanness or intentionally, it will come back on you. We must always respect other people's limits and boundaries. The Laurel People teach us that we shouldn't take the world too seriously, and we must always have joy and share that joy with others. The lessons of the Dogwood People are simple - if you do something for someone, do it out of goodness of your heart. Don't do it to have people obligated to you or for personal gain.

In Cherokee beliefs, many stories contain references to beings called the Little People. These people are supposed to be small mythical characters, and in different beliefs they serve different purposes.

"There are a lot of stories and legends about the Little People. You can see the people out in the forest. They can talk and they look a lot like Indian people except they're only about two feet high, sometimes they're smaller. Now the Little People can be very helpful, and they can also play tricks on us, too. And at one time there was a boy. This boy never wanted to grow up. In fact, he told everyone that so much that they called him "Forever Boy" because he never wanted to be grown. When his friends would sit around and talk about: 'Oh when I get to be a man, and when I get to be grown I'm gonna be this and I'm gonna go here and be this,' he'd just go off and play by himself.

He didn't even want to hear it, because he never wanted to grow up. Finally his father got real tired of this, and he said,'Forever Boy, I will never call you that again. From now on you're going to learn to be a man, you're going to take responsibilty for yourself, and you're going to stop playing all day long. You have to learn these things. Starting tomorrow you're going to go to your uncle's, and he's going to teach you everything that you are going to need to know.' Forever Boy was broken hearted at what his father told him, but he could not stand the thought of growing up. He went out to the river and he cried. He cried so hard that he didn't see his animal friends gather around him. And they were trying to tell him something, and they were trying to make him feel better, and finally he thought he understood them say, 'Come here tomorrow, come here early.' Well, he thought they just wanted to say goodbye to him. And he drug his feet going home. He couldn't even sleep he was so upset. The next morning he went out early, as he had promised, to meet his friends. And he was so sad, he could not bear the thought of telling them goodbye forever. Finally he began to get the sense that they were trying to tell him something else, and that is to look behind him.

As he looked behind him, there they were, all the Little People. And they were smiling at him and laughing and running to hug him. And they said, 'Forever Boy you do not have to grow up. You can stay with us forever. You can come and be one of us and you will never have to grow up...we will ask the Creator to send a vision to your parents and let them know that you are safe and you are doing what you need to do.' Forever Boy thought about it for a long time. But that is what he decided he needed to do, and he went with the Little People.

And even today when you are out in the woods and you see something, and you look and it is not what you really thought it was, or if you are fishing and you feel something on the end of your line, and you think it is the biggest trout ever, and you pull it in, and all it is is a stick that got tangled on your hook, that is what the Little People are doing. They are playing tricks on you so you will laugh and keep young in your heart. Because that is the spirit of Little People, and Forever Boy, to keep us young in our hearts."

Thursday, June 19, 2008

Connuche (Kenuche)

A Recognized Dish of Honor
Contributed by Youngdeer

Always save back some balls for your family at Thanksgiving, Christmas, New Years with what ever other special dishes you fix. This is a side dish that reminds you where you came from and your ancestors can smell the connuche and find your table.

Even those who haven't tasted it before down deep inside remember it and are happy. Most families have one or two prime gatherers. Several women from my town buy their family Christmas presents from making Connuche balls and selling them to everyone else who still is Cherokee but work in offices and don't get to the woods like they should. You can freeze them. My granddaughters come back to Indian Territory in the fall to see the family but pick the fall to get a seasons supply of Connuche balls. I buy them cause, I don't bend over so good any more and it gives women with kids in the country a honorable, traditional way to earn extra money.

Beat up so-hi (hickory nuts) very fine until it can be formed into balls. Balls are big like softballs. This is meat and shell both. Take how much Connuche you want from ball. Each ball can feed enough for about 20. Place in a sauce pan and cover with boiling water. Stir well separating the shells from the "goodies". Strain through a cloth or fine sieve.

Now don't let your city ways scare you from this. The shells will sink to the bottom and the meat has mainly cooked up into a base broth. You can see an oil come to the surface from the boiled nuts. If you pour it careful just use a pasta strainer. Now I add rice and cook it. Add hominy, homemade or from a can. Mash about half into the the soup mixture. Some mash the hominy, others like it whole golden kernels. From here, you are on your own. Tradition stops there in some families.

My family somewhere back there got use to adding sliced mushrooms from the store. Season with lots of salt. Or leave out the mushrooms and add sugar instead. I have added little pieces of deer meat. Fix it the way your family likes it. If the base was Connuche everyone knew it was a special meal. They were honored.

My grandfather would take a hand full of raw Connuche from the icebox and put it in his coffee pot before making the coffee. Teach the family to say "con-nu-che a-gwa-du-li" (I want Connuche) and it is always good if you serve it with se-lu-ga-du. (Cornbread)

From the web site of the Cherokees of Californina