It Takes a Village: Freddy Wilnoty II Celebrates Cherokee Culture9.3.2015
Freddy Wilnoty II is a Cherokee native. He grew up in the Wolf Town community and is one of the main performers at the Oconaluftee Indian Village where he has entertained and educated thousands of visitors over the past five years.
If you've never seen Freddy before, you might first notice his radiant smile and what he jokes is his "Buddha face."
"People always ask me how old I am," says the 25 year old.
Freddy is the lead singer for the dance performances that happen twice daily at the Village, at noon and 3 o'clock. When performing, he dresses in Cherokee period clothing; his chest adorned with necklaces, and thick, ornate earrings in his ears. The front of his head is shaved and he wears a headdress of feathers secured to the back of his head.
"Sometimes kids ask me how I put my feathers on my head," he says.
"They think I'm completely bald," he laughs.
Freddy's performance at the Oconaluftee Village is both charming and inviting.
Before the dance begins, he encourages the audience members to cheer as loudly as possible, building a sense of anticipation. With the full attention of the crowd, Freddy explains the stories behind traditional Cherokee dances and leads the call and response for the Bear dance, the Corn dance, the Bison dance, and the Groundhog dance.
For Freddy, his work at the Village goes beyond acting.
"It's about celebrating my culture and being around my friends and family. I don't just work at it, I live it," he says.
Freddy's family has a long legacy in Cherokee. His great grandfather on his mother's side, Mose Owle, was the first curator and head of the Museum of the Cherokee Indian, and his grandfather, John Julius Wilnoty, is a famous self-taught carver. Freddy's father, Fred, after who he is named, is also an award winning artist and carver.
"My father always wanted me to do artwork, just like him and my grandfather. He handed me pieces of stone to carve. Basically, he wanted me to carry on my family's legacy," he says.
When he was younger, Freddy focused mostly on drawing, but in the last five years, in addition to making a name for himself as a performer, he's gained attention for his stone carvings.
"Now that I'm older, both my father and grandfather have given me pointers on my artwork so that's been a big help to me," he says.
While his family life has always centered around artwork, he credits his grandmother and great grandmother as his biggest influences.
"They always wanted me to do something with my life and be a better person," says Freddy.
His grandmother encouraged him to go to college, and Freddy went on to study physics, economics, cultural history, and auto mechanics at UNC Chapel Hill.
His great grandmother spoke very little English and taught Freddy to speak Cherokee.
"I'm not a fluent speaker, but I'm striving to be. Growing up, I was always around my grandmother, so I could either speak to her in Cherokee or not at all. If I said a word that was wrong, she would laugh at me, and so she taught me with humor. "
Perhaps it's his grandmother's spirit that Freddy seems to carry with him in his performances at the Oconaluftee Indian Village, mixing a deep reverence for Cherokee traditions with a sparkling sense of humor.
"For me, it's a means of having a good time and having fun," he says.
"That's the reason we do this. It's not only to educate, but to show people we're there to have fun. We're a lively people," he says.
At the end of each dance performance, Freddy asks the audience to join him in a Friendship dance. Together kids, teens, parents, and grandparents join hands, in some cases with virtual strangers, and dance around the circle, with Freddy leading the way.
"We're all friends at the Village," says Freddy.
"Being in that environment makes me appreciate what we have, and being able to teach people about Cherokee culture and history is very fulfilling," he says.
Hours of Operation
The Oconaluftee Village is open Monday through Saturday from 10:00 a.m.–5:00 p.m., May 1 until November 7, 2015. Tours every 15 minutes except from 11:30 a.m.–12:30 p.m. and 2:30 a.m.–3:30 p.m. The last tour is given at 4:00 p.m.
Oconaluftee Indian Village is located at 218 Drama Road, Cherokee, NC. Purchase tickets here.