Heartbeat of Our Tribe: A Look at the 106th Annual Cherokee Indian Fair | Cherokee, NC

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Heartbeat of Our Tribe: A Look at the 106th Annual Cherokee Indian Fair

Hundreds of guests recently enjoyed the 106th Annual Cherokee Indian Fair in Cherokee, NC—a four-day event celebrating the unique culture and spirit of the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians. It’s a beloved event filled with arts and crafts, the Miss Cherokee pageants, stickball games, music, rides, and so much more. The theme for the 2018 fair was GA-DU-GI, which means “Heartbeat of our Tribe.” These pictures capture the pulse of the fair celebrations, and offer a glimpse into the rich traditions on display as part of the festivities. Special thanks to Kristy Herron for taking and sharing these photos. We hope you enjoy!

The Indian Fair Parade

(Photos by Kristy Herron)

Eddie Swimmer and Garfield Long Jr. provide hilarious commentary as emcees of the parade that kicks off the Indian Fair, leading into the Fair Grounds. If you missed it, you can catch their entertaining banter on our Facebook Livestream.

The 2017-2018 Miss Cherokee royal court waves to parade onlookers. Each of these young women passed their crowns to the next Miss Cherokee winners for the 2018-2019 year during the pageants over the course of the fair. More than a beauty contest, the Miss Cherokee competitions encourages contestants to study Cherokee history and answer questions about their culture. Participants also display a traditional talent or craft, wear traditional wear and formal wear, and take a stand on a platform. Read our interview with 2017-2018 Miss Cherokee, Faith Long, for more on the role of Miss Cherokee.

Miss Cherokee, Mystikal Spirit Walela Armachain

(Photo by Scott M. Brings Plenty)

On the first night of the 106th Cherokee Indian Fair, Mystikal Spirit Walela Armachain, a member of the Deer Clan from the Big Cove Community, was crowned the 52nd Miss Cherokee. In the talent portion of the pageant, Mystikal, 18, played the traditional flute and shared the origin story of the flute. For her platform, she teamed up with the RezHOPE group to raise awareness about substance abuse on the reservation. “I want to make a change for our younger generation to understand that we are better, stronger, and braver than any drug that could harm our people. We will stand for drug recovery to build a better future for our people, for our Tribe,” she said.

Teen Miss Cherokee, Juakina Perez

(Photo by Kristy Herron)
Juakina Perez, 17, a member of the Wolf Clan from the Big Cove Community, was named the 2018-19 Teen Miss Cherokee. When asked who her role model was, she replied: “My role model is my mother, Suzette Sanchez. She is my best friend, whether it is a good or bad day. She is a single parent to me and my four siblings. She has often gone without to fulfill our needs. Mom, I want to take the time to say, ‘Sgi! Thank you!’ for everything you do for me. I love you so much!”

Junior Miss Cherokee, Destiny Siweumptewa

(Photo by Kristy Herron)

Destiny Siweumptewa, 14, a member of the Long Hair Clan from the Birdtown Community, was named 2018-19 Junior Miss Cherokee. To represent herself, Siweumptewa wore a red jingle dress (a traditional dress for a style of dance at pow wows) and commented, “It represents three important things to me – my Cherokee and Hopi native culture, my family, and my love of art. In both native cultures, red stands for fire and my red dress represents the fire that burns inside of me for success. All of the other colors hold special meanings to both tribes. It took approximately 25 hours to complete my dress. One of my greatest memories is sitting at my great-grandmother’s feet placing ribbon on all 200 jingles. Every time I move or dance in my jingle dress, it takes me back to that day.”

Little Miss Cherokee, Morgan Hernandez

(Photo by Kristy Herron)

Morgan Hernandez, a member of the Deer Clan from the Big Y Community, was named 2018-19 Little Miss Cherokee. For her talent, Hernandez performed the Cherokee Bear Dance. During the opening introduction, Hernandez, who is a student at New Kituwah Academy, wore an outfit to pick up litter, and shared the importance of recycling and keeping a clean community.

Youth Stickball

(Photo by Kristy Herron)

Stickball, which is one of the oldest sports in North America, is one of the most action-packed events on display at the fair. Shown here is the youth game of Big Cove vs Wolfetown. The Big Cove team, shown in black, are called Native Walkingstick, and the Wolfetown team, shown in red, are called Matrix Stamper. Stickball, which is also called the medicine game or “little brother of war,” was once used to settle disputes between warring tribes. Read our blog on this native sport for more on the roots of the game, and how it is played.

Elders Stickball

(Photo by Kristy Herron)

Stickball continues to be played in Cherokee and maintains its profound spiritual, political, and social importance. Here, Cherokee elders show how it’s still played in a game featuring Stoney vs Yellowhill Elders. From left to right in foreground: Dean Hill, Randy Saunooke, Chief Sneed, Clement Calhoun, Allen Ledford, and Bobby Bradley. The players in the background are Dan Hornbuckle, Steven Watty, and David Pheasant.

Prize-Winning Crafts

(Photo by Kristy Herron)

Cherokee artists submit arts and crafts in the Hobby division of the fair for prizes. The judges examine each entry, looking for the most outstanding quality and craftsmanship, and consider the level of creativity and whether it reflects the theme of the fair. Categories include baskets, wood and stone carving, fingerweaving, beadwork, painting, drawing, dolls, and native instruments. Visit Qualla Arts and Crafts Mutual, Inc., to see many of the prize-winning creations that are available for purchase, and take a special piece of the fair—and of Cherokee, home with you!

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