The Warriors of AniKituhwa

If you’ve been to Cherokee, NC, you may have been lucky enough to catch a dance performance by the Warriors of AniKituhwa. The Warriors are all enrolled members of the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians and are designated official cultural ambassadors.

The Warriors of AniKituhwa are sponsored by the Museum of the Cherokee People and have performed at Colonial Williamsburg, the National Museum of the American Indian, the Smithsonian Museum of Natural History, and throughout the Southeast, and beyond. This year, they even performed at the London New Year’s Day Parade

The men are all multi-talented and and in addition to dancing, they provide living history demonstrations at events, as well as programs in flute, storytelling, Cherokee language, beadwork, quillwork, and more.

The Dances

The Warriors bring to life the Cherokee War Dance as described by Lt. Henry Timberlake in 1762 in his memoirs. The War Dance was when men went to war, and also when meeting with other nations for diplomacy and peace. Within the Cherokee nation, the Cherokee War Dance was used to raise money for those in need. The dance conveys the strength of the Cherokee nation. The Warriors also perform Cherokee social dances, including the Bear Dance, Beaver Hunting Dance, and the Friendship Dance—where spectators are invited to join in.

image of warriors of anikituhwa dances
image of the warriors of anikituhwa

Origins of the Warriors

Marie Junaluska, Chrissy Arch of the Wolftown Community, and Dr. Carmaleta Monteith chose the original members in 2004. The original Warriors included Elder Walker Calhoun, who passed away in 2012, Bo Taylor, Sonny Ledford, Daniel Tramper, John Grant, Jr., Bullet Standingdeer, and Will Tushka. These men were designated official cultural ambassadors by resolution of the Tribal Council of the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians in February of 2005, which is a rare honor.  

At the same time, the Museum of the Cherokee People became their official sponsor. Barbara Duncan, former Education Director at the Museum of the Cherokee Indian, led the research into the period-appropriate clothing that you see the Warriors wear today.

Cherokee Honor

Sonny Ledford (pictured), one of the original members, says it’s an honor to be a Warrior of AniKituhwa.

“Our elders chose us to travel and educate the public on who we are. We’re like family. There are eight that carry the staff now, and for over ten years we’ve been together.”

“A lot of people, you hear them say ‘Cherokee pride,’ or ‘I’m proud to be Cherokee,’ but the Cherokee never had pride. They had honor,” says Sonny.

“When you’ve got honor about being created the way you have, and having language and culture, and ceremonies—all those things that haven’t changed—it’s an honor to be gifted with those things and pass them on.”

image of sonny ledford