Each year as the leaves just begin to change in Vonore, Tennessee the “Great Island Festival” celebrates the history of the Eastern Band of the Cherokee Nation. And this year will be no different with the upcoming 28th annual “Cherokee Fall Festival” on September 12-13, from 10:00 am until 5:00 pm each day.
The Sequoyah Birthplace Museum is Tennessee’s only tribally owned museum and they will be hosting the event. This year’s Festival’s theme will be called “Out of the Ashes”.
Who was Sequoyah and Why is There a Museum in his Name?
Sequoyah was born around 1776 in Tuskegee, Tennessee to a Cherokee mother and European father. He was raised by his mother in the Cherokee tribe. As a young man, he was injured in a hunting accident and afterwards became a silversmith. He married a Cherokee woman and had children.
Although he did not speak English, Sequoyah was fascinated by the white man’s ability to write letters and that this communication enabled the transmission of information over great distances. He called them “talking leaves”.
In 1809, Sequoyah started creating a simple Cherokee alphabet with symbols that would make words. He and his daughter, Ayoka, would play games using the symbols. Over the years, Sequoyah became obsessed with developing a new Cherokee alphabet writing system because he knew it could help his people.
Sequoyah eventually created a simple Cherokee alphabet consisting of 86 symbols. In 1821, he introduced the alphabet to the Cherokee council and it quickly caught on.
Visitors to the Sequoyah Birthplace Museum will experience the life of the man Sequoyah – as a father, a soldier, a silversmith, a statesman and the creator of the Cherokee writing system. The center of the story will be the personal quest of Sequoyah’s single-minded concentration on solving the mystery of the “talking leaves.” He spent years in near isolation, facing down tribal suspicion, enduring family rebellion and social derision. Believing – almost alone – that he could create a written language for the Cherokee.
What is the Importance of Sequoyah’s Contribution?
Sequoyah will be the only person, not literate in any language, that was ever known to have invented a whole alphabet and perfected a system for reading and writing a language. He used it to record the history of his tribe and the Cherokee Native Indians used the alphabet to communicate in writing.
In 1838, Sequoyah walked with his people in The Trail of Tears which was ordered by Presidents Andrew Jackson and Martin Van Buren under the Indian Removal Act of 1830, which allowed a president to exchange lands with Native tribes, forcing the Cherokees to leave. Those that escaped the removal and hid in the mountains now comprise the Eastern Band of the Cherokee Nation.
At this year’s Festival, visitors will have the opportunity to step back in time to experience Native American food. Cherokee arts and crafts will be demonstrated, as well as traditional music and dance. On-site demonstrations by a blacksmith in his shop will take place on both days.
Other demonstrations and displays will include what a Cherokee’s life was like in the 1700’s and a Civil War encampment. Each day there will be a Civil War battle re-enactment at 2:00 pm.
Highlights of the Upcoming 28th Annual “Cherokee Fall Festival”
This year’s theme will concentrate on Cherokee Folklore, Legends, and Traditions. Visitors are invited to meet and talk with Cherokees from the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians in North Carolina as well as the Cherokee Nation in Oklahoma. Meet and chat with Miss Cherokee and learn how to write you name in Cherokee. Regional historian, Bill Landry will host a book signing on both days from 11-1:00pm.
Special entertainment will be provided by the Warrior Dancers of Ani-Kituhwa, the official ambassadors of the Eastern Band of the Cherokee Indians. This dance group brings to life the Cherokee War Dance and Eagle Tail Dance as it was described by Lt. Henry Timberlake in 1762. See some of their dances here.
There will be an authentic reconstructed 1800’s dog-trot log cabin and the Tennessee State Parks will be doing a “Birds of Prey” special program on both days. Learn how to cook Cherokee dishes at the cooking demonstrations and check out the Civil War gun display.
What Activities Are There For Children?
Children will enjoy and learn what will be was like to be a Cherokee Indian. Activities will include posters from Cherokee Elementary school. Traditional items such as darts, beads, talking sticks will be available, plus face painting and free Cherokee name cards for children.
The Festival will also host a children’s blowgun competition and an adult blowgun competition on both days. Traditional favorites such as Indian Fry Bread and Indian Tacos, as well as other food and drinks will be available for purchase.
How to Find More information about the Cherokee Fall Festival
This annual festival event will be funded in part by Tennessee Arts Commission Rural Arts Program Grant, the Cherokee Preservation Foundation, and the Eastern Band of the Cherokee Indians.
To purchase tickets the cost this year will be: Adults $10.00, children 13-18 years old are $5.00 and children 12 and under are free. There will be a family rate for $25.00 available.
If you would like more information about the Great Island Festival, visit the Sequoyah Birthplace Museum or call (423) 884-624.