Cherokee Voices: Celebrating 20 Years, Across the Generations | Cherokee, NC

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Cherokee Voices: Celebrating 20 Years, Across the Generations

On Saturday, June 10, from 10:00 am to 5:00 pm, the Cherokee Voices Festival will take place at The Museum of the Cherokee Indian in Cherokee, NC. Free and open to the public, the Festival began 20 years ago when it was conceived by Barbara Duncan, folklorist and the Education Director at the Museum.

“The initial vision was to identify people who were the experts of the most traditional Cherokee art forms and to recognize them and celebrate their work,” says Barbara.

Cherokee Voices provided a stage for that celebration, and has showcased traditional Cherokee music, crafts, dance, and storytelling for the last two decades. This year, the emphasis is as much on the experts—the elders and master artists—as it is on the younger generation. The theme is “passing the knowledge to the rising generation,” and the festival will feature many young Cherokee performers, artists, and demonstrators as well.

“This year we asked all the people we usually invite to each bring someone with them from their family or the community that they have been teaching. So we’ll have a number of the artists and living history people demonstrating and sharing their work, and the younger artists will also be demonstrating and selling their work,” says Barbara.

Cherokee Voices is made possible by the North Carolina Arts Council, who has sponsored the Cherokee Voices Festival since the very beginning. “The last 20 years would not have happened without them,” says Barbara, who adds that “the North Carolina Arts Council shares the vision of holding up and honoring the traditional artists.”​​

Two Stages, Food & Fun

Cherokee Voices Festival has grown to include two stages this year. Song, dance, and musical performances will be held on the covered main stage outside of the museum, and there will be a second stage for storytelling in the Education Wing of the Museum—a place where older storytellers will be joined by younger tellers, in some cases the children or relatives of people who have been telling stories for a long time.

“Having two stages is something I’ve wanted to do for a long time, and so have the local storytellers as well. We’re excited about that,” says Barbara.

Food will be available throughout the day with Nikki Crisp, serving Indian frybread, tacos, and more, and at noon the Native American Women’s Association (NAIWA), will serve a traditional meal for lunch.

As part of the fun, there will also be a blow gun contest at 11 am, that is open to all ages, with a small cash prize. If you don’t have a blow gun, you can purchase one in the museum store.​

(Photo of Louise Goings by Kristy Herron)

Three Generations

Butch and Louise Goings have been participating in the Cherokee Voices Festival since the very beginning. Both master artists, Butch is a woodcarver and Louise is a basketmaker from a very distinguished family of basketmakers. Their children, Ed and Christina, are also artists. Ed is a basketmaker and Christina does fingerweaving, and they have all appeared at Cherokee Voices together over the years.

Last year, Butch and Louise couldn’t attend to the festival, but Louise told Barbara to invite their grandchildren, Zach and Ashley, who are metalsmiths and make jewelry.

“In talking to Louise, it just hit me then that their grandchildren are grown up now, in the 20 years this festival has been going on,” says Barbara. It was time for the younger people, the rising generation, to get the recognition and celebration that they deserved as well.  ​

(Ring by Ashley Goings of GoingSnakeSilver)

Another family with three generations at Cherokee Voices belongs to Mary Thompson, a potter, basketmaker and beadworker. Mary will be participating with her mother, Geraldine Walkingstick, and with her daughter Sarah, demonstrating the rivercane basketry tradition.

The Maneys will also be there. John Henry Maney, who is in his 90s, is a potter with Big Meat pottery, and his two daughters, Nancy Maney and Johnnie Ruth Maney, make 18th century Cherokee clothing. This year, one of their daughters, Heather, will be with them, and she’s been making feather capes, one of the traditions that has been brought back in the last decade or so.

Many other talented artists will be participating in the day’s events as well, some exhibiting with two generations of their family, and others solo.

(Photo of Bear Allison by Kristy Herron)

Rising Artists

Bear Allison is an example of one of the younger, rising artists participating this year with his photography. Recently, he was invited to Cherokee Days at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of the American Indian to exhibit his “Booger Portrait” series. In the Cherokee culture, booger masks were used to signify intruders during ritual dances.

Another emerging young artist is Preston Bark, a two-dimensional artist working in pen and ink. Preston is a member of the Wolf Clan and was raised in the Wolftown Community in Cherokee. He started drawing when he was 13 and, after high school, attended the Institute of American Indian Arts in Santa Fe, New Mexico.

("Unity" by Preston Bark, inspired by the bond the artist holds with his family. Available for purchase through Authentically Cherokee.)

“By including these younger artists, not only are we are getting two or three generations involved, but they are also expanding what it means to be a Cherokee artist, doing different things, rediscovering their traditions and reinterpreting them for their generation,” says Barbara.

“Just seeing the creativity is wonderful.”​

(Dr. Amanda Swimmer, above, will be demonstrating her pottery at Cherokee Voices Festival.)

Beloved Elders

One of the most unique things about the Cherokee Voices Festival is having the opportunity to meet Cherokee elders in their home community and see them making their work right there in front of you.

“Because we are here in Cherokee, on part of the Cherokee homeland, we are able to invite a lot of the elders who don’t travel to festivals anymore,” says Barbara.

Cherokee Voices will start with a prayer and introduction by Dr. Jerry Wolfe, the Beloved Man. Jerry, who is in his 90s, was recently awarded an honorary doctorate of humane letters from Western Carolina University. Jerry is the first Cherokee man to be honored with the distinction of Beloved Man in more than 200 years.

Dr. Amanda Swimmer, also in her 90s, will be exhibiting at Cherokee Voices. Amanda is a celebrated potter and the recipient of a North Carolina Heritage Award, the state’s highest honor. In 2005, Amanda was awarded an honorary doctorate from the University of North Carolina-Asheville.​​

(Wahlalah Brown pictured with her mother, Sandy, and daughter, Winter.)

Living History

Wahlalah Brown does Living History and demonstrates Cherokee arts and crafts traditions from the last 1,000 years. She does this with her mother, Sandy Brown, but the real inspiration for her work came from her father Diamond Brown, who passed away last year.

“Her father was her mentor. He passed this on and she and her mother are carrying these traditions on,” says Barbara.

They will have a bark shelter set up at Cherokee Voices, where they will demonstrate cooking with the Cherokee pottery and how to make fire using friction. Wahlalah also does fingerweaving, and twinning which is a technique for making cloth that goes back to about 9,500 years.

(An example of twinning by weaver Karen George. Photo by Kristy Herron.)​
(The Warriors of Anikituhwa performed at last year's Cherokee Voices Festival.) 

Storytelling, Music & Dance

The storytellers who will be performing in the Education Wing of the museum will also span the generations.

Kathy Littlejohn, a well-known storyteller in Cherokee, will be performing as well as her son, Justice Littlejohn, who follows in her footsteps. Dawn Arneach, who works on the staff of the museum, will also be telling, as will her father, Lloyd Arneach. Like Justice, Dawn has picked up the baton from her family members and is carrying it forward.  

“We will have performances all day long on the main stage and it will include music and traditional dance, and Cherokee flute,” says Barbara.

The Cherokee National Youth Choir from Oklahoma will be singing in the Cherokee language. The 40-member group has sung all over the country, including the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade, and elsewhere. They sing in the Cherokee language. The Cherokee Songbirds from Oklahoma will also be performing.

From Cherokee, there will be flute music by John Grant Jr., and Matthew Tooni, and the Snowbird Choir will be singing old hymns in Cherokee as well. Alfred and Maybell Welch will also be performing from the Snowbird community.

Dance groups will perform from Cherokee Central School, as well as the Raven Rock Dancers, and the Warriors of Anikituhwa.

The Cherokee Friends, a group of cultural specialists from the museum, will also be involved during the day.  ​

Something to Celebrate

After two decades of the Cherokee Voices Festival, Barbara remains as inspired as ever.  

“There’s just amazing work being done in this community, and now having done this for 20 years, I can see how clearly it has been passed on to the next generation. I want to celebrate that, too, because that’s what’s been happening for millennia to have these traditions. I just think it’s an amazing physical representation of how the Cherokees themselves have survived and endured.

“In the last 20 years there has been a cultural renaissance because of the work of a lot of different people and I am just thankful that the arts and crafts and songs and stories and music are surviving and that people are doing it and it’s flourishing, and I just think that’s something to really celebrate,” says Barbara.  


Ready to go to Cherokee Voices? We want to see your Cherokee Voices festival experience! Use hashtag #CherokeeVoices on social media and we may feature your photos in an upcoming blog.

Note: We’ll update this post with the schedule of activities as they’re made available. In the meantime, you can also check the event page.


Museum of the Cherokee Indian

589 Tsali Blvd.

Cherokee, NC 28719

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