Manataka American Indian Council






Cherokee Stomp Dance
From Cherokee Roots - By Bryan Hickman


A fire keeper and his assistant begin early dawn starting the official sacred fire. He begins with small slivers of wood, inner most part of an oak tree called the sponge, flint and some rock to trigger a spark.

Sunrise: The men sit around talking about political issues and the women prepare a meal for the day that consists of traditional and modern food. 

Afternoon: Sermons are held in the Cherokee language. The sermon includes telling all to love all mankind.  After the sermon, a stickball game is played an ancient Cherokee tradition that resembles the American La Crosse.

Sundown: Sermons continue. Each clan member takes turn by taking seven puffs of the old ceremonial pipe.  The Chief, medicine men, and elders hold a meeting then they call for the first dance. A second call is made. The first dance is by invitation only, tribal elders, elders, medicine men and clan heads.

The members gather to visit, feast and dance far into the night. It is a holy place to worship Unetlanv (the Creator, or God). No littering, liquor and rowdy behavior. Rules are written in the Cherokee language and posted on a board hung up for the public. The dance participants include a leader, assistants and one or more "shell-shakers" who wear leg rattles traditionally made out of turtle shells filled with pebbles but today some use cans filled with pebbles to provide rhythmic accompaniment while they dance around the fire. The ceremonial observance involves sacrifices made by the ceremonial leaders, prayers, taking medicine and going to water or river for ritual cleansing, and smoking of the pipe.

The Keetoowah's bible is not written on paper. The words are woven into seven wampum belts that are shown only in rare occasions. The belts are very old, and are made of pearls and shell beads, woven with seaweed fibers from the Gulf of Mexico. The history behind the belt is that many years ago, the tribe was preparing to go on to war with another tribe, when the medicine men foresaw which would survive, and cut the original wampum belt into seven pieces, giving one to each warrior. After the war, the belts were scattered, some being hidden and disappearing, the last one was recovered by Redbird Smith around 80 years ago.

There are seven arbors encircling the sacred fire. Each arbor represents the seven clans. Wolf (a-ni-wa-ya), Wild Potato (a-ni-go-ta-ge-wi) also known as the Bear Clan, Paint (a-ni-wo-di), Bird Clan (a-ni-tsi-ss-gwa), Long Hair (a-ni-gi-lo-hi) also known as Twister or Wind then the Blind Savannah as known as Blue (a-ni-sa-ho-ni).

The fire is very sacred to traditional Cherokees. It is built at the bottom of a pit below the ground, and burns constantly.  

Today, there are over 15,000 members of the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians located in North Carolina, 7,000 members of the United Keetoowah Band of Cherokee Indians of Oklahoma [the most traditional] located in seven districts in Eastern Oklahoma and 200,000 members of the lesser federally recognized Cherokee Nation of Oklahoma.  Although many have chosen to worship through other religious denominations (Indian Baptist, Methodist, etc.), many continue to worship at regular Stomp Dances and are members of one of the several Grounds in located in Eastern Oklahoma and within the boundaries of the United Keetoowah Band of Cherokee Indians of Oklahoma and the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians in North Carolina in the area of the Qualla Reservation.

Submitted by Carol Eve


EMAIL          HOME          INDEX          TRADING POST