The Apalachicola River Community of Indians ARCITO

Redbird Smith and the traditional Keetowah

 

Background

Redbird Smith was born on July 19, 1850 near the current city of Fort Smith, Arkansas. His father was Pig Redbird Smith, whose surname "Smith" was given to him by European-Americans since his worked as a blacksmith. Redbird Smith's mother was Lizzie Hildebrand Smith. His parents were removed from Georgia to Indian Territory. Both his parents were ardent traditionalists, and at the age of ten, Redbird Smith's "father dedicated him to the services and cause of the Cherokee people in accordance with ancient customs and usages."[1]

Political activism

The late 19th century the Dawes Commission sought to break up collective tribal land holdings into individual allotments and open up the "surplus" tribal lands to settlement by non-natives. Redbird Smith led a political resistance movement to the Dawes Allotment Act and sought to return to traditional Cherokee religion and values.[2]

In 1887 and 1889, Redbird Smith served as a tribal councilor from the Illinois District of the Cherokee Nation.[3]

Redbird Smith stated in the early 1900s:

"I have always believed that the Great Creator had a great design for my people, the Cherokees. I have been taught that from my childhood up and now in my mature manhood I recognize it as a great truth. Our forces have been dissipated by the external forces, perhaps it has been just a training, but we must now get together as a race and render our contribution to mankind. We are endowed with intelligence, we are industrious, we are loyal and we are spiritual but we are overlooking the Cherokee mission on earth, for no man nor race is endowed with these qualifications without a designed purpose... Our pride in our ancestral heritage is our great incentive for handing something worthwhile to our posterity. It is this pride in ancestry that makes men strong and loyal for their principal in life. It is this same pride that makes men give up their all for their Government.[4]

Redbird Smith repatriated wampum belts belonging to his tribe.[2] In 1910 he was selected as chief of the Nighthawk Keetoowahs.[5] Previously he had served as their chairman.[6] Also in 1910, Smith and fellow Nighthawks traveled Mexico with an 1820 document supporting Cherokee lands claims but the Mexican government did not support their claims. In 1914, he petitioned President Woodrow Wilson to create a Keetoowah reservation but this was seen as a backward step in the US federal government's assimilation policy. In 1921, a hundred Cherokees from 35 families moved together to the southeastern corner of Cherokee County, Oklahoma, to create a traditional community — "the brainchild of Redbird Smith."[7]

Family

Redbird Smith married Lucy Fields Smith, born in Braggs, Indian Territory in 1852. She was the daughter Richard Fields and Eliza Brewer Fields. Together the Smiths had ten children who survived into adulthood, including eight sons and two daughters.[8]

Redbird Smith is the great-grandfather of current Principal Chief of the Cherokee Nation Chad Smith.[9]

Death and legacy

After falling ill for 48 hours, Redbird Smith died on November 8, 1918.[6] He is buried in the Redbird Smith Cemetery in Sequoyah County, Oklahoma.[10]

He served as chief of the Nighthawk Keetoowahs until his death and was succeeded by Levi Gritts.[11] His son Sam Smith became chief of the Nighthawk Keetowahs on April 7, 1919.[8]

The Redbirth Smith ground is an active ceremonial ground in Redbird, Oklahoma, where Smith's June 19th birthday is celebrated annually.

 

 

 

 

Background

Redbird Smith was born on July 19, 1850 near the current city of Fort Smith, Arkansas. His father was Pig Redbird Smith, whose surname "Smith" was given to him by European-Americans since his worked as a blacksmith. Redbird Smith's mother was Lizzie Hildebrand Smith. His parents were removed from Georgia to Indian Territory. Both his parents were ardent traditionalists, and at the age of ten, Redbird Smith's "father dedicated him to the services and cause of the Cherokee people in accordance with ancient customs and usages."[1]

Political activism

The late 19th century the Dawes Commission sought to break up collective tribal land holdings into individual allotments and open up the "surplus" tribal lands to settlement by non-natives. Redbird Smith led a political resistance movement to the Dawes Allotment Act and sought to return to traditional Cherokee religion and values.[2]

In 1887 and 1889, Redbird Smith served as a tribal councilor from the Illinois District of the Cherokee Nation.[3]

Redbird Smith stated in the early 1900s:

"I have always believed that the Great Creator had a great design for my people, the Cherokees. I have been taught that from my childhood up and now in my mature manhood I recognize it as a great truth. Our forces have been dissipated by the external forces, perhaps it has been just a training, but we must now get together as a race and render our contribution to mankind. We are endowed with intelligence, we are industrious, we are loyal and we are spiritual but we are overlooking the Cherokee mission on earth, for no man nor race is endowed with these qualifications without a designed purpose... Our pride in our ancestral heritage is our great incentive for handing something worthwhile to our posterity. It is this pride in ancestry that makes men strong and loyal for their principal in life. It is this same pride that makes men give up their all for their Government.[4]

Redbird Smith repatriated wampum belts belonging to his tribe.[2] In 1910 he was selected as chief of the Nighthawk Keetoowahs.[5] Previously he had served as their chairman.[6] Also in 1910, Smith and fellow Nighthawks traveled to Mexico with an 1820 document supporting Cherokee lands claims but the Mexican government did not support their claims. In 1914, he petitioned President Woodrow Wilson to create a Keetoowah reservation but this was seen as a backward step in the US federal government's assimilation policy. In 1921, a hundred Cherokees from 35 families moved together to the southeastern corner of Cherokee County, Oklahoma, to create a traditional community — "the brainchild of Redbird Smith."[7]

Family

Redbird Smith married Lucy Fields Smith, born in Braggs, Indian Territory in 1852. She was the daughter Richard Fields and Eliza Brewer Fields. Together the Smiths had ten children who survived into adulthood, including eight sons and two daughters.[8]

Redbird Smith is the great-grandfather of current Principal Chief of the Cherokee Nation Chad Smith.[9]

Death and legacy

After falling ill for 48 hours, Redbird Smith died on November 8, 1918.[6] He is buried in the Redbird Smith Cemetery in Sequoyah County, Oklahoma.[10]

He served as chief of the Nighthawk Keetoowahs until his death and was succeeded by Levi Gritts.[11] His son Sam Smith became chief of the Nighthawk Keetowahs on April 7, 1919.[8]

The Redbirth Smith ground is an active ceremonial ground in Redbird, Oklahoma, where Smith's June 19th birthday is celebrated annually.

 
THE WHITE PATH OF PEACE
Cherokee Traveler's Greeting

I will draw thorns from your feet.
We will walk the White Path of Life together.
Like a brother of my own blood, I will love you.
I will wipe tears from your eyes.
When you are sad, I will put your aching heart to rest



Placing the good of all above self-interest is called "the white path of righteousness." Benny Smith
This "white path of righteousness" is laid out for the Keetoowah in seven sacred wampums made of shells from the Atlantic coast. These wampum vary in length from two to seven feet and in width from six inches to a single strand of beads. Interwoven in the sacred language of the beadwork of these ancient wampum are the sacred teachings that the Great Spirit gave to the seven wise men regarding "the white path of righteousness."Benny Smith
Benny Smith describes the importance of these wampum, "These wampums have served the Keetoowahs in the same way that the Ten Commandments have served the Christians. For generations, these wampums have been read to the Keetoowah once each year...The Cherokee name for the wampums is De'-ka-nuh-nus' which means `a way to look to' or `keep looking in this direction.' "

Interestingly, the first open expression of the Keetoowah rebellion against assimilation occurred in 1828 when the Cherokee sought to establish a Cherokee Constitution and end the old political system. "White Path's rebellion" was named after its leader White Path, but his nativistic movement is seen as a predecessor of the Keetoowah movement.

Redbird Smith Story
"Chief of the Nighthawk Keetowah"
Provided by the Cherokee Nation
Cultural Resource Center
E-mail: cultural@cherokee.org
[**Note: Cultural information may vary from clan
to clan, location to location, family to family,
and from differing opinions and experiences.
Information provided is not 'etched in stone'.]


[Image]
*Redbird Smith


Redbird Smith believed the greatest danger to the survival of the Cherokee as a culture was 'acculturation'. He feared the people would be absorbed into the ways of the white people around them and forget their own ways. Many of the ceremonials were already forgotten during Redbird's childhood. He was born July 19, 1850; his father was Pig Smith, a fullblood Cherokee of a very conservative family which always had a sense of mission regarding the preservation of the ancient Cherokee religion. Pig also served in the Cherokee government as a Senator. The name 'Smith' was acquired because he was a blacksmith by trade.

Pig Smith settled in an area of the Cherokee Nation that was mingled with traditional Muscogee (Creek) Indians as well as remnants of the Natchez tribe. The latter were well known for their knowledge of the old religious practices of the Southeastern Indians before contact as well as Removal (Trail of Tears). These religious beliefs and practices brought these groups together, particularly during the dangerous and conflicting times of the Civil War. The conditions for the Cherokee after the Civil War were far worse than when they first arrived after Removal. Approximately eight thousand were refugees in camps and the Nation was flattened with buildings burned, and crops and pastures destroyed. Reconstruction was started when the Treaty of 1866 was signed.
About the same time as the Treaty was signed, there was an important meeting of the Keetowahs in the Saline District near present-day Salina, Oklahoma. John Smith, one of Redbird's sons, relayed this story as it had been told to him.
". . . All the people camped up there. All the old men were seers. They kept themselves clean with medicine. They could see a long ways ahead. The medicine men investigated the future of the Keetowahs. They saw that Pig Smith's seed would be the leader of the Keetowahs in the time of their greatest trouble. Pig Smith saw that his life was short and his son was just a boy. He looked for a man to teach his son the ways of the Keetowah and to guide him spiritually. He decided on Creek Sam, a Notchee Indian. He told him he could leave his son in his care and teaching and that he would be his advisor even to the time of his (Pig Smith's) grandchildren."
Redbird married Lucie Fields, who originated from present-day Braggs, Oklahoma. Lucie's father was Richard Fields who died in Washington, D.C. while serving the Cherokee Nation as Attorney General. The family is of Cherokee / Natchez ancestry. They had ten children named John, Sam, Richard, Thomas, George, Mose, Kiah, Stoke, Ella and Susie.
Since the Keetowah Society had been organized before the Civil War, it had largely been a political organization. Many of the spiritual Keetowahs never became interested or involved with this group. They decided to change the direction of the Society. Because of the two developing factions, the similarities of the old Cherokee White Chief (peace) and Red Chief (war) system began to resurface. The White faction had a meeting at Long Valley, located in the Goingsnake District of the Cherokee Nation in 1859. They drew up an amendment to the Keetowah Society constitution which stated that the Keetowah Society would be religious, as well as political. A church was built at Long Valley so that services could be held during future conventions which were planned for Long Valley.
Redbird was a "Little Captain" of the Keetowah Society prior to 1889, but after these changes were made and factionalism became more evident, he became more active. Within several years time, he was made `Head Captain' for the Illinois District. The following year, he was elected a member of the Cherokee National Council. He came to develop his spiritual beliefs, which followed the White philosophy. This later became known as the "White Path." During the years that many political changes were happening in the Cherokee Nation, the Keetowahs were still meeting and observing the old ways. Redbird's sympathetic nature and extensive knowledge of the old ways made him a very influential man among the fullbloods and traditional Cherokees. At Sulphur Springs, in the Illinois District, the Four Mothers Society was formed. Much like the Keetowahs, the society was based on the ancient Southeastern religion. Largely made up of Natchez people, the group also consisted of members of the Cherokee and Muscogee (Creek) nations. These people banded together to fight assimilation into the non-Indian world as well as the breaking up of tribal lands. They turned to the Sacred Fire.
Redbird Smith was one of the Keetowah Cherokee who became involved with the Four Mothers. Redbird continued to develop his philosophy and coupled with the Natchez-Creek traditions with the Keetowah. He was active in the Four Mothers for some time, and agreed with their politics but later broke with them because of a disagreement over procedures. The Four Mothers are still active as a religious organization, with their main ceremonial grounds in the Muscogee (Creek) Nation. By this time, Stomp Dancing had basically ceased. The ceremonies of the ancient religion, such as the Green Corn Ceremony, the Friends Made Ceremony, and all the New Moon ceremonies had become extinct. By the middle of the 1890's, a Stomp Dance was held in the Illinois District with a group of Cherokee, Muscogee (Creek) and Natchez traditionalists. Redbird had often attended ceremonies at the Notchee Town fire on Greenleaf Mountain, near Sulphur Springs. The knowledgeable elders today maintain that the original fire used by Redbird had come from the East during Removal and never died. It was tended by the people of Notchee Town.
To the Cherokee, the Sacred Fire is much more than a fire. It is a physical, living manifestation of the Creator. The smoke of the Fire carries prayers to heaven and it is the smoke that carries spiritual messages from place to place around the world. The fire and its smoke can do good or evil, based on how the fire is built and how it is used. The Keetowah have always used the force for good and peace. Redbird taught, "If you are following the White Path, God will give you protection. If you are following the White Path and a man strikes you in the back, do not turn around. If you do, you will be off in the black."
Redbird made a pledge to return to the old ways, and decided that the first step was to locate the Sacred Wampum Belts, which were woven of wampum shells to record the history, tradition and laws of the Keetowah and Cherokees in general. The Wampums are believed to have a special power within themselves, and are guarded very carefully to this day by the Keetowah Society.
Between 1891 and 1901, factionalism once again surfaced amongst the Keetowah Society. The Curtis Act, and the impending allotment of Cherokee land by the Dawes Commission were feverishly spoke against by traditionalists and Keetowahs. These government acts threatened to cease tribal governments for both the Cherokee and Muscogee (Creek). The Keetowahs held another meeting, this one at Moody's Spring, near present-day Tahlequah. They decided that allotment was the only option they had. Redbird would not give in, so he and his followers withdrew from the Keetowah Society and formed the Nighthawk Keetowah. The Nighthawk Keetowah were determined to not only hold onto what culture and religion remained, but now what land and government, as well. In 1905, the split was even more defined, as the Keetowah Society officially incorporated without the Nighthawks. By 1902, some 5,000 Cherokee had succeeded in resisting enrollment with the U.S. government, and the Indian agents began making arrests of the leaders. Redbird Smith was arrested and taken to Federal jail in Muskogee, Oklahoma. Although he finally enrolled, many others did not. The Dawes Commission took the names of those Cherokee who appeared on the Census of 1896 and enroll them without their knowledge or permission.
Later in 1902, the Nighthawk Keetowah broke from ceremonial affiliation with the Four Mothers. Redbird wanted the Nighthawks to be more Cherokee in tradition, and less Natchez. The main fire of the Nighthawk was first established at Long Valley. Because Long Valley had been the convention ground of the Keetowah before the political schisms started, it was maintained for some time. It was the main fire of the Nighthawk Keetowah until 1906. However, because Long Valley Ceremonial Ground was also affiliated with the Long Valley Baptist Church at that time, Redbird desired to slowly move. He was convinced that it was important for the Cherokee to worship in their traditional way and not the way of the white man. A ceremonial ground on Blackgum Mountain, near Redbird's home, was slowly designed and laid out in 1902. The fire mound was built, a stickball pole erected, and four arbors placed around the dance ground. Later, Redbird changed the number to seven, one for each Cherokee clan. The council became based on advisors from each of the seven clans, as well.
By 1905, there were 22 fires established within the Cherokee Nation. The fire keepers and spiritual leaders of each ground assembled at a meeting at Sulphur Springs to learn more about the customs and rules pertaining to the fire. They were instructed by Charley Sam, son of Creek Sam.
The following year, a convention was held at Long Valley, and Redbird Smith was named Chief of the Nighthawk Keetowah. Shortly after this, the fire on Blackgum Mountain became the main fire of the Nighthawk. Redbird began traveling back and forth between all 22 grounds in the Cherokee Nation to give teachings of the old ways from the Wampum Belts.
By 1910, Redbird delivered the following speech to the Council of the Nighthawk Keetowahs.
"After my selection as chief, I awakened to the grave and great responsibilities of the leader of men. I looked about and saw that I had led my people down a long and steep mountainside, now it was my duty to turn and lead them back upward to save them. The unfortunate thing in the mistakes and errors of leaders or of governments is the penalty the innocent and loyal followers have to pay. My greatest ambition has always been to think right and do right. It is my belief that this is the law of the Great Creator. In the upbuilding of my people, it is my purpose that we shall be spiritually right and industriously strong.
"Our pride in our ancestral heritage is our great incentive for handing something worthwhile to our posterity. It is this pride in ancestry that makes men strong and loyal for their principle in life. It is this same pride that makes men give up their all for their government."
In July, 1914 Redbird traveled to Washington, D.C. with his son John and a Nighthawk officer, Ocie Hogshooter. They appealed to President Woodrow Wilson. Senator Lane advised Redbird, through his interpreter, that the fullbloods and traditionalists must accept their allotments and learn to be happy in the system. Redbird was understandably disappointed, and returned home where he turned to the Sacred Fire. Medicine men from each of the clans met with him, and they prayed for spiritual information. The enlightenment they received was that the Nighthawk Keetowah should only be a religious organization, and they should leave political matters alone. A Nighthawk Constitution was drawn which was based on the ancient forms of the Keetowah. At a convention in 1915, the rule was adopted that all members must know their clans. This was as important of an event as the reinstatement of the Stomp Dance. Many Cherokees did not know their clans, and had to ask the elders if they could recall the clan of the grandmothers. This became known as "The time we found our clans." The ceremonial fires began to flourish within the Cherokee Nation. Stomp Dances at individual fires were held every two weeks, and the lighting as well as feeding (sacrifice made to) the fire was carefully observed by all grounds. In addition, two general meetings were held during the year. In September, a three- or four-day meeting was held at Long Valley Ceremonial Grounds and the Keetowah business was transacted there. There was a bar-b-cue, hog fry, stickball games, and general fellowship. People came from miles around and each night of the meeting a Stomp Dance was held around the ceremonial Fire.
On Redbird's birthday, July 19, people would come from miles to Redbird's home and bring food and pay their respects. The celebration eventually became so large that it was moved to the ceremonial grounds near his home. This tradition continues today.
Around 1916, membership in the Nighthawks and Keetowah societies began to decline. With the loss of tribal land and attempted loss of tribal government, people became more and more disenchanted and acculturated with non-Indian society. However, those Keetowahs who gained spiritual strength from the Fire remained faithful As World War I progressed, many young Cherokees enlisted. A special ceremony was held each month for the protection of the young soldiers, and all of them came home. In 1917, the Nighthawk Keetowahs made a first of several community investments for their membership. Two hundred head of Aberdeen Angus cattle were bought.
The following year, in November of 1918, Redbird Smith passed away. He was buried with the death ceremony of the Keetowah. About a year earlier, he had wrote the following words, "I have endeavored in my efforts. . . for my people to remember that any religion must be an unselfish one. That even though condemned, falsely accused and misunderstood by both officials and my own people, I must press on and do the work of my convictions. This religion as revealed to me is larger than any man. It is beyond man's understanding. It shall prevail after I am gone. It is growth like the child, it is growth eternal. This religion does not teach me to concern myself of the life that shall be after this, but it does teach me to be concerned with what my everyday life should be. The Fires kept burning are merely the greater Fire, the greater Light, the Great Spirit. I realize now as never before it is not only for the Cherokees but for all mankind. . ."

After Redbird's death, his sons has serious disagreements amongst themselves, and some formed small factions and stompgrounds of their own. What a shame. The Keetoowah Society still has a mission of utmost importance to fulfill... IF they can stop their factional infighting. All of this was all prophecied long ago. Keetoowah Society beliefs, history, and spirituality

Budd Gritts, a Cherokee Baptist Minister, was appointed to draft a Constitution and Laws of government for the Keetoowah Society, and in response to the changing religious and Political climate of the times. The constitution and Laws of Government was formally adopted by the Keetoowahs who prospered and lived in peace under its provisions for many years.

In 1861 the Keetoowah Society enacted a provision, which stated:

"...if any urgent and important message from the Chief of the Cherokee Nation should be received by Head Captains to be looked into, it shall be the duty of the head captains to send up the message to all parts of the Cherokee Nation. If anyone, or any one of us Keetoowah is called upon or chosen to take a message for them he shall willingly without hesitancy respond to the responsibility."

During the period from 1859 to 1889, the Keetoowahs flourished and were strongly united. Almost without exception, the Keetoowahs sided with the Northern States during the Civil War. During this period the Keetoowahs were predominantly Baptists, Methodists, Presbyterians, a few Quakers, and a part of them worshipped according to the rituals of the ancient Keetoowah. Gadugi was strong among the Cherokee people during this period in their history, and Cherokee society was for the most part harmonious. Dissentions began to arise after white Missionaries objected to and condemned what they termed “the Pagan Form of worship” of the ancient Keetoowahs, and designated them as “The work of the Devil.”

Influenced by these white teachers, who were conscientious and sincere in their efforts of Christian work, the members of the different denominations became strictly sectarian in their practice, but there was still no enmity existing.

In 1895 when the question of the allotment of lands to the members of the Five Civilized Tribes was being agitated, the ancient Keetoowahs became very active in opposing the proposed change. In this, however, all the Keetoowah element were united in their opposition to any speedy change. From this time to 1900 the following of Redbird Smith were designated universally as the “Nighthawk Keetoowahs” because of their vigilance in their activities.

The Keetoowah Constitution and Laws of Government was amended in 1889, making it rather a political organization in character. From this period the differences between the Christian Keetoowahs and the Ancient Keetoowahs became more marked, and there was lack of harmony even in their policies of political effort.

In November 1899, the Keetoowah Society convened in Tahlequah to pass resolutions critical of the Cherokee Council and the Dawes Commission, particularly with regard to plans to dispose of Cherokee land and to create a roll without the consent of the Cherokee Nation. They challenged amendments to the Constitution, and resolved to enroll only under protest. The Keetoowahs in convention at Big Tucker Springs on 6 September 1901 decided to enroll with the Dawes Commission led to a final schism between Keetoowah factions. Redbird Smith left the meeting with eleven of his traditionalist supporters to resist enrollment actively, forming the Nighthawk Keetoowahs.

Several hundred Keetoowah Indians, including several groups that started out as members of the Keetoowah Society and left with the Nighthawks in 1901, coalesced to form a number of secretive, traditionalist, exclusive factions. Most of these groups started near Gore, Vian, or Proctor, and adjoining areas. These groups were nascent within the Keetoowah Society as early as 1893, and derived from Goingsnake fire or various of the Four Mothers Nation fires. Like the Nighthawks, these groups generally refused until 1910 or later to accept the work of the Dawes Commission.

While they fully intended to maintain tribal government and functions regardless of the fate of the Cherokee Nation, the Keetoowahs as a body officially acquiesced under protest to the effect of all the legislative provisions that would dissolve Cherokee Nation's government and allot Cherokee lands. They learned that they could not prevent the 1893 Act, the Dawes Commission enrollment, U. S. citizenship, the Curtis Act and the abolition of tribal courts, the Agreement with the Cherokee Nation of April 1, 1900, the 1906 Act and the virtual political dissolution of the ... Cherokee government as of 4 March 1906, presidential approval for all tribal ordinances affecting tribal or individual lands after allotment, and the allotment in severalty of Cherokee lands. See Cherokee Nation v. Southern Kansas R. R. 135 U. S. 641 (1890) and Cherokee Nation v. Journeycake, 155 U. S. 196 (1894).

One hundred and forty years ago a number of traditionalists came together and formed the Keetoowah Society. The organization still exists known as the Nighthawk Keetoowahs and they meet at Stokes Stomp Grounds near Vian. Do not confuse these traditionalists with the political organization of the United Keetoowah Band that was created by the federal government in 1946. But the Nighthawk Keetoowahs on the eve of the American Civil War came together and in their bylaws reflected eloquently the issue that continually faces us. In 1860, the Keetoowah Society wrote:

" We must not surrender under any circumstances until we shall "fall to the ground united." We must lead one another by the hand with all our strength. Our government is being destroyed. We must resort to our bravery to stop it.
...Few members of men of the society met secretly and discussed the condition of the country where they lived. The name Cherokee was in danger. The Cherokee Nation was about to disintegrate. It seemed intended to drown our Cherokee Nation and destroy it. For that reason we resolved to stop from scattering or forever lose the name of Cherokee. We must love each other and abide by treaties made with the Federal government. We must cherish them in our hearts. Second, we must also abide by the treaties made with other races of people. Third, we must abide by our constitution and laws and uphold the name of the Cherokee Nation."[1]

1993 Keetoowah Society Recognition

John Smith, the most influential Nighthawk leader among Redbird Smith's sons, had lost virtually all credibility among Keetoowahs by the 1930s due to his disastrous support of the Oneida con artist Chester Polk Cornelius. Cornelius nearly destroyed the Nighthawk organization with failed get-rich-quick development schemes that left many members landless and destitute. Some Nighthawk spokesmen and leaders now erroneously claim the UKB is a splinter of their religious cult, though the Nighthawks officially withdrew from all political activity after 1901, and barred its members from affiliating with any other groups or entities, including Christian churches. As the number of tribal towns associated with the Nighthawks dwindled from 21 in about 1900 to 3 in 1937, the remnants of the non-political" Nighthawk faction eventually collapsed into a variety of factions. These included two ceremonial grounds run by opposing factions of Redbird Smith's own family at Redbird's and at Stokes Smith's grounds, as well as the Goingsnake "Seven Clans" fire, the Medicine Springs Fire or Medicine Society, and the Four Mothers Nation.

 Keetoowah Society divergence

Other Cherokee political factions arose among the Keetoowahs, partly due to concerns about potential claims, partly to organize formally as a federally recognized Tribe: the Cherokee Immigrant Indians, and the Eastern Emigrant and Western Cherokee Association. These factions of Oklahoma Keetoowah Cherokees by blood pulled together a coalition from the northern 14 counties of Oklahoma between 1920 and 1924, electing a Chief (Levi Gritts), and an Executive Council of Cherokees by Blood out of the body of the Keetoowah Society, Inc. During the 1930s, the majority of Keetoowah factions, now without any support of the dwindling Nighthawk separatists, supported the idea of reorganizing all the Keetoowah Cherokees in all the old clan districts as a united Band under the proposed Indian Reorganization Act. The Cherokees by Blood, representing all Cherokee descendants rather than Keetoowahs alone, failed in 1932 to obtain standing as a party to the Cherokee claims litigation.

 Christianity and its impacts on the Keetoowah Society

Redbird Smith's son objected to Redbird Smith's reverence for (but not worship of) Jesus and the posthumous adoption of Jesus into the Keetoowah Society. This history seem a bit confusing, but was recorded in "The Burning Phoenix" by United Keetoowah Band (Federally recognized in 1949) historian Allogan Slagle.

From the 1993 document "The Burning Phoenix:"

"A very weird thing happened, politically speaking, in 1955. It had to do with Jesus Christ's membership. The Nighthawks at the Redbird Smith Stomp Grounds were in civil strife. Stokes Smith, Redbird's youngest, was Chief. Before Redbird died, he told his people to incorporate the worship of Christ into Nighthawk religion. In 1936, the Keetoowah Society amended its constitution to recognize Christ. While Stokes had acquiesced and signed the measure, he and other elders were unhappy.

"William Lee Smith, current Nighthawk Chief at Stokes Smith's Grounds, says his father, Stokes, took the fire, wampum and pipe, and left the original grounds, but left part of the fire.

"The Redbird Grounds people then joined the UKB, realizing they could worship Christ and be Keetoowahs, and have the advantages of political recognition all at the same time, and God would not mind. Thereafter, Stokes' followers refused to recognize either the UKB or his other relatives at Redbirds, although Redbird is still an object of veneration. (Leeds 1992: 60)"

Documentary Explores Keetoowah Society Culture and History

The 1984 KJRH-TV documentary, "Spirit of the Fire" called the Keetoowah Nighthawk Society AKA The Original Keetoowah Society the "spiritual core" of the nation in reference to the traditional ceremonies and rituals practiced and maintained by the Keetoowah.

 Redbird Smith

Redbird Smith was an influential Nighthawk member and revitalized traditional spirituality among Cherokees, beginning in the mid 19th century. Today there are seven ceremonial dance grounds in Oklahoma and these either belong to the Keetoowah tradition or the Four Mothers Society. In Redbird Smith's time, there with well over twenty Cherokee Stomp Grounds.

[edit] The Chosen Indian People

In explaining the Keetoowah wampum belts for the very first time publicly in the 1984 KJRH-TV documentary video produced by Oklahoma newsman Bill Jones, Chief William Smith stated that The Ancient Keetoowah are told that they are the Chief Indian Tribe in the Americas, and that if and when the Great Spirit spoke to the Indians in the Americas, they will deliver the message to the Keetoowah first.

 Trivia

Many Cherokee groups still refer to themselves as "Keetoowah (ki-tu'-wa) people." The original name used to describe all of the Cherokee People was Aniyvwiyai, which means the principal people.

"Back in Georgia from whence the Cherokees originally migrated to the Indian Territory in 1838 and 1839, the old Keetoowah group (City of Keetoowah) was dying out as early as 1835," (Tulsa Tribune, Dec. 28, 1928) stated John L. Springston Tulsa Tribune, Dec. 28, 1928).

Springston had served as a clerk and court reporter in the Saline District before Oklahoma statehood and was a Keetoowah Society Member.

In the early 1900s, anthropologists noted that on ceremonial occasions, Cherokees frequently speak of themselves as Ki-tu-wa-gi," (James Mooney, Myths of the Cherokees, 19th Annual Report of the Bureau of American Ethnology, Washington Government Printing Office, 1900, pg. 15)

Legends of the ki-tu'-wa people say that the name was given after seven of the wisest men (the seven priests of the ah-ni-ku-ta-ni) of the ancient Cherokees went to the highest peak and fasted for seven days and nights, asking the Creator for guidance. This peak is known today as "Clingman's Dome." On the seventh night of their fast, the Creator told them, "You shall be ki-tu'-wa (the spiritual center of the Cherokee People)."

(Benny Smith, The Keetoowah Society of Cherokee Indians, Masters Dissertation, Northwestern State College, Alva, OK, 1967)

Former Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians Chief Dugan confirms this, "One name for the tribe is 'people of ki-tu'-wa'." ("Where Myth Meets Reality," Washington Post, Sept. 13, 2004)

 References

  • Cherokee Nation Cultural Resource Center, Tahlequah, Oklahoma.
  • Cherokee, ISBN 1-55868-603-7, Graphic Arts Center PublishingStructure and function of a Stomp Dance Society

    The Stomp Dance is a ceremony that contains both religious and social meaning. To the Muscogee Creeks, Cherokees, and other Southeastern Indians the Stomp Dance is affiliated with the Green Corn Ceremony.

    The term "Stomp Dance" is an English term, which refers to the "shuffle and stomp" movements of the dance. In the native Muskogee language the dance is called Opvnkv Haco, which can mean "drunken," "crazy," or "inspirited" dance.[3] This usually refers to the exciting, yet meditative effect the dance and the medicine have on the participants. In the native Shawnee language, the dance is called Nikanikawe which refers to a dance involving friends or nikane. It is also called the Leading Dance by many Shawnees, but most simply call it the "Stomp Dance."

    Among Muscogee Creeks and Four Mother's Society members, the Stomp Dance Grounds contain an elevated square platform with the flat edges of the square facing the cardinal directions. Arbors are constructed upon the flat edges of the square in which the men sit facing one of the four directions. This is formally referred to as the Square Ground, which is encircled by a ring-mound of earth. In the center of this is the ceremonial fire, which is referred to by many names including "Mother" fire. Ceremonially, this fire is the focus of the songs and prayers of the people and is considered to be a living sacred being.

    Outside of the circle of earth, surrounding the Square Ground are the community's clan-houses. These houses are casually referred to as 'camps' and depending on the traditional level and financial situation of the community may be relatively nice cottages, shanties or in between. Prior to the dance dinner is prepared in these family camps. Throughout the night guests that arrive are welcomed to help eat up the leftovers. The foods eaten at Stomp Dances are typical southern delicacies such as corn bread, mashed potatoes as well as certain specialized Indian dishes such as sofkee, dumplings, hominy, frybread, and numerous traditional dishes.

    Kituwah stomp dance grounds are encircled by seven clan arbors. These are influenced by the traditionalist revival among Cherokees during the late 19th century, inspired by Redbird Smith.[4] In 1907, 22 ceremonial grounds were active on Cherokee lands in Oklahoma.[5]

    Stickball games are often played at stomp dance grounds.[6] Yuchi stomp dances are held in conjunction with their ritual football games.[7] Especially in Oklahoma, different tribes will participate in each other's dances.[8]

     Leadership

    Turtleshell rattle made by Tommy Wildcat

    A traditional Stomp Dance grounds is often headed by a male elder. In the Creek and Seminole traditions the Meko or "king" is the primary ceremonial authority. The Meko is assisted by his second in charge called a Heniha, the chief medicine man called a Hillis Hiya and speaker called Meko Tvlvswv or Meko's tongue/speaker. It is important to note that Mekos are not supposed to publicly address the entire grounds and as such that responsibility falls often on Meko Tvlvswsv. A traditional Creek grounds also employs four Tvstvnvkes (warchiefs/generals/police), four head ladies and four alternate head ladies.

     Ceremony

    The chief speaker calls the people to the dance for each round in the Native language. Every dance must have at least one woman to carry the rhythm. The order of the dancers is male-female-male-female in a continuous spiral or circle with visitors to the ground, then young children, and the odd numbers trailing at the end. The song is led by a lead man who has developed his own song on the multitude of variations of stomp dance songs. The songs are typically performed in call and response form. The dancers circle the fire in counterclockwise direction with slow, stomping steps set to the rhythm created by the women stomping with their shell shakers.[1] As the dance progresses, as many as several hundred people may join the circle. The dance continues until at least four rounds or four songs are completed by the dance leader. At this point, the dance concludes until the next leader is called out to sing. There is normally a 2-5 minute break between leaders. Participants who are making a religious commitment of the ceremony will begin fasting after midnight and "touch medicine" at four different times over night. The medicine is made from specific roots and plants which have been ceremonially gathered by selected "medicine helpers" and prepared by the Hillis Hiya at dawn of the morning of the Dance. This medicine is intended for the physical and spiritual benefit of the members of the dance at the ceremonial ground.

    The dance frequently continues throughout the entire night until dawn of the next day. The Stomp Dance is not meant to be a grueling and physically challenging event, but almost every participant on the grounds will dance most of the night.

     Dance grounds

    Stokes Smith Stomp Dance Ground, which is located in an isolated area of the Cherokee Nation tribal lands, is one of approximately seven active Cherokee grounds. Other grounds include, Hossossv Tvlvhvse Ceremonial Ground on the Poarch Creek Indian Reservation near Atmore, Alabama, the White Oak Shawnee Tribe's grounds and various other Creek and Seminole grounds in Oklahoma and Florida. The Eastern Band Cherokee stomp grounds is currently located in Raven's Roost, North Carolina, on the Qualla Boundary. The Creek tribe today has 16 active ceremonial grounds located throughout North East Oklahoma. One of which is located west of Eufaula south of Mill Creek called Flat Rock.

     Music

    Men sing stomp dance songs in a call-and-answer format. A leader is chosen for a song and the other men provided a chorus.[1] Male dance leaders often carry a handheld turtle shell rattle – most commonly made from box turtles. Among some tribes rattles can be made of gourds or coconuts. Women provided the rhythm with shakers worn on their legs, which are traditional made from turtleshells but can be made from condensed milk cans. During certain dances, a water drum can be used.[1] Ethnomusicologist Victoria Lindsay Levine writes that, "Stomp dance songs are among the most exhilarating and dramatic musical genres in Native America."[9]

     Attire

    detail of a stompdance skirt made by Ardina Moore (Osage-Quapaw), featuring rattlesnake-patterned ribbon work

    The dress of most Stomp Dancers is casual but nice. Most Stomp Dancers keep special attire for ceremonial occasions, but the physical nature of the dance and summery, outdoor conditions of the dance make comfort more important than flair. Women wear skirts and blouses that usually incorporate traditional patterns. The men wear blue jeans or slacks and hats, which are usually cowboy or ballcap styles, usually with a single eagle, hawk or crane feather in the hatband. The ribbon shirt is the standard ceremonial attire for both men and women, which consists of a loose-fitted tunic decorated with ribbons. Cherokee women typically wear full cotton skirts featuring ribbonwork in a rattlesnake pattern.

    The women wear turtle shell shakers, or shackles, on both legs[1] (typically 6 to 12 on each leg).[10] The shakers are hollowed out shells which have holes drilled in them and are filled with rocks, shot, soda can lids or anything else that will make them rattle. The traditional Creek and Seminole shell shakers are made of terrapin or box turtle shells. Lydia Sam, a Natchez-Cherokee traditionalist, was the first to dance with tin, condensed milk can leg shackles in the 1920s. Some ground leaders insist on the use of the terrapin by head lady shell shakers. This tradition continues today and most women start out with a set of "cans" before moving up to having their own set of shells. Women stomp dancers are called "Shell Shakers" or "Turtles."

    Etiquette

    Participants and visitors to a stomp dance ground cannot be under the influence of alcohol or drugs. Depending upon the grounds, they cannot have partaken of either for a prescribed period of time before or after the dance. Photography is not allowed at ceremonial dances. The ceremonies are religious, and many participant do not feel comfortable discussing details with non-Indians, particularly in regards to medicine.[11] Pregnant or menstruating women do not enter the dance circle at ceremonial grounds. Depending on the ground, they may or may not touch medicine.

     Secular stomp dances

    During the off-season, Stomp Dances are sometimes performed indoors to avoid the winter cold. Some societies incorporate Stomp Dance into pow wows or as educational demonstrations. Caddos,[12] Delaware, and other Woodland and Southern tribes have a secular or social stomp dance tradition. The Chickasaw Nation and Choctaw Nation of Oklahoma currently maintain non-ceremonial grounds for stomp dances and stickball.

  • from wikipedia