Native American Perspectives
Filming for the Native American gallery at Discovery Park of America brought our crew to many corners of the US and introduced us to some incredible people.
In the foothills of the Great Smoky Mountains lies the bustling tourist town of Cherokee, North Carolina. Here, I met Davy Arch, a man I thought of as the unofficial mayor of Cherokee. Any inquiry always led back to him. You need X or Y? You should check with Davy was a common reply to any question. He not only helped facilitate our shoot, but demonstrated the making of a blow gun and atl atl, explaining that the so-called primitive arts are making a comeback. He’s not just a nice guy, but also a talented artist, with works in the Smithsonian’s National Museum of the American Indian.
I also interviewed Myrtle Johnson Driver, who along with a group of other Cherokees, helped establish the New Kituwah Language Academy, where only Cherokee is spoken. For her efforts to preserve the language, Myrtle was bestowed the honor of Beloved Woman, essentially making her a Cherokee princess. During our interview, she replied to one of my questions in Cherokee, a poetic and mysterious sounding language. Then she cracked a smile and winked, Do you want to know what I said? She’d just sworn in Cherokee! We shared a good laugh.
Other interviewees were Bob Reed, an expert flint knapper; Amanda Swimmer and her granddaughter Melvina, who demonstrated their unique method of pottery making; Debra Standingdeer, who shared her knowledge of Selu, the Corn Mother; Jerry Wolf, who regaled us with his knowledge of the game of stickball; and Roseanna and Tom Belt, who shared moving personal family histories of ancestors who lived through the Trail of Tears.
My next trip was to Sulphur Oklahoma, where I met renowned textile artist Margaret Roach Wheeler. Margaret is of Chickasaw and Choctaw descent. This heritage inspires the design and production of her woven creations. She explained, Native Americans of all tribes believe that the spirit of a beautiful tool helps create a beautiful work….The spirit of the wood is in my loom and that helps make the product beautiful.
Snow, sleet and ice fog threatened to derail my trip to Idaho to interview the first Native American astronaut, John B. Herrington. On his mission to space, he carried eagle feathers given to him by people of many different tribes. Although he is of Chickasaw descent, he recognized the significance of his achievement to all Native Americans. An eagle feather is presented to someone who has shown great courage and honored their people, he explained, the eagle flies highest, and closest to the creator, and so I had the opportunity to fly a little closer, I guess.
I will never forget the people I met during this project, and I’m so grateful to have had the opportunity to help tell their stories–stories that will undoubtedly inspire all who see them at DPA.