Posted 8/4/19

Red Clay State Historic Park is holding its annual Cherokee Cultural Celebration this weekend to provide an authentic Cherokee experience in the name of preserving a nation marked by …

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Red Clay State Historic Park is holding its annual Cherokee Cultural Celebration this weekend to provide an authentic Cherokee experience in the name of preserving a nation marked by history. 

The 263-acre park is the preservation ground and interpretive center of the Cherokee Trail of Tears. Red Clay, once known as the Cherokee Council Grounds, was the last remaining site of the Cherokee nation before the Indian Removal Act displaced them from their home in 1838. 

Danielle Shelton, PhD student studying U.S. history at Middle Tennessee State University, said Red Clay “was like a concentration camp” for Cherokee people during the removal. In attempts to adhere to Western culture and prevent removal, the Cherokee lived in homes resembling small log cabins.

Shelton said more than 90 structures populated Red Clay at one time, and a handful of replicas still stand at Red Clay today. 

More than 4,000 Cherokee died during the removal, Shelton said. Like many museums, she said the interpretive center is a method of education to prevent history from repeating itself. But, she added, the cultural celebration is a “silver lining” to the crimes that once occurred on Red Clay’s sacred grounds. 

Erin Medley, park manager at Red Clay, said this will mark the fifth year for the annual Cherokee Cultural Celebration. Though the park works to interpret Cherokee history through the museum and educational programs, Medley said this weekend is the opportunity to witness Cherokee culture from those who know it best. 

The two-day event is a festival to the Cherokee people, where guests can experience demonstrations and dances from the Oconaluftee Indiana Village and the Warriors of Ani Kituwah. There will also be storytellers, artisans, musicians and both traditional and contemporary food. 

“It’s important for people to see  the Cherokee have a history here, and this is a culture that is real and alive today,” Medley said. 

Rick Bird, former Tri-Council member for Painttown, said the weekend can be equal parts fun and spiritual. 

A demonstration of Stickball, a traditional Cherokee game like lacrosse that uses two sticks rather than one, offers something fun and immersive for guests, Bird said. 

Meanwhile, being near the Eternal Flame of the Cherokee Nation, a flame memorializing lives lost during the Trail of Tears, and the Blue Hole Spring, a sacred, deep blue natural spring, can inspire a humbling peace to park goers this weekend, he said. 

“The Cherokee are very peaceful people … and that’s something you can feel immediately when you walk into the park where the council once met,” he said. “Our goal with this event is to educate and show people that Native Americans are real people and  we know how to have fun.” 

Bird explained that each year, the event hosts a few thousand people in a single weekend, giving them an authentic experience of Cherokee culture “and a lot of laughs.” 

“Between the dancing and stickball, plus the food and crafting demonstrations —  Yeah, we know how to have a good time,” he said. 

More than anything, Bird said he wants people to know that “all are welcome. Get to know us, come try some food, and get to know our dancing, our sense of humor, and a culture that is brought by real Cherokee.” 

The Cherokee Cultural Celebration will be at Red Clay State Historic Park on Saturday and Sunday, from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Admission to the festival is $5 per vehicle. 

For more information on the festival and Red Clay, call (423) 478-0339, or visit


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