Saturday and Sunday, May 5 and 6, 2007 will find the first annual Coosawattee Native American Powwow and Gathering being held at Lions' Club Park in Ellijay, Georgia.
Two of the people behind this event are not only very good friends of mine; they are also lodge brothers.
Bro. Fulton Arrington and Bro. Thurman (T.A.) Wilson are members of Pickens Star Lodge No. 220, F. & A.M. They are also mixed-blood Cherokees.
Bro. Wilson was born in this area, and as a boy listened to his grandmother tell of the dark days when Native Americans were rounded up by the U.S. Army and forced to walk the "Trail of Tears." His grandmother told him that somewhere in this area was a burial ground of an unknown number of Native Americans who died while being held at Fort Talking Rock (also known as Fort Newman). No one knew exactly where the fort or the burial ground were, but young Thurman promised his grandmother he would find it.
Fort Talking Rock was a holding site for Indians as they were being gathered for the forced migration to Oklahoma. The Old Federal Road winds from Jasper, Ga., into Dalton, Ga., and on into Tennessee before turning due west.
After scouting the area for several years and talking and meeting with Native Americans in Oklahoma and North Carolina Bro. Wilson, now 75, located the burial ground in 1998 near Blaine, Ga. [map], and despite his advancing years, with the help of a few people and small financial donations from Pickens Star Lodge No. 220, and Blaine Lodge No. 534 (of which he and I are both honorary members), cleared the land. He has, some years almost single-handedly, kept the graveyard cleared, mowed, etc., ever since.
In 2005, several Native Americans from around the nation heard about the site, and on Saturday, May 29, a gathering was held to remember those who had lost their lives during the forced exodus of 1838-1839.
A similar event was held in 2006, attracting about 100 Native Americans and others from all over the country. The cemetery is on land very near the parcel that the Blaine Lodge building sits on. The area in between has been turned into a park of sorts, with rough hewn log benches and a firepit, built again mostly by Bro. Wilson. During both years, pot-luck lunches were served, utilizing the dining hall of the lodge.
Discussions with the state over making the cemetery a protected area continue, but meanwhile, difficulties have arisen over ownership of the land.
This year a much larger than usual crowd is expected, and the organizers have moved the event 10 miles up the road to the Ellijay Lions' Club Fairgrounds and Park.
In 2006 the Fort Talking Rock Cherokee Memorial Cemetery Trust, a 501c13 nonprofit charitable organization was formed to raise funds to purchase the cemetery land and to maintain this priceless landmark for future generations.
This year's Coosawattee Native American Powwow and Gathering on May 5-6 will feature Native American musicians, booths and vendors, drumming, dancing and much more. The park is on Old Highway 5, just west of the four-lane Highway 515, just south of Ellijay [map].
Arvel Bird will be one of the featured musicians at this powwow. He is a classically trained violinist from Arizona, who studied music at Arizona State University before transferring to Illinois-Champaign/Urbana to study with world-renowned violin master Paul Roland. Equally creative in many styles including bluegrass, Celtic, folk, blues, jazz and country, Arvel's mixed blood heritage of southern Paiute Indian and Scottish ancestry is now the inspiration for his award-winning own unique style. Arvel is an old friend to many on the Special Events Committee putting on this powwow, and has earned their respect and gratitude for his charity work and commitment to the Native American community.
The committee wants me to tell you that their earnest desire is that the event be both entertaining and educational, and that it may serve to foster understanding and cooperation between the Native American community of north Georgia and the other peoples and communities that share this land.
The powwow enjoys a long tradition in the Native American community of facilitating friendship, cooperation and unity between peoples of different backgrounds and beliefs. The organizers hope that the event serves to assist the various communities of north Georgia in a renewed commitment of brotherhood and understanding so that we may all work together to preserve the land and landmarks, and to honor the ancestors and history that binds us together.
For more information on Native American powwows, go to Powwows.com.
For photos and information on the Native American burial ground mentioned here, visit CherokeeCemetery.org.
We'll post more information on this event and on the cemetery as it becomes available.
I hope all readers of Burning Taper, near and far, will join us at the Powwow on May 5 and 6. I look forward to meeting you.
Image 1: Bro. Thurman (T.A.) Wilson at the cemetery, circa 2004, before the fence was put in (by the landowner, to keep people out). The marker was donated by the landowner in happier times, and its inscription thanks Bro. Wilson and Pickens Star and Blaine Masonic lodges. Since then, family squabbles over land ownership have erupted, and the Masonic lodges no longer officially donate or participate in the graveyard's upkeep, though some members still individually assist Bro. Wilson. Click to enlarge.
Image 2: The cemetery, pre-fence. Though the cross was added by Bro. Wilson (and later removed by the landowners), the rocks you see are the original "headstones" and are in their original locations. Click image to enlarge.
Image 3: Bros. Wilson and Arrington, speaking at the May 29, 2005 event at the burial ground. Photo taken by me. Click image to enlarge.
Image 4: Friend and local musician Bill Pound being cleansed in a smoke ceremony at the 2005 event. Photo by me. Click image to enlarge.
Image 5: At the 2005 event, a ceremony was held where rocks and paving stone inscribed with family names were laid to honor ancestors who may have been among those who were rounded up by or who died at the hands of the U.S. Army. Photo by me. Click image to enlarge.
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