Cherokee artist, musician speaks at ANAD
September 29, 2011
ANNISTON ARMY DEPOT, Ala. -- O si yo.
With a simple hello, spoken in the Cherokee language, Tommy Wildcat began to tell those assembled in the Berman-Varner House on Sept. 14 about his culture.
Wildcat, the depot's speaker for Native American Heritage Month, is a full blood Cherokee who is nationally renowned as a flute maker, flute player and historical storyteller.
He peppered his message with Cherokee words and phrases, demonstrating the nuances of the language and how difficult it can be to master, since it is a polysynthetic language, one which uses a combination of words to convey a single meaning.
"We are at a time in Native American culture when our language is in danger of dying," he said. "It is rare to find anyone under the age of 40 who can speak the language."
Wildcat shared the importance of music within the Cherokee culture and how each Native American tribe had their own version of the flute.
"The Cherokee flute has been with us for several thousand years," said Wildcat as he lifted his instrument and prepared to play for the crowd.
"Whenever I play songs, I am representing my music and the ancient traditions of my people. The Cherokee are always a part of my music," he said.
Wildcat said many of the songs and dances performed hundreds of years ago by the Cherokee are still sung and danced around the campfires of his tribe in northeastern Oklahoma.
He said the Cherokee nation migrated south along the Appalachian mountain chain into the southern U.S. hundreds of years ago. Their first contact with people outside their nation was through deer trades, when they would exchange the hides of animals for items produced by other tribes or by European settlers.
About the time of the Revolutionary War, Cherokees began to settle in Georgia and northeast Alabama.
According to Wildcat, there are now about 197 Cherokee organizations throughout the U.S. His tribe in Oklahoma is the largest with 333,000 citizens.
Eighty-three depot employees attended the lunch event and 64 were present for the dinner.