Held since 1998 on the grounds of the Museum of the Cherokee Indian, the Cherokee Voices Festival will welcome 1,000 visitors on Saturday, June 11 from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. The free event typically features 30 people demonstrating Cherokee arts and crafts, five or six people in living history encampments, five or six dance groups, a half dozen storytellers and an equal number of musical groups.
“This is one of very few events where members of the public can see people who are all members of a federally recognized Indian tribe, presenting traditions that go back hundreds or thousands of years, on the land that they come from,” says Barbara R. Duncan, education director of the Museum of the Cherokee Indian. She co-authored (with Brett H. Riggs) the Cherokee Heritage Trails Guidebook, published by UNC Press in conjunction with the N.C. Arts Council.
The festival will feature several N.C. Arts Council Folk Heritage Award winners, including 94 year-old Walker Calhoun, a dance leader and traditional singer who also will be playing the five-string banjo. Other Heritage Award winners include storyteller Jerry Wolf and potter Amanda Swimmer. Many Cherokee elders typically are unable to perform or present at festivals, and this local event gives them an opportunity to do so.
There also will be Cherokee flute players as well as gospel groups singing shape note songs in the Cherokee language dating back 200 years. “It’s mostly family groups, singing in three or four part harmonies,” Duncan says. “You don’t usually get to hear this unless you go to sings in the community and in the churches, so it’s a unique opportunity for the public to experience it.”
The festival draws local Cherokee people but mostly brings visitors from outside the community, including groups from schools, summer camps, scouts and others. The Museum of the Cherokee Indian typically welcomes guests from all 50 states and 30 foreign countries.
“It’s a chance not only to see these things, but also to interact one-on-one with Cherokee people,” Duncan says. “You can talk to them on a personal level and learn more about the Cherokee culture, face-to-face.” For more information, visit www.cherokeemuseum.org.