The Alabama Cooperative Extension System was a big part of the 15th Annual Festival or Powwow held recently at the Oakville Indian Mounds Parks in Danville, Ala. The Alabama Ethnic Food Safety Network generated a perfect union of Extension and the Echota Cherokee Indians. The initial request for ACES’ participation as an exhibitor came from Charlotte Hallmark, Echota Cherokee principal chief.
In his collaboration with Chief Hallmark, Dr. Paul Waddy, state leader for diversity and multicultural affairs, identified specific program areas, such as financial management, health and nutrition, home gardens and small animal production, that would be of interest and benefit to tribal members. Waddy requested Extension personnel to support this rare cultural opportunity with an exhibit containing Extension media and specialists explaining various displays.
Participating in the event were regional Extension agents and specialists including Chris Becker in Home Grounds, Gardens, and Home Pests; Donna Shanklin in Human Nutrition, Diet, and Health; and Robert Spencer in Small Animal Production.
To better understand the significance of this opportunity, a brief synopsis of the Echota Cherokee is essential. Since their earliest contact with European explorers in the 1500s, the Cherokee have been recognized as the most advanced among the American Indian tribes. With a culture that thrived for 500 years in the Southeastern part of this country, the Cherokees developed and progressed in their own way by watching and learning from their non-Indian neighbors. They developed a system of government and a cultural society that matched the most civilized at the time.
The members of the Echota Cherokee Tribe of Alabama are the descendants of those Indian people who escaped the infamous Trail of Tears by hiding out in the mountainous backwoods and lowlands of the Southeast. While some fled from the march after it began, others simply walked away and came home after reaching Indian Territory. They kept to themselves, did not speak their language and did not teach it to their children for fear that the child might speak it in the presence of someone who would learn the secret of their ancestry.
Many changes have taken place since then. Today, the tribe has become a legal, legitimate entity. Numerous members of the tribe have endeavored to retain their enduring culture and share it with their young people in an open, proud way by holding powwows or festivals each year for the purpose of having a family reunion and to share their culture with the general populace.
The Echota Cherokee Tribe is one of nine tribes recognized by the State of Alabama. The mission goals of the tribe are the education of their people, the preservation of their culture and the protection of the environment. To learn more about this tribe and others, visit their site http://echotacherokeetribe.homestead.com/ or http://aiac.state.al.us/tribes_EchotaCherokee.aspx.
According to Spencer, there were several thousand participants and visitors during the course of the event. The ACES booth was at the front entrance, exposing the general public and underserved persons to Extension and its information. Not only did participating Extension personnel share their wealth of information, they also learned more about Echota Cherokee culture and customs, a mutually beneficial opportunity.
Waddy continues to work closely with the various tribes offering the educational support of Extension in any way that would benefit the tribal members.
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