TAHLEQUAH, Okla. – Cherokee Nation Principal Chief Chuck Hoskin Jr. announced today that the 69th Annual Cherokee National Holiday will be a hybrid celebration featuring both virtual and limited, smaller-scale in-person events.
Traditionally, the Cherokee National Holiday draws more than 100,000 visitors from both Oklahoma and out of state on Labor Day weekend. Although many residents have now received the COVID-19 vaccination, COVID-19 cases continue to be confirmed in Oklahoma and the virus remains a threat. Cherokee Nation will safely proceed with a variety of events that allow for smaller, safe gatherings, while also remaining cautious by postponing events that traditionally draw larger public gatherings.
“The Cherokee National Holiday is not only meaningful for Cherokees to celebrate the reconstituting of our government after one of our darkest chapters in history, but this year it will also celebrate our Cherokee language, which has existed since time immemorial and with 2,000 remaining fluent speakers today is also one of the utmost priorities for our tribe,” Cherokee Nation Principal Chief Chuck Hoskin Jr. said. “This year marks the bicentennial of Sequoyah, bringing us the Cherokee syllabary, which our Cherokee Immersion School, language translation department and master apprentice students use on a daily basis still today so that our language is perpetuated and thriving.”
This year’s in-person events include venues such as a downtown Tahlequah art market featuring Cherokee artists. The art market event will include a controlled setting requiring patrons and vendors to socially distance and wear masks.
The Chief’s State of the Nation Address and the Miss Cherokee, Junior Miss Cherokee and Little Cherokee Ambassador competitions will all be held in person, but with a limited audience.
Drive-In Movie Nights, a gospel singing, fiddlers contest, the annual car show, quilt show and fireworks show are also part of the safe, in-person lineup.
This year spectators can also tune in from the convenience of home to watch a stickball exhibition which will be live streamed, and take a tour of the tribe’s heirloom garden, tour historic Cherokee sites and more. The Cherokee Nation is also working on plans for an outdoor intertribal powwow that will include limited opportunities for in-person attendance along with live-streaming of the event, which can be watched around the world.
Larger events such as the annual parade, fishing derby, softball tournament, traditional games, and Cherokee Heritage Center and One Fire Field arts-and-crafts food and vendor markets, will return to normal in 2022.
The 69th Annual Cherokee National Holiday theme is “Cultivating Our Culture: Language. Literacy. Lifeways.” The theme and art pays homage to the Cherokee language and 200-year anniversary of the written Cherokee language, the Cherokee syllabary, invented by Sequoyah in 1821.
At the center of the design is renowned Cherokee inventor Sequoyah inspired in the Southeastern Woodlands design. He holds a tablet of his signature, shown as he signed it in historical records. Surrounding him is the wording “Presented to George Gist by the General Council of the Cherokees for his ingenuity in the invention of the Cherokee Alphabet.” George Gist was Sequoyah’s English name and was inscribed on the medallion he was awarded in 1824 by tribal leaders and worn by Sequoyah throughout his life. The image of two pipes was engraved on the back of Sequoyah’s medal and are displayed in the design. Seven stars represent the seven clans with one black star representing all Cherokee speakers lost to COVID-19 and who passed in the last year.
Those images are encompassed by a turtle representing the voice of the people. At ceremonial dances, women wear turtle shell rattles on their legs. The rhythmic sounds of shells as the women dance is said to symbolize the turtles lifting up their voice in song. The 86 leaves around the turtle shell represent the 86 characters in the Cherokee syllabary. The turtle moves counter clockwise in the tradition of the Cherokee people and its head is representative of the Cherokee language being an integral part of our culture in the East and West still today. The Holiday art was designed by Cherokee speakers and artists Dan Mink and Roy Boney Jr.
The Cherokee National Holiday commemorates the signing of the Cherokee Nation Constitution in 1839, which re-established the tribe’s government in Indian Territory after forced removal from the Cherokees’ original homelands in the Southeast.
“The Cherokee National Holiday remains a time of year we celebrate our existence and culture, but it’s important we come together as a people this Labor Day weekend safely, and in a controlled environment with masks, social distancing and other COVID-19 protective measures, with the full-scale Cherokee National Holiday returning next year to ensure ultimate safety,” Cherokee National Holiday Coordinator Austin Patton said.
Events are subject to change depending on COVID-19 conditions. Check https://holiday.cherokee.org for more information and continual updates. For questions about the Holiday, call Patton at 918-822-2427.