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Community Roots: Selections from the Local Legacies Project
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Gary Tomahsah, Comanche, prepares for dance competition, 1999
Gary Tomahsah, a Comanche from Apache, OK, prepares for Men's Traditional dance competition at 1999 Pow Wow. Photo: Midge Durbin

Trail of Tears Pow Wow

This premier event is held annually at the Trail of Tears Commemorative Park in Hopkinsville, Kentucky. The pow wow provides an opportunity for participants to celebrate through dance, drumming and singing, traditional foods, crafts and storytelling, the great heritage of the American Indian, the original inhabitants and caretakers of the United States of America. For the visitor, it provides an exceptional educational experience.

The idea for hosting a Pow Wow in Hopkinsville was developed by the Trail of Tears Commission in 1988 as a way to commemorate the 150th anniversary of the tragic and cruel Cherokee removal from their ancestral homelands in the southeast, across the Mississippi to Indian Territory, which is now Oklahoma. Known as the "trail of tears," this forced removal affected Hopkinsville, which was along the trail, and served as a major stopping point for the Cherokees during the harsh winter of 1838 and 1839. Kentucky is particularly relevant to Cherokees, since the state land was once a part of Cherokee ancestral homeland.

The president and founder of the Trail of Tears Commission, Beverly Baker, began work in late 1985 to gain support for his idea for a commemorative park, and to encourage interest in acknowledging this tragic event in local history. Volunteers joined Baker in pursuing support of a park and designation of the Trail of Tears as a National Historic Trail. City and county governments, and a church donated $1,000 in seed money to the group. Baker's group was incorporated in Kentucky in 1987 to "develop and promote historical significance of the Trail of Tears to Hopkinsville and Christian County; to create a park that would pay tribute to the importance of Native American Indians to our history and culture, with special emphasis on the Cherokee; and to encourage tourism to the area through the park, its museum and activities."

With tremendous enthusiasm, a letter writing campaign to the U.S. Congress was undertaken by community members, schools, and government officials. A congressional bill supporting the park was introduced, which President Reagan signed in 1987. Land, which contained the graves of Chief White Path and Fly Smith, was donated for the park by the Kentucky New Era Newspaper and the Henry Morris family. In 1989, statues of the chiefs were unveiled at the park.

A proclamation by the governor set 1988 as the Year of the Trail of Tears. With the 150th anniversary approaching, a "competition" pow wow was planned to encourage attendance by Native Americans to a "non-Indian" land. Costumed dance competitions were in a number of categories, which included traditional, grass, straight, and fancy shawl dances. In 1992, the pow wow celebrated the Year of the American Indian.

Craft demonstrations were added to the festivities, which began to attract out-of-towners. The state provided a grant to help develop the pow wow grounds as the Trail of Tears Commemorative Park, which opened in 1993. In 1994, a tipi display added. In 1996, the National Park Service designated the park as a certified site on the National Historic Trail of Tears-the first non-federal property to receive this designation.

Since 1989, pow wow proceeds have supported development, operation, and maintenance of the park and its heritage center. School and scout groups, local clubs, and tourists regularly visit the part and center.

Documentation comprises 14 color photographs, text, and news clippings.

Originally submitted by: Ed Whitfield, Representative (1st District).

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The Local Legacies project provides a "snapshot" of American Culture as it was expressed in spring of 2000. Consequently, it is not being updated with new or revised information with the exception of "Related Website" links.

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