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Conference on interdisciplinary Cherokee language and culture revitalization held at WCU

Riggs and Eastman

Brett Riggs (right), the WCU Sequoyah Distinguished Professor, and associate professor Jane Eastman gave a presentation on the astronomical orientation of the Kawi, Watauga and Noquisiyi mounds.

 By Brooklyn Brown

The 2nd Annual Teach What You Know, Share What You Have conference was held June 7-8, in Western Carolina University’s Bardo Arts Center.

The conference was an interdisciplinary Cherokee language and culture revitalization symposium hosted by the Kituwah Preservation and Education Program.

KPEP is an organization for Cherokee language and cultural awareness in Cherokee. KPEP is also hosting its annual Kituwah Celebration on June 9 at Kituwah, the Cherokee Mother Town.

The conference opened with breakfast and a prayer from the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians Speakers’ Council, followed by welcoming remarks from Renissa McLaughlin (Tostuwa), director of Youth and Adult Education.

Brett Riggs, the WCU Sequoyah Distinguished Professor, and associate professor Jane Eastman gave a groundbreaking presentation on the astronomical orientation of the Kawi, Watauga and Noquisiyi mounds. Eastman discussed her work with her anthropology students in analyzing the entry vestibule of one of the Watauga mounds as it relates to solstices. Eastman and her students conducted a field study in which they positioned a mock-up tent to replicate the mound’s orientation during the summer solstice sunset.

conference poster


Similarly, Riggs discussed the mounds’ astronomical orientations as they relate to the stars. The Noquisiyi mound in Franklin is known as the Star Place. Riggs presented the unique way in which the three mounds intersect to form Orion’s Belt, as pointed out by former Cherokee language program coordinator and Cherokee fluent speaker Tom Belt. He also demonstrated the view of the winter hexagon from the mounds.

“The Cherokee people constructing these mounds are scientists and astronomers of the first order,” said Riggs. “These mounds are like a calendar. This calendar is a place and everything emanates around it.”

Associate professor Ben Steere gave a presentation on the importance of the Kituwah mound and its history in Western North Carolina. Steere illustrated that Kituwah, as the Mother Town, serves as a touchpoint for all the Cherokee townships in not just Western North Carolina, but South Carolina, Georgia and East Tennessee, ranging from AD 200-1838.  

“Non-invasive archaeology can help reconstruct these cultural landscapes that simultaneously combat the erasure of Cherokee places,” Steere said. “This can create context for understanding more about Cherokee culture and society.”  

Steere also discussed Cherokee mounds as they relate to other earthworks of eastern woodland Indigenous societies. Steere ended with an important thought on the active use of Kituwah for Cherokee communities today – a prime example being the Kituwah Celebration.

After lunch, there was a presentation by Bo Lossiah (Galatsadi), KPEP curriculum and instruction supervisor. Lossiah discussed the importance of reclaiming Cherokee places through naming. He highlighted a recent accomplishment from EBCI members Lavitta Hill and Mary Crowe in reclaiming Kuwohi, Mullberry Place, formerly known as Clingman’s Dome. Lossiah also emphasized Kituwah as a reclaimed place, formerly known as Ferguson Fields in Bryson City.  

“Reclaiming Cherokee places with their Cherokee names is important so that our children grow up knowing what our ancestors knew,” he said.

Chi Shipman (Utsesdi), KPEP adult language coordinator and Tohisgi Climbingbear, adult language teacher, presented their work with second language learners in the Cherokee language master-apprentice program. Shipman and Climbingbear shared their process of experiential learning by teaching Cherokee through cultural practices like harvesting ramps and sochan, picking huckleberries and making hominy.

They also highlighted their community outreach through social media, particularly their puppet videos. They can be seen on their Facebook page: CLMAP Cherokee Language Master Apprentice Program.

Cassidy Galaviz (Tsisdu), the Dadiwonisi language specialist from the Snowbird/Cherokee County Cherokee culture and language program, provided a short activity for teaching Cherokee language. Galaviz presented a worksheet for introducing oneself in Cherokee, including name, location, family, hobbies and more.

The first day ended with a trip to the nearby Cherokee historic site Judaculla Rock, which is an outcrop of soapstone with ancient petroglyphs relating to the Cherokee legend of Judaculla.

The second day of the conference consisted of a historic site tour of the Kituwah, Noquisiyi, Kawi and Watauga mounds, led by Riggs.

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