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
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).
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.