New Times,
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  1. Culture
4 April 2007

The Cherokee religion

The songs and dances of Cherokee ceremonies and how their language is used as part of Christian wors

By Kathy Van Buskirk

The Cherokee’s are very religious people. Before European contact we were religious in knowing we had a creator, and worshipped him through song and dance. The man would sing the songs and woman would keep a beat to the songs through instruments called shackles. They are made from turtle shells with river rocks inside and attached to a piece of leather; these are strapped to both of the woman’s legs.

Today some people use aluminum cans filled with pebbles to provide rhythm while they dance around the eternal fire.

When they dance they are singing and praying to the creator, just like people do today in the churches.

When one goes to a dance these days the families gather to visit, feast and they dance far into the night.

This is a place to worship and in the Cherokee language we call God, or creator, U-ne-tla-nv. This is our church, and just like any other churches you have no littering, liquor, and/or rowdy behavior.

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Although we did not know him as God, it is the same person that we worshiped back then. Today some of the dances still go on the same way.

We had European influence and the missionaries who started pushing religion on us; because all of the beliefs were already there, it was very easy to switch the Cherokee’s into Christianity.

I believe most native tribe’s are very religious in their own way, because of the fact we live so close with the earth. Although some have evolved or others have been modified, the traditional Cherokee’s of today recognize the belief system as an integral part of day to day life.

Many Cherokees today go to church just as any other person does. I, personally, went to both the dances and churches while growing up. Although my father did not fully understand the dances, he did not forbid us from going.

Our father was a minister in some local churches and he would preach the sermon in the Cherokee language in the Tahlequah, Oklahoma, area where we lived and is considered Capital of the Cherokee Nation. Our mother grew up going to the Stomp dances as her religion while she was growing up. When she met our father and started raising their family they both started attending the local church.

A person can be of any denomination but most of the Cherokee people and family’s that I know are of Baptist faith. In the past they had all Cherokee preaching churches and also what we called a ‘white man’ church; all of the services would be preached in the English language. In the Cherokee churches these days they share both languages. There are not as many Cherokee’s that speak their native tongue anymore, so the sermons in the churches are done in the Cherokee language and in English, as well as, the songs that are sung in the Churches.

Most of my family still speak the Cherokee language and believe in God, Creator or U-ne-tla-nv as our lord and savior.

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