Keetoowah Society Factions
also see Modern-day Keetoowah
also see Redbird Smith Story (factions)
also see Smith, Redbird - Cherokee religious and political leader - from Encyclopedia of North American Indians
also see (offsite) Testimony before the BEFORE THE CHEROKEE NATION CONSTITUTION CONVENTION COMMISSION
also see BURNING PHOENIX: A Study of the Federal Acknowledgment, Reorganization and Survival of THE UNITED KEETOOWAH BAND OF CHEROKEE INDIANS IN OKLAHOMA, and of CHEROKEE NATION OF OKLAHOMA'S Efforts to Terminate the Band ALLOGAN SLAGLE, FOR THE UKB: 1993
SILLY ARGUMENTS OVER CREATOR AND THE SACRED FIRE: Button, Button, whose got the Button
As taught by John Red Hat Duke, a Longhair Clan elder of the Original
Keetoowah Society aka "Nighthawk Keetoowahs"
“Friendly relations were established between the members of the various tribes hitherto at variance, except in the case of the Cherokees. The ancient feuds among this people are remembered still.” From "AGREEMENT WITH THE CHEROKEE AND OTHER TRIBES IN THE INDIAN TERRITORY, 1865." may be viewed here
In the world today, there are many who claim to be "Cherokee" who the old ones might have shunned. Ones such as these. But then there has been altogether too much shunning. Many close family members have not spoken to each other in generations... and over what? Over arguments about the Creator, that's what... arguments which are so silly, because we all at times seem to have forgotten rule #1: Don't' argue about Creator!
Misguided people like these, seemingly have no foundation in the Old Ways. One may wonder; do they to speak out of turn out of pure selfishness, or to get gain or power over the minds of the people? What is at the very basis of all the misunderstanding and the confusion it has caused for so many years amongst all the differing and even feuding factions of the Cherokee Nation (and it seems to be only styling of the name of our nation that the political type of Cherokees could agree on at one time) -- its clans, families, bands and individual renegades?
The sad thing is (by this point in time) that these people who seem to be
so misguided at this time are only repeating what they were taught by their
elders -- and are just dutifully doing their jobs as they learned them --
otherwise who would have to have taught them such hateful things? They don't
really know any better, so it is our word against theirs... love against
hate - just as it was when we killed off the Ani'-Kuta'ni ancient Priestly
clan before Columbus arrived.
The Cherokee are still fighting an internal war between factions of kinfolks (as was prophesied long ago) and the Original Keetoowah Society, The Nighthawk Keetoowahs - in order to fulfill its obligation to see that the Cherokee people do not cease to exist, which in turn will assure that all of humanity will not cease to exist - are exposing these wrongdoings and calling for our kinfolk to stop telling falsehoods to the people.
The Stokes Smith stompground reputedly (as no one seems to be able to even agree on that) was the original grounds in Oklahoma - near Vian, Oklahoma. After the death of Redbird Smith, his sons had serious disagreements amongst themselves, and in (sad but true) Cherokee fashion, they went their separate ways. Many (20 or so) separate "stomp grounds" and "fires" were established in Oklahoma - and it was well known that similar stompgrounds and fires existed in Mexico, Texas, and all over the eastern United States - wherever Cherokee people lived and continue to live who evaded capture and/or assimilation into white culture - buthad to hide the practice of their religion (which included the Stomp Dance) up until fairly recently.
The selfish action on the part of the sons of Redbird Smith and their descendants has caused much loss of our religious culture.
Redbird Smith, in his time, recognized other "fires" other than those in Oklahoma... specifically recognizing the "fires" in Missouri where it was illegal to be an Indian - on pain of death if you didn't have a pass signed by the governor. Those statutes were never repealed by Missouri - just dropped from the Missouri law books. Many Indians were hung publicly even after the turn of the 20th century.
Today, there are one or more people who some of the Keetoowah factional members call "Chief" who would contradict the decision made by Chief William Smith and the Keetoowah Society Council in the early 1980s - would contradict the decision of another Cherokee denomination that their denomination split off from -- and thereby give people unfamiliar with Keetoowah Society hstory the idea that there are no others among the Cherokee religious traditionalists that should be listened to... chief among them the Original Keetoowah Society.
The decision to allow the photographing of parts of the Stomp Dance and parts of other ceremonies was made by the Original Keetoowah Society council in the early 1980s. The pipe smoking was filmed, and the wampum belts were shown and sermons were filmed. These "Chiefs" nowadays seemingly act like the Original Keetoowah Society Council's decision to allow filming never occurred. They seemingly would have you ignorant of these facts. Interestingly, one "Chief" that has spoken out - crossing Cherokee denominational lines - is employed by the Cherokee Nation of Oklahoma as a "linguist." George Stopp is only the nominal chief of ONE of the factions amongst the Keetoowahs. His faction, according to what he has said publicly, apparently teaches that theirs is the ONLY Cherokee religion and has in their possession the only "sacred fire." Imagine a white church claiming to have the only true religion and what do you have? The Mormons; the Catholics; Islam - all fighting amongst each other -- and some to the death.
Some people have forgotten that the Sacred fire is
portable and "splitable" and was moved
here from the east by the Natchez people and Redbird Smith obtained it from
them by and by, but that is another
story. The fire was actually split by Stokes Smith (Redbird's 8th
son) when he disagreed with Redbird's and the Council's
decision to venerate Jesus,
and went and founded another grounds and ironically named it after his
The Cherokee religion of old was and still is a religion of love, inclusiveness and diversity. Politics has entered into our religion and we say this to those who would destroy it: "Tell them they lie!"
Even though the Policy Analyst for the Cherokee Nation of Oklahoma has said that they as a political entity have no business dictating who may stomp dance, but on the other hand sneak in a dig that religious leaders would never give permission for the dance to be held "outside of the communities in which the Cherokee people reside" as if there are no Cherokees in North Carolina where they were state and later federally recognized; Arkansas where they are federally recognized, Mexico where they are federally recognized, and in Georgia and Alabama where they are state recognized... as if the Cherokee Nation of Oklahoma is the only bunch of Cherokee in the entire world... when in fact the United Keetooowah Band was federally recognized many years before the "Cherokee Nation of Oklahoma" was ever thought of. Ah, some people in Tahlequah have certainly learned the skills of rumor, innuendo, and circumlocution very well from some lowly white politicians... or maybe even from some even more lowly Cherokee politicians.
Not that all Cherokee politicians are bad hearted... some believe, and properly so, that in today's world the only way they may personally help the people with programs is by entering politics, and so be it... as long as they don't forget who they are serving... and not start serving themselves... as many have done and still do - as politicians in general do.
Many Keetoowah Indnias have to tribal affiliation a all.. no access to legal standing as Indianas owing to an earlier stand to not involve themselves in political affairs e.g. no access to Indian Child Welfare.
Political discussion should be fostered -- and encouraged to INCLUDE all Cherokees in the political process... and each side (UKB/CNO) should decide to quickly find common ground -- because the Cherokee people are suffering. We have suffered internal strife since ancient times. Do you remember the 14 years Cherokee suffered after the Trail of Tears while politicians wrangled over the payments of the 5 millions of dollars owed us in settlement for our lands in the east? The poor Cherokee people starved and froze while the politicians argued and lived in luxury.
Recently, even though the Cherokee Nation of Oklahoma's Policy Analyst said publicly that the CNO has no business dictating religious policy, but they seemed to go ahead and do it anyway - an old lawyer's courtroom trick. All the controversy, it would seem was over Sam Sizemore running a Stompdance in Kentucky -- where so many Chickamauga people, many being descendants of Cornblossom, hid out in the hills and evaded capture during the removal period. Many Chickamauga childen were massaced at Ywahoo Falls. The Keetoowah Indians and the Chickamaugas lived side by side on the old Arkansas reservation with the Western Cherokees who organized a traditional government along AniKituwaghi lines, so we certainly have affinity among us. George Lowry made that clear in his letter to the Eastern Cherokee.
ICARE Radio had so much fear over this issue, that they even went so far
as to put words in Sam Sizemore's mouth (and even change his identity to
the other Sizemore, Donald - who publishes the book Cherokee
Clothing. Obfuscation is an old trick used by some lawyers and
politicians... Politician use the old trick "Well the people who reported
to us" blah blah blah... that's just like the white politicians and media
people when they say "We have it from a reliable inside-the-beltway source"
ad infinitum, ad nauseaum... and none of that tripe would make it in a court
if law because it is just third party "he said she said" hearsay... but some
Cherokee people seem to love to buy into "hearsay." That's the way some people
stir up trouble, and it makes you wonder who they are working for... the
BIA, the CIA, the the truth is that "Cherokees are their own worst enemies"
as Chief D.L Hicks of the Texas Cherokees liked to say when he came and danced
with the Keetoowahs.
You may read George Stopp's statement below, where he reveals to the world the existence of the various factions of the Keetoowahs. Please be aware that George Stopp, in his statement, disagrees with a 20 year old decision of the Original Keetoowah Society Council, then led by Chief William Smith. When George Stopp says "I have no knowledge" he may want the world to believe that he speaks for all Keetoowahs, which he most certainly does not.
Sam Sizemore doesn't have George Stopp's permission, it is clear, but Sam Sizemore may indeed have been properly trained by other Keetoowahs with a much less biased connection with ancient Keetoowah religious traditions. George Stopp has no more say over what the Original Keetowah Society says and does than the Lutheran Church Bishop has over the Vatican Pope.
George Stopp contacted us at one time, and offered to open a dialog, and
we offered to open that dialog, but he has never bothered to answer our follow
up emails or phone calls.
Here is Richard Allen's (Policy analyst for the Cherokee Nation) statement copied from here:
"The Cherokee Nation does not have authority to give permission to anyone to do a stomp dance. The spiritual essence of the Cherokee people are maintained at what people refer to in English as the "stomp grounds." There is a separation between the government of the Cherokee Nation and the spiritual practice of the Cherokee people similar to a separation between church and state. It would be unreasonable and unthinkable for any of the leaders of the spiritual organizations to authorize anyone to do a stomp dance outside of the communities in which the Cherokee people reside. They would not authorize a dance for education purposes outside of their own domains."
The Original Keetoowah Society, or "Nighthawk Keetoowahs," has from ancient times taught that NO group of Keetoowahs or Cherokees "owns" the Sacred Fire. Redbird Smith once encouraged our religion to flourish -- as a signatory to the Moberly (Missouri Cherokees) Constitution -- and some of his descendants still encourage Cherokees everywhere to participate in the Cherokee religion, of which our dances and ceremonies are but a part. Our religion is a religion of love, period.
If you as an elder have been taught in the past (as so many Chickamauga elders have been instructed) how to properly officiate in any of our Dances or Festivals, please feel free to communicate this part of our culture to the younger generation.
It would be very difficult and take many years for stompgrounds to sprout back up.....the ground must have the Sacred Fire, which was carried West from our homelands by four firecarriers. A 'new' stompground cannot exist without the actual Sacred Fire being moved to it. There are those who do NOT have the Sacred Fire, and we call them exhibition or practice grounds. Each ground must have a medicine person. We realize that medicine people have been trained since birth, which is a term that makes implications of all sorts of rituals, procedures, and regimens. A hundred years ago when we still had 22 ceremonial grounds, Redbird Smith spent his life traveling in wagon from ground to ground to oversee them. He was the ceremonial chief of the Nighthawk, and each individual fire had a firekeeper and captains, the ground operates under the mother ground. New stompgrounds far away would be hard to monitor, and assist. Medicine men would be unwilling to move from our communities and families. It will take people coming home to the ancient Sacred Fires, and spending their time learning, and raising their children in these churches, so that their children can fulfill these roles in their own homelands someday. That is the only way I see it possible.
There are very certain protocols that sometimes differ, but for the most
part, they do not. The fires are all from the Sacred Fire, and they are rekindled
the same by each ground. Only the ceremonial Chief and the firekeeper is
allowed to even touch the wood. No woman who has not reached menopause, must
EVER touch the wood for this fire. This is just the tip of the iceberg. But
remember, raising your children in this way WILL make it happen.
There is a Stomp ground in the Big Cove community on the Eastern Band of Cherokee Qualla Boundary. It is run by Walker Calhoun. - Aginni
Cherokee religious and political leader
Redbird Smith was born in the Cherokee Nation just west of Fort Smith, Arkansas, to a Cherokee father and a half-Cherokee, half-German mother. His father, Pig Redbird Smith, was a blacksmith—thus the name Smith. Smith grew up in a highly conservative family, but by the 1850s most traditional Cherokee institutions had disintegrated. The clan system and the division of the political arena into White (peace) and Red (war) moieties had all but disappeared. Christianity had replaced the traditional tribal priesthood and community religious ceremonies. The sacred fires were no longer maintained; the stomp dances were no longer performed. Even the tribal wampum belts had been entrusted to the elected chief, John Ross. The only Cherokee religious rites still actively practiced were those related to healing, conjuring, and witchcraft. In most ways, the lifestyle of even the traditional tribesmen bore more resemblance to that of their white neighbors in Arkansas than to that of their ancestors.
Despite these changes, however, the western Cherokees were a deeply divided people. "Full-blood," Cherokee-speaking families lived primarily as subsistence farmers and hunters. They formed the core of a group that resisted further cultural change. Opposing them were acculturated, "mixed-blood" families, whose leaders were usually wealthy slave owners. Their plantation lifestyle was indistinguishable from that of wealthy southern whites. The two groups had divided in the 1830s over the issue of removal to Indian Territory. The "mixed-blood" leaders had signed the removal treaty of New Echota in 1835, and the "full bloods" had been forced west. In the years immediately following the removal, a virtual civil war of recrimination and revenge had raged within the Cherokee Nation. With the approach of the American Civil War, political issues imposed on the Cherokees from outside once again amplified the differences between these two groups.
In 1859 a white Baptist missionary, Evan Jones, revived the Keetoowah Society. The purpose of this secret society was to reestablish the moral life of the tribe. More social and political than overtly religious, the society quickly found favor among the conservative "full bloods" of all religious persuasions: Baptists, Methodists, Presbyterians, Quakers, and non-Christians. Their main cause was their opposition to slavery and to the power of the wealthy Cherokee planters. Pig Smith was an early member of the Keetoowah Society.
At the outbreak of the Civil War the Smith family, together with some other Keetoowah families, joined Opothleyaholo and the neutral Creeks and Seminoles in their disastrous flight to Kansas during the winter of 1861-62. Eventually most of the Keetoowah families ended up in the refugee camps in Kansas; Keetoowah men formed the core of the Cherokee regiments that opposed their government's alliance with the Confederacy and fought for the Union.
By the end of the war, Pig Smith had emerged as a major leader of the Keetoowahs, particularly among the most conservative, non-Christian element of the tribe. In 1867 he was elected to the Cherokee Senate and served as president. Pig Smith argued that the divisions and rivalry that had plagued the tribe since removal had been caused by the loss of traditional Cherokee values and beliefs. Foreseeing that his life would be too short to fulfill his mission (he in fact died in 1871), he took his son Redbird to Creek Sam, a Natchez religious leader, so that he could be educated to act as his adviser. Notchee (Natchez) town, located in the Illinois District of the Cherokee Nation, south of Tahlequah, was one of the most conservative communities in all of what is now Oklahoma. The Natchez had brought their sacred fire with them from the East, and their home in the Illinois District became the gathering place for religiously conservative kinsmen. It was in this community, with its living ties to preremoval Cherokee life, that Redbird Smith came of age.
In the years after the Civil War, the Keetoowahs became the major force in Cherokee politics. Tribal rivalries continued, however, and the "mixed bloods" gained control of the Cherokee government in 1887. That same year, pressure on all Indians to conform to Anglo-American norms increased as Congress adopted the General Allotment Act and pressed for tribes to divide up their lands. By 1889 many of the Keetoowahs believed that their society had become too political and had lost its original moral purpose. Meeting together, these dissenting Keetoowahs broke away from the old society and formed a new Keetoowah Society that would be religious as well as political. Redbird had been a "little captain" (community leader) in the old society. He now became a head captain of the Illinois District. In 1890 he was elected to the Cherokee council.
During the 1890s, as pressures from the federal government to allot the lands of the Five Civilized Tribes mounted and the number of non-Indians living in Indian Territory grew, conservatives such as the Keetoowahs and their supporters started banding together in opposition. The Four Mothers Society was established in the Illinois District, with the Natchez and their sacred fire forming its core. Redbird Smith, together with many other Cherokees as well as Creeks, became active in this new society. Some followers thought the society should be more overtly political, while others believed that it should withdraw entirely from society and focus exclusively on religion.
Redbird Smith sided with those who believed that the divisions in Cherokee society would not be healed until political opponents stopped resorting to violence and witchcraft. He argued that the Cherokees had brought their problems upon themselves by turning away from the teachings of their Creator. Only the Creator could save the Cherokee people. As he spoke out on the need to revive traditional religious practices, Smith called for the general adoption of the "White Path," the path of nonviolence and righteousness. To accomplish this goal, he instructed his followers to rekindle their sacred fires, revive the stomp dances, and take back their wampum belts.
Redbird Smith scored his first success when one of John Ross's sons gave the Keetoowahs seven tribal wampum belts. The interpretations of these belts became the basic teachings of a new religion. In 1896 Smith and his followers revived the Cherokee stomp dance. In 1902 they rekindled the first of the new Cherokee sacred fires. By 1906 there would be twenty-two sacred fires among the Cherokees. Finally, Smith and his followers formally broke with the earlier, political Keetoowah Society and became the Nighthawk Keetoowahs.
In spite of the opposition of the conservative Cherokees, the official tribal government agreed in 1900 to the allotment of Cherokee lands. As a member of the Cherokee Senate, Smith refused to vote on the agreement, and when it was presented for approval he declared he would not sign it. Smith encouraged his followers to resist allotment by refusing to register for their lands. It was estimated that over five thousand Cherokees followed his lead. In frustration, the Dawes Commission, the body charged with overseeing the allotment process among the Five Civilized Tribes, ordered the arrest of Smith and several other Nighthawk Keetoowah leaders. They were jailed briefly, but the Dawes Commission released them and proceeded to add their names to the allotment roll and assign them allotments.
In 1906 Redbird Smith appeared before a special U.S. Senate investigating committee in Tahlequah, asking that the federal government stop the process of allotment and honor its treaty obligations to the tribe. Although allotments had been assigned to the Nighthawks, hundreds refused to recognize their new titles or to live on their allotments. In 1910, seeing that the government was not going to change its position and that resistance was no longer in his followers' interest, Smith accepted an allotment. Although he continued to try to find a peaceful way to restore traditional beliefs, the power and influence of the Nighthawks began to wane. By the time of his death in 1918, many of the sacred fires had been consolidated and the Nighthawk Keetoowah Society had become primarily a religious movement; its days as an active political force were over.
Janey B. Hendrix and Garrick Bailey, Redbird Smith and the Nighthawk Keetoowahs (Park Hill, Okla.: Cross Cultural Education Center, 1983).
Roberta Glenn Bailey
(click and then click "open") the 1984 55 min. Documentary
"Spirit of the
Fire" - revealing the
"Original Keetoowah Society," the spiritual core of the Cherokee Nation.
The Smithsonian institution was turned down by the
Nighthawk Keetoowah elders in favor a Tulsa news man, Bill Jones because
he had "blue veins" and came in a good way. KJRH TV
Tulsa's Bill Jones was privileged to produce this documentary - filming the
sacred Stomp Dance, Pipe Smoking, Sermons, and the display of Keetoowah Wampum
Belts for the very first time.
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