Cherokee Cultural Celebration set this weekend at Red Clay

Staff photo / T.S. Madison, also known as Grandmother Elk, helps adjust Michael Hazzard's regalia during the Red Clay Pow Wow at Red Clay State Historic Park on Sunday, Oct. 27, 2019 in Cleveland, Tenn. The Pow Wow, which included traditional Native American dance and music, was sponsored Friends of Red Clay and the Native American Services of Tennessee.

A cultural celebration is planned for Saturday and Sunday at Red Clay State Historic Park in southern Bradley County, Tennessee, the site where Cherokee leaders met for the last time before being marched on the Trail of Tears in the wake of enforcement of the Indian Removal Act of 1830.

The Cherokee Cultural Celebration will feature demonstrations, traditional dancing, craft vendors and food vendors from federally recognized Cherokee tribes, according to a Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation news release on the state park event. November is Native American Heritage Month.

The Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians and the Cherokee Nation will attend, officials said, and the United Keetoowah Band of Cherokee Indians may also be present.

(READ MORE: Red Clay State Historic Park to mark 40th anniversary on Oct. 5.)

Those attending will find accurate, authentic representations of Cherokee culture and history coming from tribal members themselves, said Cleata Townsend, national director of the Trail of Tears Association.

The pandemic dealt a couple of blows to the usually annual event, Townsend, a Chattanooga resident, said Monday in an email.

"This event has always been the first full weekend in August and was canceled for the last two years because of COVID," Townsend said. "Then, it got pushed back to now because of the date conflict with one of the nations, so attendance may be down."

The National Weather Service forecast calls for a cool, sunny weekend with highs in the mid-50s or lower.

"Having been to this event since the '80s, it is like going to a family reunion, as you get to know a lot of people on a very personal level," Townsend said.

(READ MORE: Chattanooga's Brainerd Mission School, 1817-1838, unique among such schools, Cherokee historians say)

Red Clay holds a bittersweet place in Cherokee history as the last seat of the Cherokee national government before the 1838 enforcement of the Indian Removal Act of 1830 by the U.S. military, according to park historians and Cherokee history.

The Eternal Flame at the park is a memorial for the Cherokee people and those who were lost on the Trail of Tears, according to state officials and organizers.

"Red Clay is a significant and sacred site to the Cherokee people," Red Clay State Historic Park Manager Erin Medley said in the news release.

"It is of the utmost importance for them to be actively involved in the interpretation," Medley said. "The Cherokee Cultural Celebration is a way for them to come back to their homeland and educate future generations about their history and culture."

The event this weekend will feature vendors and demonstrators who are all citizens of the tribes, and all crafts at the celebration will be handmade by the vendors, according to organizers.

The park features, among other things, the Blue Hole Spring, a natural landmark used by the Cherokee for their water supply during council meetings and the James F. Corn Interpretive Facility, which contains exhibits on the 19th century Cherokee, the Trail of Tears, Cherokee art, a video theater, gift shop and small library.

Contact Ben Benton at or 423-757-6569. Follow him on Twitter @BenBenton.


The Cherokee Cultural Celebration at Red Clay State Historic Park is open to the public and scheduled 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Saturday and Sunday at 1140 Red Clay Park Road, Cleveland, Tenn. The cost is $5 per vehicle.