Tribe offers turkey feathers for cultural purposes
By JoKay Dowell
TAHLEQUAH, Okla. – An agreement between Cherokee Nation Natural Resources, the National Wild Turkey Federation and the U.S. National Park Service is helping Cherokees to maintain their culture.
CNNR Supervisor Pat Gwin said he learned that the NPS was conducting a pilot program that was allowing some turkey hunting in national parks and discovered that NPS officials were looking for partners to dispose of the bird carcasses.
“They were just being thrown away because technically it’s illegal to have turkey feathers,” said Gwin. “It’s illegal to have any wild bird feathers that you do not legally kill yourself.”
Gwin said the agreement between the entities took almost two years to finalize but it has been a tremendous success in the couple of months since its inception. Anyone requesting to receive turkey feathers through the program must provide proof of Cherokee citizenship, he said.
Gwin thought that the feathers would be in demand mostly by Cherokee bow and arrow makers who use the primary feathers for fletching on the nock end of the arrow, which improves the arrow’s flight.
But to Gwin’s surprise the call for turkey feathers come mostly from ceremonial fan makers and artists.
Cherokee citizen Arlinda Hodges of Colorado makes ceremonial fans from turkey feathers and said she is grateful for the new source.
“I heard about the turkey feather program through the Cherokee Phoenix newspaper. This was a perfect resource opportunity for me – my tribe,” she said. “As a Cherokee person, it has helped me preserve my culture. The use of fans has been an important component of traditional ceremonies that predate my family and many generations before.”
Dino Kingfisher, a Cherokee from Salina, Okla., is an award-winning visual artist who, among other media, paints images on turkey feathers. His feather art is shown and sold around the country and locally at the CN Gift Shop in Tahlequah and Lyon’s Indian Store in Tulsa. He said he is grateful to have another source for his paint medium.
“There’s really no where to get them,” he said. “I have always painted on feathers and now there is a good source.”
Sam Still, a cultural consultant and United Keetoowah Band of Cherokees citizen, said turkey feathers have always played an important role in Cherokee culture, usually given to children who might not yet have the ability to care for sacred items.
“Turkey feathers have always been given to the young children who had yet to earn their hawk or eagle feathers,” Still said. “It is OK for them to touch the ground, where it is not OK for an eagle feather to do so. So, young boys in training were given these (turkey feathers) until they showed that they could treat them the same as an eagle feather.”
Still also said turkey feathers can be used for art projects, too, since they do not bear sacred significance as do eagle feathers.
He said the feather program is a good one for Cherokees who are striving to teach Cherokee children their traditional cultural rituals or even the powwow dances of the Plains nations.
For more information, call Pat Gwin at (918) 453-5704 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.