For the visitor to the Pow Wow, it is an educational experience not often afforded in this area, for the participants, this is an opportunity to celebrate through dance, drumming and singing, food, and art the great heritage of the American Indian, the original inhabitants and caretakers of this great land. It is a study in history and time to reflect on life before the European invasion and the horrendous injustices suffered by American Indians at the hands us U.S. Government policy.
The idea for hosting a Pow Wow in Hopkinsville was developed by the Trail of Tears Commission, Inc. as a way to commemorate in 1988 the 150th Anniversary of the tragic and cruel Cherokee removal from ancestral homelands in the southeast across the Mississippi to Indian Territory in what is now Oklahoma. Known as the "Trail of Tears", this forced removal affected Hopkinsville as it was on the removal route and served as a major stopping point for the Cherokees in Kentucky during the fall and harsh winder of 1838-39. Kentucky had even older ties to the Cherokees as it was once a part of Cherokee ancestral lands.
To appreciate the importance of the Pow Wow and its development, here is some background on the Trail of Tears Commission, Inc. The Commissionπs founder and long time president, Beverly Baker, began work in late 1985 with an idea for a commemorative park and to encourage an interest in acknowledging this tragic event in local history. Interested volunteers joined Ms. Baker in pursuing support for a park and designation of the Trail of Tears as a National Historic Trail. City and County Governments donated seed money of $1,000 to the group. With tremendous enthusiasm a letter writing campaign to United States Congress was undertaken by local and area citizens, schools, City, County and State officials.
Local media joined the effort and United States Senator, Wendell Ford (Kentucky) introduced the bill in 1987 with it being signed by President Ronald Reagan in December of that year. With pledge of bill sponsorship, the group sought and secured a commitment of land to be donated to the effort. This property which contained the graves of Chief White Path and Fly Smith who, during the Cherokee stay in Hopkinsville, died and were buried here. This parcel was donated by Kentucky New Era Newspaper with an additional parcel lying across the river being donated by the Henry Morris Family.
Moving to formalize its standing, the group incorporated in Kentucky in July, 1987, as a non-profit corporation, its purpose: "formed 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 special activities."
With the 150th anniversary of the Trail of Tears approaching a Pow Wow would give area residents an opportunity to see Native American Indians as no such other event was being held in the state at that time. Commission members visited a Tennessee pow wow in 1987 to get an idea of what one was like, seek some advice and they began work. A competition pow wow was selected over a traditional pow wow as not being in "Indian Country" a means was needed to encourage attendance. Prize money was set for two classes of menπs and womenπs competition; two junior boyπs classes and one girls class. Date selection was week-end after Labor Day as there were no other pow-wows held at that time in the six states closest to Kentucky. Publicity was sent to Indian organizations, publications and the Cherokee reservation in North Carolina to seek dancers and native craftsmen.
The site was donated by West Kentucky Fair Board. With very limited funds on hand, the Commission applied for a one-time grant from the local tourism group, planned a pow-wow program with ads for revenue, rented food booth space to local civic clubs; rented craft booth space; and would charge pow wow admission to general public. A Pow Wow staff was hired consisting of Head Man dancer, Head Lady dancer, Master of ceremonies, a Storyteller and one drum group. Commission members solicited friends, family and co-workers to help with the event. Also, a proclamation was obtained from then Governor Wallace G. Wilkinson setting 1988 as "The year of the Trail of Tears" and from the late Mayor Tommy Gates naming September 1988 as "Native American Indian Month".
While an artistic success and well received by public, the 1988 Pow Wow was not a financial success but did offer the potential as a money maker with some improvements. The commission wanted a member to head this activity up. Walter Baker was named Pow Wow Chairman and over the next nine (9) years he developed this program into the top quality Native American event that it is today, well respected by Native American dancers and craftsmen, and a "must" attend event. Traveling at his own expense, Baker traced the pow wow circuit across the county each year learning and observing much. This helped establish a needed contact with dancers, drums, master or ceremonies and quality craftsmen. Baker sought and secured input from knowledgeable Cherokee elders on details. As this event has always been intertribal" (open to all tribes), its emphasis has been on the Cherokees.