WATERCRESS FESTIVAL: Inaugural event brings Indigenous traditions into focus

Apr. 22—ROSE — Watercress grows freely in the spring-fed creek on the Saline Courthouse Museum property, and that provided the impetus for celebrating Cherokee Nation's first Watercress Festival last weekend on the grounds.

The large crowd on hand April 20 sampled watercress and enjoyed Indian tacos and ice cream. Musicians played throughout the afternoon, and Cherokee National Treasures demonstrated their specialty crafts.

Samples of watercress wilted in pork fat grease and served with corn mush was shared by Taelor Barton from Stilwell. Barton picked the watercress on her own property.

Talisha Lewallen, manager of Cultural Programs and Events, said the team wanted to hold a festival and settled on April around Earth Day to take advantage of the watercress that naturally grows in the creek.

"It just all fell together and we have conservation talks going upstairs [in the museum], along with our native games and live music," Lewallen said. "We are hoping it will be an annual thing."

The grounds boast a variety of natural resources, and folks forage for wild onions and black walnuts. It is a scenic, calm place for the community, Lewallen said.

The team hoped the guests would enjoy the activities but wanted them to gain some conservation education, along with the traditional games and Native arts being taught.

Cheryl Cheadle, Blue Thumb volunteer coordinator, collected samples from the creeks to help educate people on the environmental workings of Oklahoma's waterways.

"This courthouse property has springs on it, and those springs are making some beautiful streams," Cheadle said. "So I've been out in water collecting bugs, fish and various creatures, and if people come by and want to see what lives in these waters, I have some things to look at and talk about."

Cheadle had a collection of various skuds — mayflies, caddisflies and stoneflies — crawfish, fish and a horsehair worm. She hoped that by sharing the ecology of the stream, she could impress on people the importance of protecting even the smallest of waterways.

"This horsehair worm looks like a piece of wire. At some point, they are going to be ingested by a grasshopper or cricket when they are in the egg phase," Cheadle said. "It will grow all curled up inside the insect's stomach and when the worm is ready to bust out the insect gets thirsty. At that point, the worm busts out of the abdomen, falls into the creek and starts the cycle again."

National Treasures represented at the event were Vyrl Keeter, who had Ryan Smith with him. Smith learned how to flint knap under Keeter, Lewallen said. Kathy Van Buskirk demonstrated basket weaving, and Betty Frogg — who also does basket weaving — was demonstrating twining. Perry Van Buskirk showed how to use traditional weapons.

"What I'm using now is commercial reeds, because at my age, it is very hard to gather," Kathy said.

To collect honeysuckle, a person must dig in the dirt and pull out long stretches of runners. The buck brush is hard to find now, Kathy said.

"The runners — you might see an inch or two sticking out of the ground — but once you pull it up, it could be much longer," Kathy said. "And then it has to be boiled and stripped."

Perry demonstrated how traditional Native American weapons were made and used. Blowguns, bow and arrow, stone chuckers, and clubs made from horn and heavy wood were arranged for attendees to handle and learn about.

"Nowadays, everybody makes bows out of bodark, commonly called hedge apple or Osage orange," Van Buskirk said. "It is not native to the U.S. Arrows were made from river cane."

A pre-bow and arrow spear with a throwing device was used during the paleo era to bring down woolly mammoth and mastodon, Perry said.

"We have Lillie Vann, who is the granddaughter of Cherokee National Treasurer Jane Osti, and is doing some pottery work like her grandmother," Lewallen said.

Other demonstrations were given by Lily Drywater with finger weaving, Laney Culley making flat-reed mats, and Danny McCarter — another National Treasure — fashioned marbles.

The version of stickball played at the event was not the social one with a pole in the middle of the field, but a more contact sport with tackling and holding opponents down.

Daimian Daugherty played in the high-contact stickball game. He explained the difference in using two sticks versus one, as some players were using two and others just one.

"It's a lot easier if you use two, but usually easier to scoop with one," Daugherty said. "If you have one stick, you have to pick up the ball above your knee. If you can scoop it up, you grab the ball out of the stick and throw the ball if you don't want to get tackled."

"Little brother of war" is the translation of stickball. The game played at the festival is the true Cherokee game and the social game with the pole as a target is a Choctaw game, Daugherty said.

"The women don't get to play, but the men are introduced to war [with the game] — the little ones and teenagers," Daugherty said.