The setting is the Wilderness Road Campground in Cumberland Gap National Historical Park. A soft breeze blows through the stately pines. It is joined by the flute like call of the wood thrush, described by naturalist Henry David Thoreau as the most beautiful sound in nature, “The thrush alone declares the immortal wealth and vigor that is in the forest. Whenever a man hears it, he is young, and Nature is in her spring. It is a new world and a free country, and the gates of heaven are not shut against him.”
The spicy fragrance of the Cinnamon fern dances in the air. Soon, the breeze, the thrush’s call and nature’s fragrance will be joined by jubilant song and thanks, for on Saturday, July 28, the Piqua Shawnee will perform the Green Corn Dance. It is a day on which park neighbors and visitors are invited to participate in religious ceremony, thanks and celebration, a day of forgiveness and pardon, a day of peace and friendship.
It is a day which Park Superintendent Mark Woods fondly explains park staff eagerly awaits.
“Our friendship with the Piqua Shawnee began in November 2006 during the park’s ‘Lewis and Clark Coming Home’ heritage event. Members of the Piqua Shawnee nation presented Lewis and Clark re-enactors and the national park with beaded wampum as a sign of friendship.
“Lewis and Clark came into contact with at least 50 Indian tribes on their journey,” Woods further details. “They were directed to be friendly by President Thomas Jefferson, and these ‘gifting ceremonies’ were common between the explorers and the tribes. Since 2006, our relationship with the Piqua Shawnee has grown from friendship to family. We reunited in November 2010 when an outside exhibit on Lewis and Clark was unveiled at the campground entrance. Now, in the height of the summer, during nature’s renewal, we’ll reconfirm our family bond.”
Principal Chief Gary Hunt, of Indiana, describes the national park campground as a perfect venue for the religious ceremony and dance. “In the shadow of the Cumberland Gap, we are one with our fore fathers who traveled this historic passageway in warfare and trade. Sharing the Green Corn Dance with Cumberland Gap park staff and visitors helps us preserve our unique heritage.”
In 1991 the Governor of the Commonwealth of Kentucky Brereton Jones recognized the Piqua Sept of Ohio Shawnee as an Indian tribe. On July 10, 2001 the Alabama Indian Affairs Commission under the authority of the Davis-Strong Act recognized the Piqua Sept of Ohio Shawnee Tribe as an Indian tribe in the state of Alabama, thus making the Piqua Sept the first petitioning group to be recognized in 17 years.
The Green Corn Dance was chronicled by an Indian agent in his 1915 memoir: The Principal festival is celebrated in the month of August ; the precise time is fixed by the head chief and the counsellors of the town and takes place sooner or later as the state of the affairs of the town, or the forwardness of the corn will admit. It is called the green corn dance; or, more properly speaking, “the ceremony of thanksgiving for the first fruits of the earth.”
It lasts from four to twelve days, and in some places resembles a large camp meeting. The Indians attend from all quarters with their families, their tents and provisions, encamping around the council worshiping house. The animals killed for the sacrifice are cleaned, the heads, horns and entrails are suspended on a large white pole with a forked top, which extends over the roof of the house. The women having prepared the new corn and provisions for the feast, the men take first some of the new corn, rub it between their hands then on their faces and breasts, and they feast, the great chief having first addressed the crowd, thanking the Almighty for the return of the season and giving such moral instruction to the people as may be proper for the time.
On these occasions the Indians are dressed in their best manner and the whole nation attend, from the greatest to the smallest. The quantity of provisions collected is immense, everyone bringing in proportion to his ability. The whole is cast into one pile, and distributed during the continuance of the feast among the multitude by leaders appointed for the purpose. In former times, the festival was held in the highest veneration and was a general amnesty which not only absolved the Indians from all punishments for crimes, murder only excepted, but seemed to bury guilt itself in oblivion.
Barbara Lehmann, Senior Advisor to the Principal Chief and Tribal Historian “invites all to participate in the 1 p.m. ceremony and dance. Additionally, on Saturday evening, dressed in regal regalia, we will walk in the footsteps of our ancestors along Athawominee, the Path of the Armed Ones, into the historic Cumberland Gap.”
Visitors are reminded that photographs will not be allowed during the Green Corn Dance ceremony. Ample photo opportunities will be provided afterwards. Visitors joining the one mile round trip hike into the historic Cumberland Gap should meet in the Thomas Walker parking area, located at the intersection of the Pinnacle Road and Hwy 988 (Sugar Run Road), at p.m.
For additional information, park neighbors and friends can call the park visitor center at 606-248-2817, extension 1075.