Eagle Dancer, Cherokee

Cherokee Eagle Dancer
Country/ People: U.S.A. Native Americans

Dance: Eagle Dance, Cherokee (and others)

Border: Navajo Sand paintings  

Osiyo Hello (in Cherokee)

The Eagle Dance has been performed by many Native American tribes or nations including the Iroquois, Comanche, Calumet, Cree and Cherokee.   Today, it is often part of celebrations of the Jemez and Tesuque tribes of New Mexico. The eagle holds a special place in Indian cultures, representing wisdom and strength. Some groups believed the Eagle held supernatural powers that allowed it to transport prayers to the gods. The dancer, adorned with feathers strapped to his arms like wings, imitated the movements and activities of the eagle.  Using only white (or nearly white) eagle feathers, false wings up to six feet long are created for the dancer to wear across his shoulders and arms. (Native Americans have been granted special privileges to collect and use these feathers, generally illegal under the Bald Eagle Protection Act of 1940, for ceremonial purpose.)  These ceremonial eagle wings not only represent the majestic bird but add drama and accentuate movements in the dance. At times in our history, the use of feathers in ceremonial dances and religious rites was used as an excuse to forbid traditional dances and practices by Native American.  An interesting article that discusses this topic was published in 1991. (N. Brown, .Donald "Indians, Feathers, and the Law in Western Oklahoma" Expedition Magazine 33.2 (1991): n. pag. Expedition Magazine. Penn Museum, 1991 Web. 03 Feb 2021 http://www.penn.museum/sites/expedition/?p=3960)

The Eagle Dancer wears soft, leather moccasins, shoes worn my most Native Americans. There were individual style and different ornamentations, but the basic concept remained across Native nations. Often made of deerskin, they allowed the wearer to move quietly and feel the ground, but protected him/her from thrones and other impediments.

Border: On the four corners of the border, I have indicated sand paintings.  Sand paintings were another way that some Native Americans believe they can communicate with the spirits. These are colorful, beautifully designed works of art. Although the Native Americans who originally created them did not consider them art, but rather prayer and medicine. As the name suggests, they were created of sand, with colors dyed from natural materials such as crushed stone, pollen and flowers. And they were also created in the sand as part of a healing ceremony. Once completed and sanctified, the person in need of healing sits in the middle of the image so that the spirits represented can realign the “patient” with the earth. Once the  ceremony and prayers were completed, the image could be destroyed, brushed away to bring its message to the gods.  In addition to the Navajo, the Hopi and Zuni Indians of the American southwest, create these ethereal paintings. The Navajo call sand painting 'iikááh, "place where the gods come and go."

However, as time has moved on, many of the sand painting designs have been created on permanent surfaces (sandpaper coated) for sale as art to tourists, which helps the native economy. I modeled the four images here after sand paintings I purchased decades ago to add to my cultural collection.  Some of the common symbols with stylized, geometric shaped bodies include Father Sky and Mother Earth  

(Taos Pueblo* UNESCO )


Dockstrader, Frederick J. Indian Art of the Americas, Museum of the American Indian.1973 print

Eagle Dance - Unto These Hills, Cherokee, NC 201 Video. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JyXUvd7F0kE

Native People.org Navajo SandpaintingsNationalclothing.org Native American Indian moccasins and their marvelous embellishments 10/10/2019 

Sand painting

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The Art and Writing of Barbara Rizza Mellin