Hawk Branham a member of the Catawba Native American Tribe in South Carolina recently treated Castle Dale and Huntington Elementary students to a living history presentation.
Branham said, "This is my first visit out here, I came at the invitation of my two nieces, Katrina and Aleasha Hardee who attend Castle Dale Elementary. The girls have wished that 'Uncle Hawk' would come out here for a long time and visit their school. My sister Billie and her husband Rick Hardee have been great during my visit here.
"I related Catawba history to the students. We shared music, drumming, dancing and singing. I also played some original flute songs for the children. Some of the flute songs are old traditional songs of my nation. The most important thing to me is that we shared information about who we are as an Indian nation. Our tribe was terminated by the federal government in 1959 because of our diminished numbers.
"I wore my full regalia for the presentation. It was really fun. I was honored to be able to come and visit the schools. The students were all very well behaved and respectful in welcoming me. A song and a dance honoring women and a friendship dancing including all of the students was part of the presentation.
"Each child enjoyed a different aspect of the program. Some children respond to the drumming and others to the flute music. I try to make education fun for the children as well as entertaining. I received many questions about my drum. One child wanted to know if I prayed to the Gods. I tryed to explain to him that we should give thanks for everything. One God created all living things. I think it eased his mind to know that as a Catawba I still pray to the same God.
"We are not a well-known people. I provide education about where we are based. My people have a 4,500 year old tradition in pottery making. This is the only one of the old traditions that has kept going. The pottery is made from clay dug from the banks of the Catawba River, it is processed in a pit fire built with wood and done in the traditional way. The pottery is made with tools that are handmade and passed down through families. Pots are rubbed with stones to get the finish. I am considered a master potter.
"Historians were concerned that the pottery tradition would die. My mother-in-law introduced me to the pottery making and I did research on the tradition. The pottery can be marked with any combination of markings. There are seven sets of markings that can be combined in any way to tell a story on the pot. There are corn, tobacco, sacred fire symbols and stomp ground symbols (place where ceremonies and games were performed.)
"Some of our tradtions have been abandoned throughout time as our people struggled to fit in. I am currently working to bring these traditions back. I am comfortable in the traditions of my people.
"I live our culture and tradition the way our people used to live, as our tribe has lost elders others must step up to keep the traditions alive and link the past, present and the future.
"There are a few of our tribe members in Colorado, Utah and New Mexico. I am involved with the children of the tribe and others teaching them pottery making and drumming. I am a certified archery instructor. I teach a lot of different people; all who want to learn. I do this by just being myself. This all came about in a strange way. I had some problems which drove me to find relief, strength and guidance with the traditions of my people. This is what I live for.
"I am somewhat of a spiritual leader for my people. I help people and give blessings. I also sweat for people in a sweat lodge. People come to me for guidance, when they want to learn about themselves. I feel chosen for this calling and I have learned to be open to what comes to you in your life. My people need to know who they are or they will have no future. I help people to find their own way and not to influence them to believe one way or another. I encourage those who have abandoned their ways to get back on the path. Whichever path is right for them. Our Creator has many tools they are not all shaped or formed the same. I encourage people to look within and make a connection with their Creator.
"Where I am at is not an easy path, but it is the right one for me. I am at peace. I have followed in many good footsteps. Many have had influence on me. Grandmothers, Red Thunder Cloud and two medicine men in the west, Dave Lewis and Sam Proctor of the Muskogee nation.
"I am in contact with these people constantly for guidance to make sure the things I do are proper and respectful.
"I made my way back to the Catawba people as a teenager. We didn't live on the reservation in my youth; but my heart was always there and there was a pull to go back. My people took me in and molded me. My people lived in poverty and there wasn't anything for the people. I have also worked on the restoration of my native tongue. There were a few words still around and we did research on our own and gathered as much information as we could from a local university. We learned basic linguistic skills like recognizing symbols. We gathered material and listened to old recordings to ensure the correct pronunciation of words. Our language has a lot of different sounds, nasal, guttural, and diaphragm usage. There was no one left who could teach the language.
"Red Thunder Cloud was one of the last to know a few words. I spend time with the people in my home teaching them the language. I like to spend personal time with people. We also have a cultural center. I am sometimes invited to play my flute for funeral services for people.
"I am working to bring the Spirit back to my people to build a bridge between the old and the new. I know what I am supposed to do and I will carry forth. There are people who wish to knock me from the path but they didn't put me on the path so they can't take me off. I wish for my people to feel good about themselves. There are those of my people who see the old traditions as competition for the new. I look for commonalities in people of different religions. There are enough differences we need to look for what we have in common with each other.
"I have made a commitment to the traditional ceremonies of my people, I hope to alleviate fears. I have gained much strength through these experiences.
"For all that we were, all that we are and all that we'll be! Hi-wo," (thank you) said Branham.