The Elite

Tony Walkingstick, dressed as an Elite Warrior.
Tony Walkingstick, dressed as an Elite Warrior.

A few weeks ago I went to the Spirit of the Nations Pow Wow in Jefferson City, Tennessee. I like pow wows for the drums, for the dancing and for the history shared. The fry bread isn’t bad either!


I’m sure I will sound silly to people who feel skin color doesn’t make a difference in speaking to a person, but it does to me. Initial conversation with a stranger is awkward for me, particularly when I don’t know much about their cultural background.081

At an event like this I enjoy taking pictures, and when photographing individuals I ask if it is o.k.

Fascinated by the yellow feathered headdress, I asked Tony if I could photograph him and he said yes. In my stumbling fashion I told him that I felt respect for any person and didn’t mean say anything offensive or ask anything too stupid.

Tony Walkingstick

Walkingstick very kindly answered my questions on the significance of his clothing. “It means the person wearing it is an Elite Warrior, the highest rank. When the enemy sees it, he knows this one guy can fight like five regular warriors.” Sounds to me like the forerunner of a Ranger in today’s army.

I asked what tribe he belonged to and he said he was of the Eastern Band of Cherokee. His ancestors were those Indians who fled into the Smoky Mountains, escaping capture by the U. S. Army in 1835. Approximately 500 remained out of 17,000 Cherokee forced to walk the shameful Trail of Tears.

Pow Wows

Pow Wows are like any cultural event with food, vendors, displays and contests. They might be held as a celebration of a season or in remembrance.  The number on Tony’s legging indicates he entered into the contests and/or monetary chances by joining in the ring events.129

This was a one day pow wow which meant most of the participants were local people. Tony said he lived in Cherokee. “If you are up that way, you can find me dancing in an open location right across from the Burger King.” I asked what day and time he could be found there. He replied to make a living he works all week, day and night.140 A young couple, also at the pow wow, join him.

Tony Walkingstick, a Cherokee in the attire of an Elite WarriorIn addition to dancing they also talk to people, answering questions and bridging a gap between the Native American and others. I hope to talk to him again.