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(Many Paths)
An Online Newsletter Celebrating Native America
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Cherokee Nation Revives Metalsmith Tradition
by Cherokee Phoenix
TAHLEQUAH, Okla. – Thanks to the Cherokee Nation's metalsmithing class, a nearly lost ancient art form is making a comeback. Southeastern Native jewelry has a look largely unfamiliar to most people due to the popularity of the Southwestern style of Native American jewelry with its familiar turquoise and silver look.

The tribe's metalsmithing program aims to acquaint the public with Southeastern jewelry while helping its citizens become more economically self-sufficient.

The inaugural metalsmithing classes were in session as of March 2 after starting in the winter. Each student were required to create three pieces of jewelry by the end of a six-week term, and those pieces were to be sold at CN retail outlets. Students were expected to carry on with their newly learned trade and keep the Cherokee metalsmithing tradition alive by perfecting their craft and mentoring less experienced students.

The tribe's Artist Loan Fund Program is available to assist class participants with business planning and financing so they may purchase the materials and equipment they need to become successful entrepreneurs.

Interest within the CN about the metalsmithing program is high. There is already a standing waiting list for the class.

Toneh Chuleewah, the class instructor and a second-generation Cherokee metalsmith, said the public is beginning to show an interest in Southeastern Native jewelry, and he hopes to help it grow in popularity. He said he looks forward to teaching his students a skill that will help them become financially independent while spreading awareness about Cherokee culture.

"Self-sufficiency is being built here. We want to promote our own designs because we have our own identity," Chuleewah said. "This could be a large source of income in the Cherokee Nation."

The metalsmithing class is not all about business. It also gives a perspective on Cherokee history and culture. Chuleewah said Cherokee artisans have traditionally used materials not often associated with today's commonly known Native American jewelry. Copper, rather than silver, and whelk shells, opposed to turquoise, were often incorporated into jewelry created by Cherokee metalsmiths. The copper was mined in the Great Lakes region, and the whelk shells came from animals found in the ocean.

Chuleewah said the fact that those materials were widely used by Cherokee artisans is an indicator of how much intertribal trading took place in pre-Columbian times.

Ronald Elk, a metalsmithing student, said he has been taught a great deal about Cherokee culture in the class and intends to carry on with the trade he is learning.

"I didn't know much about Cherokee culture until I got into this class," said Elk. "I would like to teach other students and keep the tradition going."

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