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(Many Paths)
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Turkey Feather Cape Returns Via CN Color Guard
by WILL CHAVEZ Cherokee Phoenix

TAHLEQUAH, Okla. – The Cherokee Nation Color Guard is making an effort to bring back a piece of Cherokee culture and artistry that has been missing from the tribe since the 1980s.

The group recently presented a turkey feather cape to Miss Cherokee Brook Hudson at a spring powwow and hopes to educate Cherokee people about the history of feather capes among the Cherokee.

Commander of the color guard, Don Stroud, said he is familiar with capes because his sister, Virginia Stroud, once served as Miss Cherokee and was the first to where a turkey feather cape during her 1969 reign.

He said information about feather capes worn by ancient Cherokees was “sparse,” but it was known they did wear feather capes before European contact. The capes were fashioned like a cloak that covered a person’s torso and was tied at the chest.

“It wasn’t until more recently that journals with descriptions became available,” he said. “They were worn by both men and women. It was for warmth. This was something that was practical.”

Based on information found among the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians in North Carolina, feather capes were made from feathers from different types of birds and for all people in the tribe.

One construction method for feather cape was to use a net backing. The feathers were tied to the net at the intersections of the strings on the net. Stroud said no diagrams of capes remain from the time they were made and used in the 1600s and earlier. Also, Stroud said no exact directions exist of how the capes were made.

Hudson said she thought the powwow was an appropriate place to receive the turkey feather cape because it allowed the color guard to educate people about the cape and its place in history.

“I think it’s very unique and I feel very honored to be wearing it,” she said. “I understand the meaning of it. He’s (Stroud) talked to me about it, so I just felt very humbled when he chose me to bring the cape back.”

Stroud said the color guard is hoping to present a turkey cape annually to Miss Cherokee.

“We’ve been in contact with a local artist who makes clothing for powwows, and she’s willing to take a look at what information we have,” he said.

Stroud added that he’s concerned some people will “nitpick” about the cape’s authenticity.

“We don’t want to put Brook or any other Miss Cherokee in that position,” he said.

He said if someone has concerns about the authenticity of the cape, they should contact the color guard. The color guard unofficially adopts every Miss Cherokee, Stroud said.

“When they put that crown and banner on they just inherited a bunch of aunts and uncles. They’re going to look after her,” he said.

The feather cape presented to Hudson was made in New York, but has authentic turkey feathers.

Stroud said he attempted to make a feather cape himself, but didn’t like the results. He recently received an idea for improving his netting and said he will attempt to make another cape.

The color guard also wears traditional Cherokee clothing during some of its ceremonies. Members wear hunting jackets made by local Cherokee artists and finger-woven cloth belts and bandolier bags like those worn by Cherokee warriors in the 18th and 19th centuries.

Stroud also said the guard is looking for more members. Currently, there are seven members, men and women, who volunteer their time to post United States and CN colors. They make up the official CN Color Guard recognized by the Tribal Council.

For more information about the cape, call Stroud at 918-456-3637. For more information on the guard, call Stroud or Rogan Noble at 918-453-5694 in the CN Office of Veterans Affairs.

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