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SHS Students Learn Cherokee Booger-mask Making
by Will Chavez- Assistant Editor, Cherokee Phoenix
Student Maggie Sourjohn cuts rawhide for a booger mask she is making in Cherokee Language Class II at Sequoyah High School in Tahlequah, Oklahoma. Cherokee National Treasure Roger Cain visited the class in May to teach students how to make booger masks. (photo by Roger Graham - Cherokee Phoenix)

TAHLEQUAH, OK – In May, Cherokee National Treasure Roger Cain visited Cherokee languages classes at Sequoyah High School to teach students how to make booger masks.

"I've been bringing a cultural component to the language class. (Language teacher) Chris (Holmes) has been gracious to invite me over to share some knowledge," Cain said. "We've got more stuff planned for next year as well."

Cherokee booger masks that were made by Sequoyah High School students in a Cherokee Language Class. (photo by Roger Graham - Cherokee Phoenix)
An example of a Cherokee booger mask made by Sequoyah High School students with the assistance of Cherokee National Treasure Roger Cain. (courtesy photo)

Cain, a CNT for his mask-making skills, said the class came about thanks to the Cherokee National Treasure Mentoring Program, which provides funds for CNTs to teach classes in communities and schools. CNTs are artists recognized by the Cherokee Nation for their artistry and for sharing their knowledge with others to prevent the loss of Cherokee arts.

Thirteen Cherokee Language Class II students made large dance masks, some with exaggerated features such as large noses, while 20 students in Cherokee Language Class I made smaller masks.

"They will actually be able to wear them (large masks), and eventually next year we'll be able to go into the song and dance of the booger dance as well to not just make the mask but also learn the song and dance that goes with it," Cain said.

He said the booger dance is just one of many Cherokee dances and is a "clown dance" that was used to teach non-Cherokees "how to act civilized" among Cherokee people.

"That's what the booger dance is all about," he said.

He said the main components of the booger masks made by the student are gourds, rawhide, animal hair and paints. Cain said SHS students assembled the masks, as they would have in the 19th century, without the aid of modern glues.

SHS student and CN citizen Trenton Rosson said along with learning the Cherokee language, he got to learn how to make booger masks out of gourds to help preserve Cherokee culture. He said he used a Dremel drill to carve the mask the way he wanted it and then painted designs on the gourd.

Holmes said the mask-making classes "enhance the learning process" for students and allow them to learn Cherokee culture. The work was hands-on for students, he said, and the Cherokee language could be used to describe the work they did on their masks and the colors, shapes and sizes.

"This is a first for Sequoyah High School. This is the first time I've ever tried to incorporate this aspect into the classroom working with our National Treasure Roger Cain. Thus far, it has been a pleasant experience," Holmes said.

Student and CN citizen Cenia Hayes said making the masks is "quite the process," but it's been fun. After drilling out the mouth and eyes in her gourd, she painted a "lightning design" on the mask, made the nose red and added buffalo hair to make her mask "stand out."

"I learned they (masks) were used in dances and were kind of meant to scare people back in the day," she said. "He (Roger Cain) made the process a lot easier. He's a really cool guy. He really helped us out a lot and taught us a lot about these masks. It was just great interacting with him and getting to know him."

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