Spirit of Nations
How It All Began-Knoxville's First Powwow
by Mark Finchum
will never be forgotten, after all it was partly a cowboy's fault.
For years Nashville and Memphis had hosted powwows. Knoxville, in
the middle of what
historically had been Cherokee lands, had no such
cultural event. It became my mission to rectify that situation!
In 1986 I served
as a member of the Tennessee Commission of Indian Affairs. At one
of our quarterly meetings, representatives of the Tennessee Historical
Commission approached us about
as "The Year of
the Cherokee," since that would be the 150th anniversary of the Trail
It seemed to me,
however, that a better choice would be "The Year of the Indian," so as
to include the other tribes in
Tennessee. Both commissions
accepted the change and a beautiful, colorful poster of Sequoyah was
printed and distributed to schools across the state in honor of "The
Year of the Indian."
What better time
for Knoxville to host its first powwow? Among those who became
heavily involved in the
project were: Toni Fortune, a teacher in
Harriman; John Evans, a banker; Ray Foster, a teacher in Oak Ridge, his
wife Yvonne, and both of their daughters and a granddaughter; Walter
Kaskuske, owner of an appliance repair shop,
and his wife Ruby; Ina
Swanson, an accountant and daycare operator;
and Joan Barnett from the
Student's Museum at Chilhowee Park.
better known as Marshall Andy, host of "Riders of the Silver Screen,"
was planning a big convention of cowboy movie stars and fans for the
spring of 1987. I suggested to Andy that he invite Iron Eyes
Cody, the star of those famous "tear in the eye" commercials for Keep
America Beautiful to be a guest. Andy agreed and for the first
time Indian people were represented at the "Riders of the
Silver Screen Film Caravan."
At the convention
banquet, about a half dozen of us in ribbon shirts and dresses sat
around a single table off to one
side. It was a strange feeling
to look out over the convention center ballroom at table after
men in their fanciest western clothes, complete with ten gallon hats
When Iron Eyes
Cody stood to speak, he looked in our direction and said that it was
like looking at a reservation. Next year,
said, he wanted to see more Indians in attendance.
I thought, "What a
great concept! We could have a cowboy convention inside and an
Indian powwow outside! Nothing could be more
Andy said that the
1988 "Riders of the Silver Screen" event would be in May. I then
contacted the World's Fair Site (as it was
called then) to ask about
scheduling a powwow for the same weekend Andy was
planning his cowboy
convention. That is when our first roadblock appeared.
The site had been
contracted to the Student's Museum in Chilhowee Park for a dog
show. Jim Begalla, Fair Site manager,
said I could contact the
museum and maybe work something out. I spoke then
Sincerbox, who was director of the museum, and found that they had
cancelled their plans.
We were free to use the
even put me in touch with Joan Barnett on his staff. She was
an anthropologist and willing to work on organizing a powwow.
And the rest, as
they say, is history.