Greensboro, N.C. — When the Warriors of AniKituhwa perform ancient Cherokee dances at 21st century events, they have to balance historical authenticity with modern necessity — such as a place to put their keys.
“We wear things like side pouches or satchels,” Sonny Ledford says. “They hold all the things that we carry, because we don’t have pockets.”
Ledford, 52, is a founding member of the Warriors of AniKituhwa, which formed in 2003. He and another member, Mike Crowe, spoke by phone from the Museum of the Cherokee Indian, which sponsors the group.
The Cherokee began as one of the largest of five Native American tribes to settle in the southeastern part of what would become the United States. Thousands died in the genocidal forced relocation during the 19th century that came to be known as the Trail of Tears.
The Warriors of AniKituhwa formed in part to reclaim some of the tribe’s lost heritage.
“By saying ‘AniKituhwa,’ it means, ‘I come from that place’ — the center, or where the first fires began,” Ledford says.
The group usually begins performances with the Warrior Dance, also known as the Welcome Dance. Other dances may include the Bear Dance, which represents the four seasons, and the Beaver Dance, symbolizing a beaver hunt.
“All of our dances are a form of prayer,” Crowe says.
The Warriors wear traditional Cherokee clothing, including breechcloths, leggings and moccasins. They carry war clubs when they dance.
Ledford credits traditional Cherokee ways with rescuing him from a “bad road” he traveled for years.
“If it wasn’t for my culture, I wouldn’t be here,” he says.
The Cherokee people likewise have endured, Ledford says.
“We want them to know that we’re still here, we’re still strong,” he says.
See the Warriors of AniKituhwa at The National Folk Festival in Greensboro this weekend.