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Indians share culture, beliefs at gathering

By Beth Smith
Uniontown, Kentucky (AP) 11-07

Never take anything for granted. Never take more than you need. Respect the land. And in all things, give thanks to the Creator.

These are beliefs that American Indians have always practiced as a way of life.

Several American Indians came together recently at Uniontown Indian Day in Uniontown to share some of their beliefs, as well as information about their culture, with anyone who took the time to listen.

The event was very much an in-depth and hands-on history lesson about the lifestyle and culture of the American Indians. People could participate in classes for stick weaving, beading, making corn husk dolls, medicine bags and dream catchers.

There was also a lesson in tepee construction and the art of smudging.


Matt Cordes, a member of the Long Plain First Nation of the Dakota Sioux and a resident of Radcliff, Ky., mesmerized a group of children and adults with his demonstration of tepee construction and the ceremony involved in building a home.

“As Indian people, one thing we have in common with other nations is that we respect the land we live on,” he said. “When we move into an area, we respect the plant life.”

That’s why before constructing a tepee, a grass dance was held to stomp down the grass. Cordes said after the Indians moved on, the grass would grow upright again. The grass was not destroyed to make the home, he said.

“As we go through our daily lives ... we’re always in tune with what the Creator has for us in our lives,” he said. “Every aspect of our lives is spiritual.

“As a family begins to put up a home – we invite the spirits to come in and be a part of our home, to bless the home so good things go into the home.”

Here, Cordes sang a song to bless the home.

“There’s a lot of heart that goes into the songs – it’s to share our hearts with the Creator as we sing these songs,” he said. “In our culture, we’re a very ceremonial people and there are songs for everything.”

Cordes discussed different aspects of the American Indian culture while all the time building a small tepee. Once it was finished, a drawing was held for the tepee, which went home with a small boy in attendance.

Tepee construction wasn’t the only attraction.

People could also experience smudging or the ceremony of cleansing.

Cairo resident Keith Gatewood, who is descended from the Sisseton-Lakota Indians who lived in the South Dakota area, explained that the idea behind smudging is to “soak the whole body with smoke.”

The smoke is from burning sage, sweet grass and sometimes cedar.

Participants are asked to wave the smoke toward their heart and then up over their heads.

Smudging is performed before every ceremony, he said.

If there’s one thing people should understand about American Indians, Gatewood said, it’s that “it’s not what you see on TV.”

Not everyone wears buckskins and feathers, and medicine men aren’t scary, he said.

But, Gatewood said, “American Indians have a spirituality that’s been around for years. We’re a very earth-friendly people. We believe everything is connected. If you change one thing, you change everything. Mother Earth is the support of all life. American Indians believe that everything, the rocks, the trees, are alive.”

“We don’t take anything from this earth without giving something back,” Cordes said, in an interview later.

“Anytime we cut trees for a tepee, we leave tobacco as a gift, to make a trade with the earth,” he said. “We pay special attention and we don’t want to disturb the ecosystem.”

Cordes said American Indians endured a time of “white washing” when their culture became almost extinct through societal prejudice and Christianity.

He said Indians were forced to lose themselves in the white culture or face serious consequences.

“Our ancestors had to go into hiding to preserve our ceremonies,” he said. “They did it in remote places so no one would catch them.

“I consider those ancestors our (the American Indians) veterans,” Cordes said. “Ancestors and veterans protect our ways of life.”