Walker Calhoun, "Beloved Man" of the Eastern Band, returned to his heavenly home Wednesday morning at his home in Big Cove. He will be buried Saturday at the family cemetery, with Rev. Bo Paris of the Pentecostal Church officiating.
Walker and his late wife Evelyn were always very kind to me and freely shared their knowledge. His passing - and hers! - are a great loss to all.
Among my prized possessions are two of the baskets she made in the last months of her life, and one of Walker's blowguns and an assortment of darts.
At 93, Walker was a major tradition bearer of the old Cherokee ways, especially ceremonial songs and dances. Born in 1919 into the Big Cove community in western North Carolina’s Qualla Boundary, Calhoun was the nephew of Will West Long, who was the spiritual leader and dance leader of Big Cove and a primary informant for Smithsonian ethnologist James Mooney.
In the early 1990's he revived the Stomp Dance in NC, creating the first recognized Cherokee stomp ground east of the Mississippi. (Last I heard, it's still the only one.)
For many years, Mr. Long was the last carrier of much of the traditional knowledge of the Eastern Cherokees, and despaired of finding someone with the interest and commitment to carry that burden after him. When Mr. Calhoun returned from his WW2 army service, he shouldered that burden, and in turn despaired of finding others willing to carry it on.
That began to change, I'm told, in the 1990's. The younger generation wanted to learn the language again, and frustrated at the lack of access, began to buy teaching materials from Oklahoma. Shocked at hearing grandchildren speaking Cherokee "wrong," pressure was brought for language instruction, which continues today.
This raises a question... what are YOU waiting for? Saturday is the last day of the Speak Cherokee Spring Special, giving you access to online audio/video instruction, testing, and interaction for the rest of the year. Why? That's up to you. But the clock is ticking, so find your "why" before your "why" finds you!