October Arrives..and Henry Starr Rides Again!

Good Morning from a sunny Los Angeles. It’s one of those days when I’m multi-tasking. Writing emails, working on “Super Indian” and watching the Michael Jackson/Conrad Murray Trial.

I’m a dedicated trial-watcher….at least when it has something to do with Los Angeles. I watched most of the Rodney King trial…then the OJ Simpson trial. In fact, me and my fabulous co-worker at Showtime Networks (yay for Michele Morris!) got into the trial so much, we used part of her white board to make a list of what actors would play whom in the “OJ Trial” TV movie. I’m not sure how accurate we were in our casting sessions, but we sure had fun thinking of actors who looked like Johnnie Cochran or Mark Furhman or Marcia Clark.

Arigon with a bear decorated like Sequoyah

Arigon with one of the many decorated black bears in and around Cherokee, North Carolina. This one is dressed as the famous Cherokee linguist, Sequoyah.

Since I last wrote, I’ve been to North Carolina and back. I must say that I had an exciting time visiting Cherokee. The Southeast Writers Gathering was a small, but focused group. Robert J. Conley, the amazing Cherokee Author/Historian gathering folks at the Museum of the Cherokee.

As in my previous posts, I have been to Cherokee but a very, very long time ago. When I caught up with my Mom, she reminded me that we had stayed overnight as a family. “You and your sister were fascinated with the creek that ran behind the small motel we stayed at. We had to stop several times along the road west so you and Gay could dip your feet in the water.”

Yep, that creek is still there and still crystal clear. I didn’t get a chance to kick off my boots and get my feet wet.

I presented a panel on songwriting — which was really an extended version of my live show. It’s always fun to demystify the process for folks…but I know that when somebody says “It was just that simple” — that it probably wasn’t. I did encourage folks to write, write, write and got to hear some of the other folks’ music. I really enjoyed listening to Sara Snyder’s music that she was creating especially for her Cherokee students. Imagine Lady Gaga singing in the Cherokee language! That’s how to get the kids interested in learning and using their language. Smart, talented lady!

The Wordcraft Circle Group

L-R: Lee Francis IV, Arigon, Evelyn Conley, Janet Miner. The Wordcraft Circle of Native Storytellers represents Native writers in many genres. Here's group leader Lee Francis with Arigon, Evelyn and Janet in Asheville, North Carolina.

Was also privileged to meet Kim Roppolo and Lee Francis of the Wordcraft Circle of Native Storytellers. Their group has been around for a number of years and they help Native writers find mentors, plus give out annual awards for outstanding writing/performing achievement. I’m a past recipient and was really honored to meet Lee. His father, Lee Francis III was an amazing writer and was a champion of all Native writers prior to his passing. Lee’s son, Lee IV is keeping the group going. You can check out their work at their website, Wordcraft Circle. They are continuing many of the original programs, plus starting some new ones, including a new group for Native comic book writers/creators. More on that as the story develops.

Evelyn Conley also made sure that we got a special tour of the Cherokee School which is a brand new facility for K-12 tribal members and community on the Cherokee Reservation. Their facility is an amazing show place and is the best school I’ve ever seen. It was so fabulous, I wished I could enroll as a student. They teach the basics, but including tribal language and heritage. The kids are learning math alongside intricate traditional weaving and beadwork. Part of their mission is to also get the students interested in reading and writing. I’m now working with the school to develop a special writing program for February 2012. The school is sponsoring a Native Heritage Month and there will be writers from all over the country coming to teach the students what they know. I was really thrilled to be asked to be part of their mission and it’s going to be fun…and a challenge. Again, more on this as the story develops!

Cherokee Warrior dancers

Traditional Cherokee men performing onstage outside the Museum of the Cherokee in North Carolina. These are the Cherokee Warriors.

The conference was over on Thursday, which was followed by the Southeast Tribes Gathering. At their huge outdoor stage, dancers from the Creek, Chickasaw, Choctaw and Western Cherokee gathered for social and exhibition-style dancing. There were stomp dances, ant dances, bear dances, two-steps…and some great storytelling and singing.

I was invited to perform — and did a short set on Friday evening. As many of you know, I wrote a song called “Mountain Windsong,” that is based on Robert Conley’s novel of the same name. It’s the story of two Cherokee lovers separated by the Trail of Tears. Robert wrote a happy ending for the two — and the song is celebration of love, sacrifice and determination. Every time I perform this song….Robert and his wife Evelyn end up in tears. This time, I had to really fight back the tears as I had an incredible wave of emotion performing this song in the place it was actually set.

Robert and Evelyn also gave us a tour of the entire Rez…including the large outdoor theater that is home to the long-running play “Until These Hills,” the big-as-Vegas Cherokee Casino and Kituwah — the original home of the Cherokee Nation.

Cherokee Outlaw Henry Starr

Yep, it's one my kinfolks, Cherokee Outlaw Henry Starr.

As I’ve said before, my Mom’s mom, Flora Snow Cornell, was Cherokee and Seneca. Flora’s family were one of the many survivors of the Trail of Tears. She didn’t talk much about the old days that I remember — only that her brothers and Uncles were characters. Family lore includes Uncle Jack, the bootlegger…and of course, legendary outlaw Belle Starr.

Whenever anyone mentions Belle Starr in our family, they’re quick to say she’s only related by marriage!

Belle’s husband Sam Starr was a direct relation.

Robert Conley also told me that his hero is one of those Starrs — Henry Starr, who was a notorious outlaw who pulled for a double-bank robbery in the early 1900s. Henry Starr holds the record for most bank robberies, but he’s sadly forgotten. But as Paul Williams said in “Phantom of the Paradise,” “That’s today, Philbin….today.” Henry Starr will rise again!

That’s all for today….but there will be more, much more, as the week plugs along.


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