Note to readers of Native American Antiquity: This article marks a change. This year, the journal will change from weekly to monthly and will present facts on the art, archaeology, astronomy, history and culture in each article. I hope you enjoy the new format, wado (thanks), Courtney Miller.
For the ancient Cherokee, this time of the year was a time for personal reflection and purification through ritual and ceremony. It was a time of preparation for spring, repairing old tools and making new ones. It was a time when families moved into their “asi” or winter house and listened to stories told by the elders. The asi’s were conical clay houses partially submerged where the families could sit and sleep around the center fire to stay warm.
A mid-Winter or “Cold Moon Dance” was usually held in the community as well, marking the passing or ending of one cycle of seasons and welcoming the beginning of the new cycle.
“Early morning sunlight sets frosted grasses ablaze with gems, topaz, emeralds, diamonds, and the heart is supremely rich, u wa nei i, and very enlightened.
“Such mornings call us to brightness of spirit and to healing the deep hurts of the soul. Step out and breathe in the peace. Turn up the palms to give thanks and receive strength for the day and wisdom to begin this year.
“Because nature thrives where humans give up, the negative is turned away, All around us the breathtaking views tell us to do the same.”
“You look at me and see an ugly old man, but within I am filled with great beauty.”
–Tlo Tsi Hee, Old Man Buffalo Grass, Navajo
In the winter, the Cherokee moved from their summer house into their winter house, the asi. Watch a Native American Antiquity video filmed on location at Diligwa Village in Tahlequah, Oklahoma, narrated by Courtney Miller and a presentation by Feather Smith, guide at the Cherokee Heritage Center.
Diligwa Village is a recreation of a Cherokee Village circa 1710 located at the Cherokee Heritage Center.
In January, the constellation Orion becomes the dominant Constellation. The Navajo called this constellation “Atse Ets Ozi”, meaning slender one. It is sometimes associated with “Atse Etsoh”, our Scorpio constellation. The two constellations are never seen in the sky at the same time suggesting the relationship between in-laws. “The story says that a mother-in-law and son-in-law should not see one another in daily life. In fact, a traditional Navajo mother-in-law might even wear a bell to warn the son-in-law of her approach.” [Sharing the Skies, Nancy C. Maryboy and David Begay]
Learn more about this constellation and its role in Native American culture: Native American Skies: Orion
“By January 1839 the only Cherokee left in the east were reservation holders in North Carolina and escaped refugees. Almost the entire nation was en route across the country enduring miserable conditions. The illness and death was legendary, and it struck those of all classes. Even Quatie Ross, the wife of Principal Chief John ross, died in Arkansas. The first group of emigrants, led by Elijah Hicks, arrived in Indian Territory on January 4 and the last group arrived on March 25.” — The Cherokee Chronicles, Joel Koenig M.D.
for more, read: Preserving the Culture: Trail of Tears