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Gateway to the Trail of Tears to be Site for
Native American Cultural Arts Celebration

CHATTANOOGA, Tenn. (June 13, 2001) - The plaza that surrounds the Tennessee Aquarium is said to be one of the sites where the Trail of Tears began in 1838, when thousands of Cherokee and Creek men, women and children were rounded up at gunpoint by American soldiers, held in stockades and herded into flatboats at Ross's Landing. The forced march to Oklahoma led to the loss of more than a fourth of the Native Americans on the trail.

But this summer, the plaza will be the site for a Native American celebration, rather than sorrow, when it comes alive in a new way with traditional Native American music, dance, storytelling and folk art every day from June 30 to July 29.

"Nature is the center of the Native American culture," said Betty Miles, Aquarium member program coordinator and organizer of the month-long event. "We want visitors to enjoy the connection between the Aquarium's environmental story and the rich traditional art of the indigenous peoples of the Southeast.

" Authentic Native American cultural artists from the indigenous tribes of the Southeast -- Cherokee, Creek, Chickasaw, Choctaw and Seminole -- will be featured.

Artists will tie Native American ideology to the environment by depicting elements of the natural world in their art. Each weekend will feature performances by dance troupes from all the southeastern tribes. Storytellers will weave traditional tales incorporating nature and the history of the native peoples. Craftsmen will use natural materials and wildlife images to make baskets, masks, musical instruments, jewelry and other items.

"Many of the plants and animals on exhibit in the Aquarium are integral to traditional Native American art of the southeastern tribes," says Miles. "So, inside the Aquarium, our docents will inform visitors about the folklore and uses of animals and plants in Native American cultures."

In addition to the cultural offerings on the plaza, the plaza itself and the exterior walls of the Aquarium building pay special tribute to the river's history. There are 53 bas-relief medallions that encircle the building, relates Miles. The medallions follow a linear timeline, beginning with the myths, rituals and lifestyles of the Cherokee Indians and -more- progressing through time.

The medallions cover a wide range of themes including: the life and time of the Cherokee Indians; the arrival of the Europeans; the coming of new settlers; changes in the river and land; displacement of the Native Americans; growth of industry and transportation; problems that arose from overuse and misuse of natural resources; and the river's present and future status.

"The Aquarium does a magnificent job of recreating lifelike habitats that illustrate the complex and wonderful relationships among wild plants and animals, and I think the Native American cultural arts celebration will commemorate mankind's connection with the natural world through rich, traditional arts," says Miles.

The Chattanooga Indigenous Resource Center and Library (CIRCL) board of directors is helping Aquarium organizers maintain the quality and authenticity of the Native American performers and artisans.

"The plaza of the Aquarium will be an excellent public forum for the modern people of the region to become acquainted with the arts and talents of the original people," said Vicky Karhu, CIRCL director. "We foresee this being a world-class event and a landmark collaborative effort. It will be something of which we can all be proud."

CIRCL is a non-profit organization established to promote awareness, protection, appreciation and preservation of the history, culture and contemporary contributions of the indigenous peoples of the southeastern United States through community involvement, education and cultural exchange programs.

The Tennessee Aquarium's Native American Celebration is supported in part by a grant from the Tennessee Arts Commission.

For more information, call 1-800-262-0695. Plaza activities are free of charge and open to the public.

Native American Celebration Press Kit

Native American Photos & Cutlines

Native American Satellite Announcement

Native American Celebration Calendar of Events

The Tennessee Aquarium in Chattanooga is the largest freshwater aquarium in the world. Built with private contributions, this non-profit educational organization is dedicated to the understanding, conservation and celebration of aquatic habitats. Admission is $12.95 per adult and $6.95 per child, ages 3-12. Advance tickets may be purchased online at or by phone at 1-800-262-0695. Members enjoy unlimited visits and other benefits. To join or for program and trip information, call 267-FISH. The Aquarium is open every day except Thanksgiving and Christmas and is accessible to people with disabilities.




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