Skip to main content

A Canoe Voyage to Increase Cultural Understanding

On June 11, Jerry “2 Feather” Thornton, Cherokee, will join several other American Indians in Kentucky on a canoe adventure he has deemed the “Voyage for Native American Awareness 2011.” The 110-mile, three-week journey—created by Thornton to educate the public about the presence of Native Americans in Kentucky via trade camps along the route—has been endorsed by the Kentucky Native American Heritage Commission.

According to Thornton, there is a vast Native presence in his state, contrary to the beliefs of the majority of Kentuckians. “There are still so many people that believe Native Americans never lived in Kentucky. Most people believe that American Indians only fought battles or traveled through the state. That is a huge farce that has been proven and re-proven. In fact, they have built many small towns here in Kentucky on the remains of Native villages.”

Thornton’s claims aren’t without merit. According to an archive article in, more than 22,000 archaeological sites have already been recorded within the state, ranging from small backyard finds to larger accumulations that attract university researchers. In the article, University of Kentucky assistant professor Dr. George Crothers, says the discovered sites may represent only about 20 percent of the actual sites discovered as of 2004.

Currently, there are no formally recognized American Indian tribes by the Kentucky General Assembly. Although in 2009, the Ridgetop Shawnee Tribe was recognized and commended for its work as a nonprofit organization, the tribe has since terminated registration and member services as of October 2010.

In November 2010, the Southern Cherokee Nation of Kentucky with the assistance of Rep. Reginald Meeks, D-Louisville, began establishing a formal process to grant state recognition to groups claiming to be tribes within the state, with HB 44. Although the House has twice approved the measure, the Kentucky Senate has killed the bill each time.

The refusal to grant recognition has been frustrating to Thornton and other organizers of the canoe voyage, but they say by increasing awareness and teaching the public about the existence of Kentucky American Indians, they are making steps in the right direction. Thornton says the canoe journey “is mostly to meet with people and to let them know about the Native presence here in Kentucky.”

Momfeather Erickson, Cherokee, who lives in Henderson, Kentucky is one of the event organizers and the founder of the Mantle Rock Native Education & Cultural Center. Erickson, whose family history can be documented back to Kentucky tax records before it was an official state, also sees the importance of this event in raising awareness about the Native presence in Kentucky. She explained that ignorance exists, because in the past Native people in Kentucky were afraid to admit they were Indians.

“Older people didn't want anyone to know they were Cherokee. Indians in Kentucky were not threatened by the Trail of Tears. They did not want the land here. People did not know that. They did not speak their language because you could not own property if you were Cherokee. If you couldn't buy a car because your name was Vincent, you would probably change it to George or Fred. I think people do not understand these things. We know we were here first,” Erickson said.

As the coordinator of the third trade camp, Erickson is looking forward to sharing her Native culture. “Years ago, when people would come down the river, trade camps would be along the side of the river and they would trade furs and guns and knives or materials. We do a lot of teaching through the trade camps.”

John “Walks 2 Heart Trail” Kiper, Cherokee, a coordinator responsible for maintaining food and supplies also sees the importance or raising awareness through the canoe voyage. “We are trying to bring attention to the plight of Native Americans in the state of Kentucky. We don't have tribes as such; we are trying to get state recognition. The more people that we can get involved to realize the fight we're in, then we think it will be more likely that the politicians will listen to us and change their vote.”

This event is the second annual event for Thornton who attempted a longer route in 2009. Thornton looks forward to this year’s event, stating his previous journey “was an experience I would not trade for anything else.”

Event Information:

The Voyage of Native American Awareness 2011 canoe journey will begin on the Green River in Rochester, Kentucky and will travel through to the Ohio River at Henderson, Kentucky.

There will be three trade camps set up along the trip to highlight support for Native American issues in Kentucky and to allow the public to see and take part in activities. These educational and public-friendly trade camps will take place in Livermore on June 18 and 19, Curdsville, Kentucky on June 25 and 26 and Henderson, Kentucky on July 2 and 3.

The canoe travel will only take place during the day and participants will coordinate with the Corps of Engineers throughout the length of the trip. Several canoes are expected to make the voyage including scout troops and local community college classes.

People interested is supporting the effort can contact Jerry 2 Feather Thornton at 502-354-0123 or via email at

For more information visit