Wild Onion Feast Preserves, Celebrates Cherokee Traditions

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For generations, members of the Indian Women’s Pocahontas Club have kept and preserved the culture and the rich traditions of the Cherokee Nation.

Among these many traditions are the annual cleansing of the body and spirit with a “spring tonic” at the Wild Onion Festival, which recognizes the coming of spring with a feast utilizing the first harvests of the season.

Although much has changed over the years, the tribe’s heritage remains honored every year with the hosting of the Wild Onion Feast in Claremore.

“This (feast) is a tradition that our group, our people celebrate every year at the beginning of spring, as our ancestors did,” said Jennifer Brunn, president, Indian Women’s Pocahontas Club. “The feast allows us to partake in a spring tonic to mark the coming of spring with a dinner which includes wild onions – traditionally, among the first greens to sprout in the earliest weeks of spring – mixed with scrambled eggs for protein, with salt pork, fry bread, grape dumplings and sassafras tea.”

While the feast itself historically bolstered members of the tribe as they came out of the cold winter months, it also brought the community together in a time of fellowship, much like it does in modern times.

“The (Wild Onion) feast brings people together now as it did then, and today, we open the feast up to not only other members of the tribe, but people outside the tribe as well, to come and experience our traditions, and our heritage,” Brunn said.

Pocahontas Club members pose for a group photo on a tour of the Saline Courthouse in Rose, Oklahoma. The club, founded in 1899, consists of members of the Cherokee Nation dedicated to serving as caretakers of the Cherokee tradition and legacy.

For longtime Pocahontas Club member, Ollie Starr, the annual feast is a celebration she remembers from her own youth.

“The season always brings back memories of going with my daddy in his old truck, walking through the woods alongside the creek until we discovered the green tips of spring peeking through the autumn leaves,” Starr said. “Raking the leaves back and taking our sticks, we would dig carefully, leaving the roots for next year’s crop, then we would check out the green bark of the sassafras tree for the tea. We dug only enough to boil for the tea, and once we were home, we cleaned the wild onions, went out to gather eggs, and sat down with family and friends for our traditional feast.”

Jennie Gilliam carefully chops up the green onions to be mixed with scrambled eggs as part of the Pocahontas Club’s “spring tonic” cleansing for the Wild Onion Feast.

In modern times, the feast shares those memories and heritage with all ages, while incorporating a live auction to the proceedings to raise money for the group to share with upcoming generations through their scholarship fund.

“In addition to the feast being a celebration of our heritage, the auction is the means by which we fundraise for our yearly scholarships,” Brunn said. “The auction itself is a lively event, at which, we have several great items up for bid – all of which are generously donated to us by individuals, groups or area businesses, and allow us to award scholarships for deserving youth.”

Among the previous year’s auction items were televisions, patio heaters, hunting trips, various food items, including homemade pies and other desserts, and more.

“We’ve got some (auction) items in-hand already, but we’re still looking for more – the more items we have to be auctioned off, the more money which can be raised for scholarships – $600 each to 10 deserving students every year,” she said. “As the event itself is only two hours long, it’s a very busy, very fun two hours, which gives everyone – from the grandparents to the grandchildren – to participate in one of our time-honored traditions, and to help ‘pay it forward’ to our young people by raising money for the scholarships.”

Should any money be raised in excess of what’s needed for the scholarship, it is put into an endowment fund for the future, Starr said.

“It wasn’t that long ago, we didn’t have an endowment fund, but today we have one of $75,000, and our goal is to reach $100,000,” Starr said. “We’re very proud of that – starting only six years ago and raising enough money to build the fund up the way we’ve been able to. We’re the caretakers of our people’s history, and through the scholarships, we’re also the caretakers of our people’s future.”

One of the oldest clubs in the state, the Pocahontas Club has persevered in its ideals and objectives of Indian welfare and education, preserving the tribe’s past and ensuring its traditions continue.

The Indian Women’s Pocahontas Club Wild Onion Feast & Live Auction is scheduled for 12-2 p.m. Saturday, March 14, at the Claremore First United Methodist Church. For more information or tickets, contact Jennifer Brunn at eat0@eau0eav0eaw0.

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