Department of Tourism
Momfeather Erickson is champion of native American ways in Kentucky
Martha Erickson is a loving wife, mother and grandmother, dedicated to her familyand community, no different in that respect from many other women in western Kentucky. But there the similarities end. For her alter-ego, "Momfeather," is very different indeed. Poet, publisher, activist and teacher of "the old ways," Erickson, one-quarter Cherokee, has devoted the last three years of her life to educating those around her on the tribe's role in Kentucky history.
"Don't ever believe that it was Daniel Boone who blazed the trail through the Cumberland Gap," cautions Erickson, 66, whose gentle grandmotherly appearance belies her fiery crusade for Native American rights and recognition.
"That trail was made by the buffalo and walked on by the Indians long before Boone came through the Gap," she insists.
As director of the Mantle Rock Native Education and Cultural Center in Marion, Momfeather - a name she was given by her paternal grandmother - is relentless in her quest to bring to Native Americans and especially the Cherokee the respect she feels they are entitled to.
"To this day, no Native American tribes are recognized in Kentucky, even with so many Cherokee groups living all across the state, and for this, I feel great sadness," she says.
As a result, she spreads the word - and her pride in her heritage - any way she can, as the author of seven books, from Momfeather Cooks Native American to Native American Childrens' Stories Warmly Told to Woman of the Wind, a book of poetry saluting her female ancestors, and as advisor, contributor and publisher of Turtle Tales, a bi-weekly Native American newspaper for students.
Then, of course, there is her work as educator, storyteller and community activist, serving as a board member of United Native America, formed in 2001 to strengthen Native communities and preserve native culture; as a spiritual elder of Mother Earth, a hemispheric council entrusted with keeping native prophecies and traditions alive, and for four years, as chief elder of the Southern Band of Cherokees.
While Momfeather has always had reverence for her Cherokee relations who first came to Leslie County in the early 1830s during the time of removal from their triballands in North Carolina, her activism was jump-started three years ago after what she will only describe as "a spiritual experience" at Mantle Rock in Livingston County, stop on the Trail of Tears.
She was so affected by the experience that she made the move from Nebraska, where she was living at the time, back to Kentucky to "do my part to help bring back our traditions."
Her latest project is the recreation of a village on 56 acres of land in Marion which will "illustrate the time period when our people were taken from their homes," she explains. "We will have a museum, an interpretive center, genealogy lab...we've even started our buffalo herd."
At 66, Martha Erickson may be at the age when most women are ready to retire, but Momfeather sees no end in sight.
"I told my husband that as long as I have this important work to do, I will just keep on going."
If you are interested in knowing more about Kentucky's Native American heritage, contact:
Kentucky Heritage Council
Kentucky Native American Heritage Commission
300 Washington Street
Frankfort, Kentucky 40601
Dr. Sharlotte Neely
Native American Studies Program
Northern Kentucky University
(859) 572-5259 or 5258
Kimberly C. Clay
Director, Cultural Heritage Tourism
Kentucky Department of Tourism
(800) 225-8747 or (502) 564-4930
Mantle Rock Native Education and Cultural Center
110 Main Street
Marion, KY 42064