Terri Ann Yates and Vern Campbell pose for a photo after exchanging vows in a Cherokee-style wedding Saturday in Mingo Creek Park, Pa. Photography was prohibited during the ceremony.
By Scott Beveridge
EIGHTY FOUR, Pa. – A fire is set in a sacred pit at the center of a large roped-off circle as a Cherokee-style wedding party awaits the blessings of an Indian priestess.
The woman who has taken the name Spotted Feather uses smoke and a large feather to bless nearly 30 people Saturday before they proceed to the fire, where Mon Valley, Pa., residents Terri Ann Yates and Vern Campbell will join hands in marriage.
A boy about 4 years old sulks appearing unwilling to participate while wearing store-bought Indian costumes. Campbell, though, is dressed in expensive white buckskins. The location of the bride remains secret as the women lead the party to the fire.
Spotted Feather then escorts the groom to join them with a blue blanket draped over one arm and marching, Indian-style, to the sound of recorded drums blaring from a loudspeaker.
The couple will be married in Washington County's Mingo Creek Park in a blanket ceremony, one of the the oldest and most-beloved traditions of the Cherokee Nation. The ceremony offers them two blue blankets to represent the their past lives before they are wrapped together in one white blanket to represent newly-found happiness.
Vern Campbell apparently has some Cherokee blood in his ancestry while his new bride does not. Yet they selected this style of ceremony because they seek to embrace Indian traditions that include respecting the earth and its living creatures.
As the ceremony proceeds, a small group of males briefly leave the circle and walk to the woods where they will find the bride hiding behind a tree. They return to the circle with Yates dressed in an ornate white buckskin dress and hiding her face behind a bouquet of flowers.
At face value, the ceremony is quite unusual and nothing that waspish Americans are accustomed to witnessing. But at its core, the wedding is every bit as traditional as those in a Presbyterian Church where newlyweds promise a holy union before one creator and shed their past lives for a new beginning.
“All water is under the bridge as you say,” Spotted Feather announces.
But here Saturday, the couple will take seven steps clockwise around the fire and leave the circle under an arch created by the waving arms and hands of the wedding party.