Dwayne Carroll’s grandfather absolutely refused to talk about his heritage.
At the age of 16, Carroll began asking about his Native American ancestors, hoping to learn something about the rich and colorful culture that had once been equated to shame, a heritage he’d never been told to take pride in. He was met with a tight-lipped frown and no answers from his half-Cherokee grandfather, who was born in a time when Native
Native American blood was regarded as a genealogical disgrace. After that day, Carroll knew that if he wanted to learn more about his family’s origins, he’d have to do some digging. And so he did.
Through intense research, Carroll not only discovered his great-grandmother’s gravesite at Belew Cemetery but also to a fire burning within him that had long been lying dormant: a flame fueling a passion and pride for his heritage, a respectful admiration for the traditions of his people.
Today Carroll is 58 years old. He’s also the spiritual leader and chief of the Cherokee Nation of Texas, traditionally known as the Tsalagiyi Nvdagi. He lives in Pilot Point, right down the road from his great-grandmother’s burial place. Unlike his grandfather, Carroll isn’t ashamed of the past — far from it. He’s incredibly proud of his heritage, so proud, in fact, that he seeks to share it with anyone curious, especially local children. It’s not uncommon to see Carroll headed into an elementary school with a bundle of Native American artifacts, each carefully selected from his own personal collection and tucked gingerly under his arm. Tuesday, night he made a guest appearance at Pilot Point Elementary School, teaming up with Denton County’s Office of History and Culture’s traveling museum to present a lesson on the indigenous tribes of North America.
The presentation was part of the the fourth annual Pilot Point DIA celebration, a night devoted to embracing the diverse cultures represented in America. “He’s a wealth of knowledge,” said Gretel L’Heureux, the education and tourism coordinator for Denton County’s Office of History and Culture. “It’s neat to have Dwayne involved because he’s from here. We can’t tell his story; it’s too hard to tell someone else’s story. But for him to tell it is absolutely wonderful.” Students and parents marveled over Carroll’s unique collection of artifacts as he gushed about the history behind each one.
He collected the arrowheads, for example, in Aubrey when he was just 13. As students delicately handled the painstakingly-handcrafted weapon-heads, Carroll launched into the story of how Aubrey used to be a Cherokee village called Onega. Like the arrowheads, many of the artifacts on display were weapons, some of which have dark and interesting histories. An example is the rattler. Although commonly seen in powwows and similar celebratory events showcasing traditional Native American culture, the rattler is more than a decorative noisemaker.
According to Carroll, in the past, when Native Americans felt like settlers were encroaching on their territory, they would sneak into their villages at night, into the homes of the sleeping pioneers, and steal their salt and pepper shakers. The next morning, the settlers would wake up to a strange and unsettling sound: the rattling of their stolen shakers. “Oh, [the Native Americans] were sending a message — a warning,” Carroll laughed, “They were basically saying: ‘We were in your houses last night. We got this close, we could have killed you, but we didn’t. Now leave.”’
Carroll’s exhibit also included a wooden tomahawk, a buffalo hide, silver and turquoise jewelry and a worn-down sandstone that had been used to carve arrowheads. But that’s just the tip of the iceberg: Carroll’s personal collection is far more extensive; however, not every artifact can be brought into a school zone. He is selective about what he brings, and including what he wears.
On Tuesday, Carroll opted to forgo wearing traditional garb, although it’s certainly something he’s known to do. “This is something I got wrapped up in,” Carroll said. “I went to my first powwow when I was 21 years old. I had people come up to me and they said, ‘You’re Cherokee, aren’t you?’ I asked them how’d they know that, and they said, ‘It’s the glow around you’.” Carroll also attributes his nurturing nature to his heritage. “People don’t realize the connection we have; people don’t realize what the clans mean,” Carrol said. “My mother was Blue Holly.
The Blue Holly Clan takes care of the children. Each clan had a different job in the tribe — like the Wolf Clan was the war clan, y’now? “Blue Holly might sound like a menial thing, but when I got into it and learned what it was, I thought, you just don’t realize how much that’s in your genes. All my mother ever wanted to be was a mother. All I ever wanted to be was a dad, that’s all I ever wanted to be.”
Aside from being Chief, Carroll is a stay-at-home-dad to his 7-year-old son Cameron, and he differs from his grandfather in a very big way: by making it a priority to educate his son about Native American culture and the influence their ancestry continues to have on their daily lives. In fact,
Cameron danced his first powwow when he was only a month old. “He was a little-bitty thing!” Carroll laughed as he carefully collected the artifacts from the table, greeting passersby by name as he crossed towards the exit. “He’s 7 now, and he’s getting to be that age where he’s kind of embarrassed, because — obviously — I’m really into this.”