John Ross. Elder of the Aniwahya (Wolf Clan)In 2022, thanks to a grant from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, production began on a documentary about the American red wolf and its cultural significance to the Cherokee people.

The Cherokee people live by the principle of balance – with their family, clan, and the natural world. Historically, Cherokee citizens lived within a clan system. Prior to European settlement, every Cherokee person belonged to one of seven clans, which were inherited from your mother. Some still belong to clans that have been passed down for generations.

John Ross, an elder of the Wolf Clan, or Aniwahya in Cherokee, was interviewed for the film and told an emotional story of his grandfather seeing a red wolf in Oklahoma. He expressed a deep sadness that throughout the great majority of their native range, American red wolves can no longer be found.

John Ross teaches EWC staff a few Cherokee words.

The filmmakers arranged a visit to the Endangered Wolf Center as a way to reconnect him with the red wolf – a connection he felt had been missing his entire life.

During his visit, Ross was able to see several of the red wolf pups that were born at the EWC this spring and taught some of our educators and keepers a few Cherokee words, such as “Wa-ya,” the word for wolf, and “Gigage Unidoda,” the word for red wolf.

“We want people to learn Cherokee ways of life and how we always tried to live in balance with nature, animals, and plants. You take something and you give back. Have a respect for animals as living brothers and sisters,” said Jennifer Loren, director of the Cherokee Nation Film and Original Content. Jennifer is also the director, executive producer, and host of this documentary.

She continued, “We want people to understand that there is a different way of understanding wildlife – we don’t have to exterminate them.”

The documentary will also highlight how people are working to save the red wolf and the immense challenge that saving a species presents. They hope to inspire support for these conservation efforts.

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You can help red wolf conservation and the efforts of the Endangered Wolf Center by donating to the EWC, symbolically adopting our American red wolf pack and sharing this story with your friends and families.