Learn about Native American culture in Cherokee, NC, from Travel Writers
By Bonnie and Bill Neely
One of my favorite childhood memories was an exciting weekend in the small town of Cherokee, in western North Carolina. I remember at that time several tame black bears were chained to street corners, and cars stopped to feed them.
The town, as far as I know, was a wonderful street with Native Americans wearing feather headdresses inviting us into their shops, where my siblings and I found fascinating handmade items. My brother chose a small drum and a corncob pipe, while my sister was delighted with the child-sized bows and arrows. I chose a pair of soft suede leather moccasins with decorative beads on the toes.
I’ve always wanted to go back to Cherokee, and I finally did recently. The city is much larger, and although this generation of the Cherokee Nation has a lifestyle typical of most Americans, they have diligently preserved their culture, history, arts, and language. Fortunately, the captive bears were gone.
During the summer months, locals perform the outdoor drama “Unto These Hills” in a huge stone amphitheater, which has 2,100 comfortable chair-style seats on the original stone steps. Actors dressed in typical costumes of their ancestors present the true and heartbreaking story of the Trail of Tears, in which thousands of native people were forced to travel 1,200 miles to settle in what is now Oklahoma .
In the center of Cherokee is a shallow rocky cove, a great place to picnic, wade, and just enjoy life. Small shops still offer many treasures to visitors, and there are many more. A man in native costume performs Cherokee dances in a small area of the main street.
Another must-see in Cherokee is the Indian village of Oconaluftee, an authentic replica of life here in the 1800s. In each hut, visitors learn about the arts, crafts and survival skills that children learned and learn. still today in order to keep the Cherokee culture alive. Part of the visit is a dramatic dance demonstration. Also not to be missed is the Cherokee Indian Museum, where interactive exhibits and videos reveal the history of this peaceful nation.
Cherokee is not a reserve because people bought the land from the US government and now call it Tsali Boundary. Here, the members of the Cherokee Nation govern themselves in a “nation within a nation” where they are also US citizens.
Tsali parents can choose to educate their children at a local boarding school where only Cherokee is spoken. The written language was created by Sequoyah, a 19th century mathematician whose mother was Cherokee. Jeweler, he wrote down 72 phonetic characters so that everyone could easily see how to write what he was saying. The street signs here contain these syllables under the English words.
Other nearby attractions include a steam train ride through the mountains and the Santa’s Land Amusement Park and Zoo. These are great stops for families, but it will be the visitors’ cultural appreciation that will fuel their memories.
WHEN YOU GO
Several motels and restaurants can be found in an area on the outskirts of town, and just outside are campgrounds and RV parks. We stayed at Indian Creek Campground, about 8 miles away. The setting in the deep forest of the Blue Ridge Mountains with a gurgling creek on both sides was perfect. Fishing here has almost always been a success, and a daily permit at the camp office costs $ 17. Great fun wading and tubing in the creek: www.indiancreekcampground.com.
Characters from the Cherokee syllabary, created by Sequoyah in the 19th century, are on display in Cherokee, North Carolina. Photo courtesy of Bill Neely.
The Cherokee Indian Museum in Cherokee, North Carolina, pays homage to the history and culture of local Indigenous people. Photo courtesy of Bill Neely.
A family watches as members of the Cherokee Nation demonstrate survival skills they are still learning in Cherokee, North Carolina. Photo courtesy of Bill Neely.
Bonnie and Bill Neely are freelance writers and photographers. To read articles from other Creators Syndicate authors and designers, visit the Creators Syndicate website at www.creators.com.