Tennessee and the Eastern Band Cherokees
July 6, 2010
This year, for the first time in its 57-year history, Western Writers of America held its annual convention east of the Mississippi River in Knoxville, Tenn. I’ve been to Tennessee once, but never to East Tennessee and never for an entire week. Let’s just say there are plants in East Tennessee my Western body has never been around, and that was clear from almost the first minute I landed in the state and began sneezing. But even if I could not breathe (maybe that was partially due to the 95 degree temperatures and 80 percent humidity – something my body also has seldom experienced), the experience was great.
Admittedly much of my time was spent in an air-conditioned hotel where we held meetings and presentations, presented awards and recognized people important in the industry. But I took advantage of the tours offered as part of the convention and thus visited three other states: Kentucky, West Virginia and North Carolina. For me, visiting West Virginia and North Carolina marked new stars on my map of states I’ve been in.
The Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians make their homes in North Carolina, and one tour took me there, to Cherokee, N.C., and the Cherokee Village of Oconaluftee. Located at the edge of Smoky Mountain National Park, and deep in the beautiful Smoky Mountains, the village gives you a chance to learn the customs and culture of the Cherokees.
One presentation took place in the village itself, which is organized as a traditional Cherokee village with a central area surrounded by seven clan areas. Among the Cherokees there were once at least 28 clans. Now there are seven: Wolf, Deer, Bird, Paint, Long Hair, Wild Potato and Blue. Each of these clans has a seating area – benches protected with arbor-like coverings.
I found a seat with the Wild Potato Clan in order to learn about the Cherokee village life and to experience a presentation called “Time of War” where a part of Red-Coats (Revolutionary War era soldiers from England) clash with Cherokee warriors. I knew that the warriors had melted into the forest surrounding the village area, and that there would likely be an attack on the soldiers, but I jumped anyway when the first shot was fired and the screaming Cherokees swooped into the center of the square and began their attack on the soldiers.
This dramatic presentation reflects the very real situation during the period from 1776 to 1794 when military conflict between the Cherokees and the frontier settlers was at an all time high due to the fact that the European settlers were encroaching on traditional Cherokee lands. The program is presented on Tuesdays, Thursdays, and Saturday at noon and 3 p.m., through Aug. 29. The Cherokee Village itself is open until Oct. 23, with demonstrations of traditional skills and crafts.
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While in town we also visited the Museum of the Cherokee Indian, which provides detailed history of the Eastern Band including their interaction with English troops and settlers, plus a remarkable display of artifacts. A dramatic presentation in the “Story Lodge” highlights Cherokee stories, including the creation story of the tribe. The museum has exhibits about the Paleo Indian period, when large animals such as mastodons were killed using simple spears. Other exhibits relate to the Archaic and Woodland Periods, plus the elaborate ceremonial activities that were part of Cherokee culture during the Mississippian period. The effects on the Cherokees in later years, after contact with European people, involved changes in trade, plus the introduction of disease, and other cultural changes.
The Qualla Arts and Crafts shop, located just across the street from the museum, would have been no doubt an interesting place to visit (and spend some money), but unfortunately our time was limited so we did not get to visit the shop. The Qualla Arts Open Air Market, Sept. 4, showcases the talent, traditions and goods created by Cherokee artisans while the 98th annual Cherokee Indian Fair will take place in the community Oct 5-9.
In my next column I will have more information about my adventures in Tennessee including a visit to Cumberland Gap.