The Cherokee Indians of North Carolina were among the earliest inhabitants of Western North Carolina and the Blue Ridge Mountains, and their legacy has created a rich cultural imprint on our region. The tribe’s influence is evident in the artifacts, art and agricultural methods that remain today.
The Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians is a federally recognized Indian tribe descended from a small group of 800 Cherokee who were either able to stay or escaped and remained here after the Indian Removal Act of 1830 forced 16,000 Cherokees to walk to Oklahoma on the Trail of Tears in 1838. Others later returned from Oklahoma to their native land.
Cherokee art that still thrives in the region includes basketry, pottery, stone- and wood-carving, finger-weaving and traditional masks. Ancient American Indian agricultural methods of burning and deadening the trees and underbrush to provide needed grazing and cropland are evident today in the many fields still visible at the base of the mountains. Mountain and river names along the Blue Ridge Parkway also reflect the American Indian influence.
Vibrant Cherokee History on Display
The heart of the Cherokees’ rich tribal history is, of course, Cherokee, N.C., located 50 miles from Asheville in Jackson County at the main N.C. entrance to the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. Most of the 15,300 members of the tribe live on the Cherokee reservation (properly called the Qualla Boundary), slightly more than 56,000 acres held in trust by the federal government.Visitors to Cherokee can experience the tribe’s past and its present, brought to vibrant life, at a museum, visitor center and arts cooperative, as well as at festivals and other events throughout the year.
The state-of-the-art Museum of the Cherokee Indians here features exhibits that tell the Cherokee story, from ancient times until today. Inspired by the beauty and ingenuity of the Cherokee people, the cultural and historical tour blends interactive video and intriguing displays into a full sensory experience. https://www.cherokeemuseum.org
A Village Brought to Life: Cherokee of the Blue Ridge
The seasonal Oconaluftee Indian Village shows what Cherokee life was like in the 1750s Southern Appalachians. Self-guided tours allow visitors to interact with craft demonstrators and other villagers in the traditional attire of the era. Winding paths, flanked with traditional Cherokee dwellings, work areas, and sacred ritual sites are the backdrop for viewing villagers as they hull canoes, sculpt pottery and masks, weave baskets, fashion beadwork, and perform cultural dances. https://visitcherokeenc.com/play/attractions/oconaluftee-indian-village/
The Qualla Arts and Crafts Mutual, Inc., in Cherokee, founded in 1946 with the purpose of preserving and advancing Cherokee arts and crafts, is the oldest Native American Arts cooperative in the U.S. Part shopping experience, part gallery dedicated to the preservation of Cherokee’s craftsmanship and skill, the Qualla Arts and Crafts Mutual promotes the work of more than 350 Cherokee artisan members. https://www.quallaartsandcrafts.com
For a completely immersive experience, visitors to Cherokee can enjoy the seasonal “Unto These Hills” outdoor drama. One of the longest-running outdoor dramas in the country, “Unto These Hills” portrays the unique story of the Cherokee from a historical perspective, from 1780 to the 21stcentury. https://visitcherokeenc.com/play/attractions/unto-these-hills-outdoor-drama/
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