North Carolina’s First People
Cherokee: Discover the people, the place and the sovereign nationBy Myra Wright | Photos courtesy of Visit Cherokee
Nestled in western North Carolina near the majestic Great Smoky Mountains National Park and the southern end of the Blue Ridge Parkway, Cherokee is a place where history and natural splendor converge.
The Cherokee people have lived in the region for more than 10,000 years.
“At one time, there were more than 300 tribes in the Southeast,” says Bo Taylor, executive director of the Museum of the Cherokee Indian. “And now you can count on your hand the ones that are left.”
Fortunately, the Cherokee remain and are the only federally recognized tribe in the state. “We are a living, breathing culture that is still alive and viable,” Taylor says. “There is an indigenous culture at your back door. You don’t have to go to Venezuela. You can come here to learn and have a good experience.”
Whether you’re pondering a day trip, a weekend getaway or extended mountain vacation, there are numerous opportunities to celebrate the Cherokee culture, its people and their past.
At the Museum of the Cherokee Indian, visitors can enjoy a self-guided tour and exhibits that tell the story of the Cherokee people with artifacts, artwork and interactive displays. The museum, which opened in 1948 and moved to its present location in 1976, plays a crucial part in Cherokee preservation and community education.
“The museum is the hub of the cultural renaissance for our tribe,” Taylor explains.
The museum also offers The Cherokee Experience, a customizable program for groups to discover the Cherokee culture through dance, food, crafts, workshops, nature walks and more.
After exploring the museum, you can immerse yourself in the sights and sounds of an 18th century Cherokee village at the Oconaluftee Indian Village. See firsthand how pottery, spear points and canoes are made through various crafting demonstrations.
Become mesmerized by “Unto These Hills,” one of the oldest historical dramas in the country that tells the sometimes grim, yet glorious story of the Cherokee people. The critically acclaimed play, which runs from June 3 to Aug. 19, is a spectacular production that portrays the Cherokee people at their most powerful, the heartbreaking Trail of Tears, and modern day values and traditions.
Pack a picnic lunch and head to Oconaluftee Islands Park, a great spot for wading in the water and relaxing, or Great Smoky Mountains National Park for hiking, fishing or sightseeing.
Additional nearby attractions include Harrah’s Cherokee Hotel and Casino, Sequoyah National Golf Club and the Blue Ridge Parkway. The region’s diversity makes it a great destination for all ages as well as an educational opportunity.
“There are so many things about Indians on TV now and in the movies that are not accurate,” says Barbara Duncan, the education director at the museum. “By coming here, people can learn about the real Cherokee people as opposed to the stereotypes…And maybe most importantly, it’s really beautiful here, and it’s fun.
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About the AuthorMyra Wright is a North Carolina-based freelance writer. She enjoys exploring the state with her husband and three kids.
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