Monday, June 11, 2012

Visiting the Eastern Cherokee on the Qualla Indian Reservation in Cherokee, NC

Today was a wonderfully inspirational and educational fun day.  Come on along!!  We’re visiting the Eastern Cherokee Tribe on the Qualla Reservation.  You can read about them here: 
Here’s the tourism site:
Drove over the Smokies from Gatlinburg to Cherokee, NC.  Nothing on the TN side of the mountain looks anything like I remember it.  Gatlinburg was always commercial, but nothing like Pigeon Forge is today.  Wow.  Unrecognizable.  But once you cross the line from Gatlinburg to the National Park, it changes immediately and becomes peaceful.  It’s really a good thing they made it a park, otherwise it would all be developed.

Flowers blooming along the road, above.
On the NC side, the park abuts the Cherokee Indian Reservation.  You’d never know you were on a reservation if you didn’t know. It doesn’t resemble the western reservations whatsoever.  This just looks like a normal Appalachian town, with a focus on Native culture, of course.
I visited three locations, in addition to several stores.  The first was the reconstructed Indian Village.  This was simply pure joy.  The people here were exceptionally friendly and were all Native people living on the reservation today.  They were anxious to share about their culture and heritage.  My hour visit quickly turned into more than half a day and includes lots of extras.  They were very generous with their time.
Here is the village link, but I’ll tell you, this does not even begin to do it justice.  If you have to select just one thing to do in Cherokee, this is it!
The village is a reconstructed historic village, to scale, which includes several houses where traditional crafts and activities are being practiced.  In addition, there is a council house and a traditional town center where dancing occurs.
I went to the village first hoping to avoid the heat that was sure to be present in the afternoon.  Tribal members there doing traditional things like beads, pottery, carving, basketmaking, etc. 

The next photos shows the undercoat of a buffalo having been woven with beads during the weaving.  This was extremely soft.  I never thought of a buffalo being soft, but these are.  The mountain bison were smaller than western buffalo and became extinct in the 1790s.
Today the beadworkers use contemporary beads like the rest of us, but traditionally the cornbead was used.  It grows on a plant called the cornplant and it is hard when harvested.  There are some traditional beaded items, before the advent of European beads.  The cornbeads are the grey stand near the left.

Pottery of course was a village staple of all Native people.  Pots were used for everything from carrying water to cooking to being decorative and celebratory, like with the marriage vessel below.  The bride and groom would each drink from opposite sides, then the pot would be broken.

The carvers were quite interesting.  Everyone here knew a great deal about their history and heritage.  These men carve wood, bone and even feather shanks.  Notice the beautiful masks, below, one with a copper gorget.  The shells shown below are not carved.  They are crushed and used in the whitewash for their body paints.  On the coast, they aren’t used this way.  The difference in both use and culture was very interesting.

The pipe below is carved in the shape of an eagle.
The prepwork involved in basket-making and weaving is unfathomable.  By the time they begin the basket itself, much of the work is done.   Some baskets are actually watertight.

If I ever thought I wanted to do basketwork, this cured me and instilled a great respect for those who do.
The flintknappers were very interesting.  Of course, most of the food supply was dependent on arrowheads.  Some were squared off and some were round.  The ones meant for food were rounded at the shank so they could be pulled out.  The squared ones were meant for enemies and removing by pulling them out wasn’t possible.  The man below is knapping flint by knocking off the edges to achieve a sharp blade type edge.

This man also demonstrated the use of a blowgun.  Poisons weren’t used, because the animal was to be used for food.  He was quite accurate. 
 Cont. here:

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