Cherokee History Before European Influence
Cherokee history shows that, long before European settlers came to the North Carolina mountains, the Cherokee People had been living and thriving there for thousands of years. Tribal members were taught growing up that the Cherokee had always lived in those mountains. Artifacts such as stone tools dated to the end of the last Ice Age, more than 11,000 years ago have been discovered in those areas. You can see some of the oldest known artifacts of Cherokee History at the Museum of the Cherokee Indian in Cherokee, North Carolina.
As time moved forward more and more villages formed and eventually the Cherokee tribe consisted of multiple towns, politics, religion, agriculture, hunting sports, and arts and crafts. Cherokee hunters were known for great bows and arrows capable of taking down massive elk and bear. Fishing was also part of daily hunting activities. Women often gathered food and especially grew what the Cherokee referred to “the three sisters”, corn, beans, and squash. The Cherokee tribe and all its towns and villages ran as a democracy. Villages and towns had individual chiefs and priests and all local members were asked to attend council meetings to make important community decisions and discuss specific community issues. Artifacts from Cherokee history indicate that ancient Cherokee life was centered around harmony with nature, respect for all members of the community, and a balance of work and celebration.
See Cherokee History Recreated at Oconaluftee Indian Village
For a chance to visit a living piece of Cherokee history, come to Oconaluftee Indian Village. Tour an authentic Cherokee village of the 1760’s. Interact with villagers as they perform music, stories, dances, and create crafts such as pottery, masks, baskets, and beadwork. Watch live reenactments of Cherokee history and demonstrations of daily activities: hull canoes, practice traditional medicine, and other glimpses into what life would have been like for the Cherokee in the 18th Century. This is a fun way to teach kids about Cherokee history and adults will also enjoy experiencing Cherokee heritage up close.
At Oconaluftee Village, and other places that preserve Cherokee history, you can see that for the first 200 years Europeans lived in the North Carolina mountains, the Cherokee Tribe made every effort to cooperate with their new neighbors. For a long time trade boomed, intermarriages occurred, and a positive relationship was formed between Cherokee tribal members and settlers. But the Trail of Tears, the saddest and most well known part of Cherokee history and one of the darkest periods of American history was yet to come.
The Convergence of European and Cherokee History and the Trail of Tears
Any student of Cherokee history can tell you that, in a quest for more and more land, Europeans continuously broke treaties and agreements in order to claim ownership of Cherokee homelands. When President Andrew Jackson signed the Indian Removal Act of 1830, which declared that all Native Americans living in the Southeast must be moved west of the Mississippi river, he paved the way for one of the most tragic periods of Cherokee history. The Cherokee Tribe fought removal all the way to the Supreme Court, but in 1838 16,000 Cherokee people were forcibly taken from the Appalachians and relocated to Oklahoma. During this forced removal, between 4,000 and 8,000 Cherokee Tribal members died.
To see a dramatic retelling of Cherokee history, including the Trail of Tears, from the Cherokee perspective come see Unto These Hills, an unforgettable performance. See for yourself why Cherokee history play Unto these Hills is one of the longest running outdoor dramas in the United States, and has been seen by millions since the show’s premier in 1950.
Making Cherokee History in the Present Day
In Western North Carolina many of the Cherokee tribal members are descendants of Cherokee who owned land, stayed in North Carolina and hid until it was safe to make themselves known, or simply returned home on foot. Today The Eastern Band of Cherokee calls the Qualla Boundary home. The Qualla boundary is tribal lands which are held in trust by the federal government. You can visit Cherokee, North Carolina and Qualla Boundary to learn more about Cherokee History.
The Qualla Boundary is 82 square miles that crosses 5 North Carolina counties. Cherokee, NC is home to many traditional native activities and arts. Visitors enjoy everything from trout fishing and elk watching to handmade baskets and handcrafted jewelry. In addition to learning about Cherokee history and culture, visitors can find a variety of modern entertainment such as amusement parks, Harrah’s Casino gaming, the spa, concerts, and more. You can also find many different festivals and events throughout the year that celebrate native culture and Cherokee history. It is important to focus on a Cherokee future, one that is very bright, exciting, and full of opportunity.
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