Chapter I: This is what I was told when I was young.
Cherokees begin a story the way their people have for generations. It’s only fitting to start the story of the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians the same way.
The Cherokee were hunters and gatherers, foraging the Great Smoky Mountains and the lowlands of the Southern Appalachians for food while hunting, fishing, and trapping game. By 2000 BC, Cherokee culture had spread over hundreds of miles of mountains, governed by their clan system and town leaders. They passed on their history and religious beliefs through storytelling, ceremonies, and dances. Their agriculture, medicine, and spirituality sustained them. The Cherokee tribe was one of the largest tribes in the southeastern United States and controlled a vast land base.
Chapter II: Strangers
In 1540, Spanish explorer and conquistador Hernando de Soto came through here looking for gold, demanding food, fighting, enslaving—despite what you may have heard, he wasn’t a great guy. Worse were the diseases that came with him. Lacking the immunity to combat them, indigenous peoples were nearly eradicated, victim to plagues such as smallpox, measles, and influenza. Nevertheless, the Cherokee people continued to work through diplomacy with the newcomers for the next two hundred years.
By the early 18th century, 75 of Cherokee land had been lost through treaties with England and America. Encroachment by settlers forced the Cherokees to fight for their territory through statesmanship with both the new American government and with colonial powers.
Chapter III: 19th century brings tears.
Gold was discovered in Georgia in 1828, leading to America’s first gold rush and shifting the entire perception of the region. Peace made alliances irrelevant and mounting pressure from land speculators made the Cherokee an inconvenience. In 1830 Andrew Jackson signed the Indian Removal Act offering territory out west in exchange for the Cherokee people’s homeland. Five years later came the Treaty of New Echota, which ceded to the federal government most of the Cherokee lands east of the Mississippi, resulting in what is now referred to as the “Trail of Tears.” 16,000 Cherokees were gathered, dispossessed and made to walk six months, 1,200 miles west. Roughly 4,000 Cherokees died, succumbing to hunger, disease, exposure, or exhaustion. The North Carolina Cherokees worked against expatriation. Along with other Cherokees who escaped removal or who came back, the group established the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians.
Chapter IV: The Renaissance
Today’s Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians stands strong and healthy. The success of Harrah’s Cherokee Casino Resort has provided important income for enrolled members and draws millions of visitors to Cherokee annually. Cherokee’s economic vitality can be seen across the Qualla Boundary, and ground will soon be broken on a new hospital. As the tribe looks out into the 21st century, its bright future emanates a light for other tribes to follow.