Sunday, July 26, 2009

Staying at the Cherokee Indian Reservation

Last week, we returned after a long absence, to the Cherokee Indian Reservation in Cherokee, NC. We took a leisurely drive up the north Georgia mountains on a sunny and dry morning and arrived in Cherokee, NC., the Qualla Boundary for the Eastern Band of Cherokees. (click on the pictures to enlarge them.)

When I was a child in Paris, I played in the “cité” which was a type of enclosed and paved yard with sidewalks surrounded by joined apartment buildings. My friend Nadia and I played very often with her brother Serge, who thought he was an American “cowboy”. I was the Indian girl who he chased constantly and wanted to kill. Once he almost did, with a metal bar thrown on my head (we had to pay a quick visit to the Emergency.) I liked being the Indian girl escaping Serge’s mean assaults. I called myself a MicMac Indian, a name I thought I invented, but found out last year while in Newfoundland that there is a First Nation in Canada called the Mik’Maq. When my father took me to watch cowboy movies I always rooted for my heroes, who were those who escaped the cowboys.

Entrance to the Cité Condorcet

In history class, American History was part of World History for us and I don’t remember really studying about the American’s indigenous people, so I did not know much about the Cherokee. Their brochure says: “Nestled among the oak, fir and flowered valleys – half shrouded in the blue mist that is the namesake of the Blue Ridge and Great Smoky Mountains – is a culture whose history reaches back in an unbroken chain to a time when even the great pyramids of Egypt had yet to rise out of the African sands. They were a thoughtful people who established democracy and equality many centuries before Jefferson penned the Declaration of Independence. This great people were the Cherokee – Ani-kituhwa-gi as they called themselves – and they reigned supreme…” . Most scientists believe that the first Indians came to the Americas from Asia at least 15,000 years ago. Other scientists think the Indians could have arrived as early as 35,000 years ago. The Cherokee’s is indeed a long and tragic story and more detailed information can be found on the pages authored by Lee Sultzman, First Nations historian here.

To sum up, the Cherokee, prior to European invasions, lived in a vast territory that included parts of what is now Georgia, Alabama , North and South Carolina, southwest Virginia, Kentucky, Tennessee, and northern Alabama.

The De Soto expedition in 1540 brought European epidemics which killed a great number of the population. Later on the Cherokees traded with the Europeans and dressed like them. One Cherokee genius named Sequoyah devised a Cherokee alphabet and when in 1821 this alphabet was adopted, the Cherokee were the first tribe in the USA able to read and write in their own language. They created a newspaper and developed a Cherokee Nation Constitution and Supreme Court.


The Cherokee made many treaties with the white population so they could help them, learn from them, in peace, but the settlers were more interested in the Cherokee's land than in being friends with them. In 1829 Georgia tried to evict the Cherokee from over 9 million acres of treaty land because gold was found there. The Cherokee went to the Supreme Court which ruled twice in their favor. President Andrew Jackson (who had been saved in battle by a Cherokee) ungratefully supported the force removal of the Cherokee to the west by the 1838 deadline. He said that the Supreme Court had made its decision, now let it enforce it and refused to honor the Court’s verdict. Some were against the “Indian Removal Act” as Tennessee Congressman David Crockett, but they were a small minority.

"Many proposals have been made to us to adopt your laws, your religion, your manners and your customs. We would be better pleased with beholding the good effects of these doctrines in your own practices, than with hearing you talk about them". ~Principal Cherokee Chief Old Tassel

Later on Federal Troops placed 15,000 Cherokee in hastily built stockades (like concentration camps) where many perished. They were then forced, in winter, to march to Indian Territories (parceled land off in Oklahoma). More than 4,000 Cherokees died from hunger, exposure and disease during their 1,200 mile (approx. 2000 kms) forced march. There were only 645 wagons to hold all 15,000 Cherokee. Many whites attacked and robbed them during their journey but the army did not protect them. A large number were left on the road, unburied. They called it “The Trail Where They Cried.” The State of Georgia gave the beautiful Cherokee land to the greedy settlers by a system of lottery.

Trail of Tears painting by Robert Lindneux (1871-1970) courtesy Woolaroc Museum.

"We are now about to take our leave and kind farewell to our native land, the country that the Great Spirit gave our Fathers, we are on the eve of leaving that country that gave us is with sorrow we are forced by the white man to quit the scenes of our childhood... we bid farewell to it and all we hold dear."
~Charles Hicks, Tsalagi (Cherokee) Vice Chief on the Trail of Tears, August 4, 1838

The descendants of those who were forced to march west are now part of the Cherokee Nation of Oklahoma. Several hundred Cherokee escaped removal and hid in the North Carolina hills. The US army hunted them but gave up by 1842. In 1848 Congress agreed to recognize them provided North Carolina would do likewise. Now there are about 10,000 Cherokee living on the Reservation in Cherokee, NC, and they are called the Eastern Band of Cherokee of the Qualla Boundary.

Vintage postcard of Cherokee Indian Reservation circa early 1940’s

This has been a brief summary of what happened to the Cherokee Nation since the first European contact. Reading all this I was incredulous at the amount of violence the Cherokee and other Native American tribes suffered at the hands of the good Christian forefathers of this country. In the year 1500 there were millions of indigenous people on American soil, but by 1890 80% had been killed. It this is not called genocide, I don’t know what is. The fact that the world watched and did nothing to stop this massacre is outrageous. But then, this is usually the case as the world watched the Armenian genocide and lately the Rwandan and Darfur genocides with little intervention. Some tribes were totally annihilated but the Cherokee survived. The land of the Eastern Band is adjacent to the Great Smoky Mountain National Park.

Trout stream near the Qualla boundary.

The Blue Ridge Parkway starts (or ends) in Cherokee, N.C.

Blue Ridge highway descending toward the Cherokee Reservation (1940 postcard)

We traveled a bit along the Blue Ridge Parkway and stopped at the numerous overlooks, like in the picture below.

Raven Fork View - Milepost 467.9, elevation 2,400 feet.

This overlook stands on the ridge overlooking the Big Cove area of the Qualla Boundary, the watershed of the Raven Fork River and its tributaries. Called "kalanv" in Cherokee language and "corvus corax" in Latin terminology, the raven is a glossy black bird about two feet long, larger than a crow, with distinctive pointed feathers at its neck. Part of Cherokee mythology, and known around the world, this bird has become rare and is now seen mostly in remote areas and at higher elevations. Ravens tend to roost together in rock cliffs, and place names throughout the Appalachians mark their presence. When flying, they sometimes fold one wing and somersault through the air. (This paragraph is taken from Cherokee Heritage Trails.)

We drove through 3 tunnels but did not see any bears like in the vintage postcard above.

The Cherokee Path
Alone with the moon, my spirit cries
For the lives of my people crushed by white men's lies.
Taken by force from our mountain home,
Robbed of freedom, hearts heavy like stone.
The path was long and littered with death,
Alone with the wind, my spirit does not forget.
The blood of my blood left on that cursed trail,
With the young, the old, the fragile, the frail.

Forced to march into the unknown,
For my proud Cherokee family my spirit now moans.
But we did not die,
Our souls are still here
Walking in spirit on the trail of the tear.
- Martha Moongazer Beard


Louis la Vache said...

Very interesting post and insight into one of our less than glorious moments of history. «Louis» liked your Paris connection to the story as well.

Louis la Vache said...

In answer to your question at San Francisco Bay Daily Photo, Oui, c'est la vue du balcon Chez la Vache!

Elaine said...

Beautiful photos and narrative. It is very sad how the Cherokee were treated and indeed all of the Native American tribes. Human history is full of too many terrible stories like this.

Celeste Maia said...

Very interesting posting with great images. The story of the Indians is a tragic one. At the beginning of this year we spent 6 weeks driving down Patagonia and Tierra del Fuego in Argentina. I read all I could find on the indians tribes there as today there are no full blooded descendants. Those proud hunters had no chance of survival from the europeans and their guns or died from the diseases brought. At the beginning of the XX century there were a few hundres left, and then the missionaries imprisoned them in their missions, clothed them and made them learn arts and crafts. They all died of "tristesse" and boredom.
Your sotry playing Indian girl to the other kids cowboys is a good one.

Anonymous said...

I wrote Buffalo and Indians about the slaughter of the buffalo and the research in that opened my eyes to the slaughter of Native Americans by European terrorists. This country was a paradise where a squirrel could climb a tree on the east coast and travel west to the Mississippi River without ever having to get down for food. The settlers paid their property taxes with squirrel scalps and later with wolf ears or feet. Men, women and children were slaughtered by the terrorists who came to this country under a Christian banner.

I know this story, you posted about, very well. One of my great grandmothers was thrown in with a group of horses to seal a deal. She was "I'll throw in the squaw" to seal the deal.

Be part of history. Become a Follower or leave a comment. Tell you friends. Link up. Pick a Peck of Pixels

DJan said...

VB, this is why your posts are so incredible to read: they are well researched, highly readable, and your pictures add so much to the journey.

I knew about the Trail of Tears, I know what my ancestors did to this proud people. I am ashamed to be their progeny. And sometimes I am ashamed to be a human, as I watch the desecration we wreak across the planet.

Education and knowledge is the only weapon I know of that has any chance of changing things. Thanks so much for this well thought out post.

claude said...

IL faut que je passe à la traduction google. Pas le temps ce matin, Je repasse cet après-midi.
J'ai compris que tu jouais au cow boys et aux Indiens à Paris.
A plus tard.

Darlene said...

I deeply appreciate the time and effort you have put into bringing this important issue to light. Too many Americans who want to call this a Christian Nation conveniently forget and try to bury the early history of what the so-called Christians did (and are still doing) to their fellow man.

My grandmother on my father's side was said to be 1/4 Cherokee Indian. I have not researched this and cannot verify it, but she did have the facial features of a Native American and was a very quiet and peaceful woman; a trait shared by most Cherokees.

Friko said...

Good for you, Vagabonde!
A wonderful post detailing the cruelty of the white man, as you say, the good Christian, towards men without guns, who welcomed the incomers; little did they know that they were to be annihilated, have their lands stolen and that once proud nations were to be reduced to the to status of beggars.

Carolyn said...

What a well written and informative post and pictures. I watched a PBS documentary on the Trail of Tears and it was heart braking and it has been done to all indigeneous people around the world.
I live among the Haida and their numbers went from 15,000 to 380 after contact with the European just from small pox and other disease and the assimilation tactics of the Canadian Government of sending children to residental school and banning all of their cermonies and language.
I get physically ill when I read what we have done to our neighbours who have more respect for this earth than we ever will.
Thank you for your provocative post,
Blessings and smiles

claude said...

Il faut bien le dire, ce qu'ont fait les blancs avec les indiens, cela s'appelle un génocide. C'est la honte de l'Amérique que d'avoir mis ses indiens de toute tribu dans des réserves.
Lorsque je suis allée en Utah, pour la première fois, en 1985, Les Indiens y vivaient encore libres (Utah était à ce moment là le seul état à préser ver ses . Ils avaient leur maison et leurs deux véhicules, comme les blancs et 10 plus tard ils étaient en réserve. On appelle cela des réserves, mais en réalité ce sont des camps de concentration, à part qu'on y meur pas de mort violente ou de faim.
C'est un très beau post et un bel hommage à ceux qui ont été spoiliés de tout, mais de leur vie.

bowsprite said...

Hello, Vagabonde! beautiful post, merci! I found your site through Celeste Maia. You would call yourself a Micmac? as the Tibetans say, no such thing as a coincidence! then perhaps you were once Mik’Maq, indeed? I feel a bond for them, as well. Hello, Sister!

Louis la Vache said...

«Louis» thanks you for your visit today to San Francisco Bay Daily Photo.

Jenn Jilks said...

This is a post with a familiar story. This is what has happened across the continent from the far north to S. USA.

Thank you for visiting My Muskoka.
Muskoka is a region - 'cottage country', north of Toronto, Ontario, Canada.

Kate said...

Wow! You really packed a good deal of information in this post, and all of it important history. Thanks for visiting my blog today.

Vagabonde said...

To all – I really appreciate that you have taken the time to read my post and written a comment. It is really an impetus to write more posts to have friends coming and visit my blog.

Jinksy said...

Wanted to say thank you for the poem by Victor Hugo! I've not come across it before. I don't think it would ever be possible to rhyme the same words once translated. I agree, a basic knowledge of a language gives the reader an understanding which no translation will capture, but I do think the 'soul', as I called it, can be given an approximation in the other language, if translation is done sensitively. Sorry I had to answer on your blogpost (which I've just enjoyed, by the way) but you don't seem to have an email. Mine is available as a button on my 'view complete profile page'if you have any more beautiful poetry to share!

Jinksy said...

Me back with another reply! Afraid that link didn't like my computer - or vice versa. The You Tube doofer obliterated the explanation of the rhyme scheme, as well as the poem on the post. Then it got stuck, and I couldn't escape the music- I object to my ears being assailed in this way. :) I may Google Pindaric Ode as an alternative approach. I have revelled in playing with many poetic forms, and have blogged about my obsession before. :)

SAPhotographs (Joan) said...

What a very sad period in history!! I have read much on what the Eurpoeans did in this period and I get cold at the thought of all the cruelty. If you ever find a book called "Bury my heart at Wounded Knee" read it and you will know what lead up to Custers death. A tragic story.

This is a fantastic post. I love the pictures and the history. Thank you for sharing.

CuriousJM said...

Thank you for your comments on my 'Travelogue of An Armchair Traveller' which brought me to your blog, wherein I found this great post about the infamous and tragic 'Trail of Tears’.

A few months back I had also made a post about memorial to a native American girl named 'Te-lah-nay’ who at the young age of just 14 years was evicted from her homeland along with her Yuchi Indian tribe and forcibly driven from Lauderdale County. After a short stay in her new environment she slipped away from the camp at Oklahoma and walked back to her home in Lauderdale County about 450 miles away, facing many dangers and hurdles.

Her great great grand son Tom Hendrix has single-handedly built a 3 miles long stone wall as memorial for all those who suffered in this tragic relocation and has also written a book entitled "If The Legends Fade" describing her to and fro journey and her ordeals.

I have added today a link about this post in my blog 'Wichahpi Stone Wall - A Unique Memorial to A Native American Woman' so that my readers also get an opportunity to read your great post.

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