Monday, August 3, 2009

Oconaluftee Indian Village, Cherokee, NC

The year is 1829. As a young woman in Southern Appalachia, you hold property rights to a farm producing corn, beans and squash. You fight in battles, vote, make speeches and have an active voice in government. You are head of a household, perhaps even a chief. You have power and prestige. You are Cherokee.

This is the advanced culture nearly destroyed by white settlers eager for farmland and quick riches, after gold was discovered on tribal lands in Georgia.

Following passage of the Indian Removal Act 15,000 Cherokee people were rounded up into concentration camps and marched off to Oklahoma in the bitter winter of 1838. Along this “Trail of Tears”, over 4,000 perished of cold, disease and starvation.

Only 400 natives, known as the Oconaluftee Cherokee, were allowed to remain in their stockade towns. Today, their descendants are one of the few Native American tribes to still occupy their original homeland that now makes up the 100-square mile sovereign nation of Cherokee.

Oconaluftee village on the Qualla Reservation is in Cherokee, North Carolina. Wander through this outdoor museum. Take the self-guided tour to see baskets woven by women who learned the craft from their mothers. See a demonstration of weaponry. Did you know the Cherokee were the only North American people to use blowguns?

Around the bend, another member of the tribe stands beside a giant log topped with burning embers, telling how dugout canoes were made. Later in the evening, watch the story of the Cherokee unfold in the outdoor theatre production of “Unto These Hills”. Experience what it means to be Cherokee.

Oconaluftee Indian Village is open seven days a week May 1 – October 24 from 9am – 5pm. Tickets are available on line and at the door. Nearby is the Museum of the Cherokee Indian, Qualla Arts & Crafts center. Cherokee hosts numerous cultural events throughout the year.

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