CHEROKEE TERRITORY - YESTERDAY AND TODAY
Cherokee, NC: - Lands once claimed centuries ago by the Cherokee Nation encompassed parts of what are now eight states: Kentucky, Tennessee, Alabama, Georgia, South Carolina, North Carolina, Virginia and West Virginia. The total land area was estimated to be about 135,000 square miles.
In contrast, today only 56,000 acres of their original homeland comprise the Qualla Boundary, more commonly referred to as the Cherokee Indian Reservation, in western North Carolina.. When visitors arrive on the reservation, they are entering a sovereign land held in trust specifically for the Tribe by the United States Government. This land was purchased by a white man, Will Thomas, who in the late 1800s, presented the land to the Cherokee people
Long before Columbus arrived in the New World, the Cherokee were already inhabiting a vast area that included the Great Smoky Mountains. 'To the Cherokee, this area was known as "sha-cona-ge" or the "land of the blue mist (or smoke)".
The Great Smokies are still home to the Cherokee, but thousands of non-indians have moved into the area and developed the region during the past one hundred years. About ninety percent of the Great Smokies lie within the borders of western North Carolina and a small amount is in Tennessee that is a geographic surprise to many.
Bordered on the North by the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, the reservation today boasts of development uncommon on Indian lands throughout the United States. Tourism is the mainstay of the economy with about seventy-five percent of the tribe's revenues derived from this industry.
Nearly three hundred businesses hold "trader's licenses" and collect a six percent tribal levy on sales. No other sales tax, such as the six percent North Carolina sales tax, apply within the Boundary.
Since the late 1940s, visitation to Cherokee has grown and spurred an annual increase in tourist-related businesses. Today, the reservation has 57 motels, 28 campgrounds, numerous restaurants, shops, cultural and non-cultural attractions, service stations and more. Six major motel properties are located on the reservation: Best Western, Days Inn, Holiday Inn, Comfort Inn, Hampton Inn. and a Quality Inn. Major campgrounds include Kampground of America (KOA) and Yogi Bear.
The Cherokee living on the reservation are known as the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians and are descendants of the approximately one thousand Cherokee who hid in these mountains to avoid forced removal to Oklahoma on the infamous "Trail of Tears" during the late 1830s. In 1993 approximately 10,000 Cherokee were enrolled members of the tribe.
Their language, both spoken and written, is no longer in danger of becoming extinct as it was only a generation ago and visitors may hear it spoken at attractions such as the Oconaluftee Indian Village and during the outdoor drama "Unto These Hills". It is a required subject in Cherokee schools and universities such as Western Carolina University in Cullowhee, North Carolina, have it as part of their curriculum.
Unlike the tribes of the north plains and others, the Cherokee were not nomadic and called themselves Ani'Yun'wiya, the 'Principal People'. They traced their descent through the women in their society and they lived in the mother's household, in contrast to the European method that traced both the men and women.
Spanish explorer Hernando de Soto's entry into Cherokee territory in 1540 changed forever the way the Cherokee lived. His quest for gold, silver and other forms of wealth in the name of Spain brought disease, death and misery to Native Americans. Believing the Indians were withholding information about Cherokee wealth and location of mines, de Soto's men killed some Indians and enslaved others. Diseases carried by the foreigners brought about the demise of about 95 percent of the native population during the first 200 years of European presence that means that for every one hundred Native Americans who lived in 1492, there were only five in 1692.
Volumes have been written about the Cherokee people and their known struggles since the first encounters with the white man. Today, they continue to struggle in a non Indian society while attempting to avoid severance of their unique and often tragic past. As tourism grows, so does the prosperity and future of the Cherokee people.
It was the designation of the Smokies as a National Park and the development of the Blue Ridge parkway that caused Cherokee to become tourism-minded in the late 1940s. As visitors came to enjoy the Park and the unique Parkway, services were needed for the visitors who arrived via two highways--US441 and US19. Nearly 50 years later, tourism is still the economic lifeblood of the Cherokee people.
All business locations within the Qualla Boundary are Indian-owned but, by the authority of the Tribal Council, Indians can lease their buildings or businesses to non-Indians. Even as the Reservation continues to grow and develop, the Cherokee people rightfully can continue to claim the status of "original inhabitants" of the vast and beautiful Smoky Mountains,
Many books about the Cherokee are available at several museums and stores on the reservation. For complete visitor information about Cherokee, contact the Cherokee Visitor Center, P. O. Box 450, Cherokee, NC 28719 or phone 1-800-438-1601.
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