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Saturday, July 3, 2021

Day 7, Part 1 - Cherokee, North Carolina


After checking out from Fontana Village on Sunday morning, we decided to pass through Cherokee on the way home -  which is on the east side of Great Smoky Mountains National Park, in North Carolina instead of Tennessee :)

Just like Gatlinburg, it has a river running right through the center of town, with children allowed to play in it, as it's very wide, but very shallow and rocky :) 

Mark and I both visited here as children on our way to Florida - Mark with his family on the way to Cape Canaveral to watch the launch of Apollo 11, and myself with my family, on our way to Disney World -  and we both have fond memories of the place.

In fact, the little "trading post" where the Cherokee man told me I was a "Little Hawk" as my totem, and where Mark bought a coon-skinned cap and pretended to be Davy Crockett,  was still there (photo below). 

We didn't have time to stay as long as we would've liked, and weren't able to actually see the museum exhibit at The Museum of the Cherokee Indian, nor visit Oconaluftee Village, because we had Brookie with us and dogs were not allowed (and we'd already checked out) - but we were able to go into the museum gift shop and buy a few items (while the other waited outside with Brookie), as well as an independent gift shop called the Medicine Man Crafts, which has been there 60 years and has authentic gifts, not only signed by tribal members, but with cards telling you which artist made them :)

What we didn't realize, as children, is how much exploitation of the Cherokee was going on, in this town, when we were there as children, and how offensive to the tribe many things were (more about that below).  

These are the sort of things you notice as grown-ups - or at least you should by now, even if your parents and grandparents didn't teach you any better - to include having better basic manners.

In fact, though we may still be ignorant to things that are offensive because we are not these races or cultures, and need to be educated - some things are so obvious that no one should need to teach us - they're just rude and mean.

Depicting other races and cultures in offensive ways, lumping them all into one negative or demonizing/vilifying stereotype, or exploiting their crafts and practices for profit in inaccurate cultural appropriation, is quite simply - wrong.

And note that in this area, it's not just Native Americans and other people of color and cultures being mistreated, exploited, and culturally appropriated for profit, but also poor Appalachian white people, which I will mention in my next post - especially in Pigeon Forge - just not as mistreated as Native Americans and other people of color.

In fact, it has for too long been a great American past-time, on both political sides (despite my fellow liberals talking a good game), to vilify, demonize, and degrade poor people, finding excuses to blame them for their own poverty, instead of recognizing that not only are the odds already stacked against them, but they are also the most exploited, preyed upon, power-abused and robbed people on the planet, because it is known they are without funds for legal recourse.

It's one thing to have a sense of humor, even about oneself or one's own culture, but it's a completely other thing to negatively stereotype, vilify/demonize them, rudely degrade/make fun of them at their expense, and to gain profit from their culture, whilst leaving them in poverty :)

The good news is, today, the first thing you notice about Cherokee is that nearly everything is now Cherokee owned with Cherokee employees - including the Museum of the Cherokee Indian - and all of the street signs contain letters and symbols under the regular street names :)

This is because the Cherokee are one of the few Native American tribes in recorded history to be literate, having have developed their own alphabet syllabary, formally created/collected/recorded by Sequoyah (see later photos of sculpture and plaque).

As for that last road sign, it's significant - because Chief Robert Youngdeer was a great man.  He was a WW2 marine veteran, awarded the purple heart after being shot in the head, miraculously healing, then going on to serve as a paratrooper in Okinawa.  

(Not my photo - courtesy of Cherokee's newspaper,

He later became chief of the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians, an investigator for the Bureau of Indian Affairs for several reservations and resettlements, and was bestowed the highest honorary title that can be bestowed by the Cherokee nation, the title of of "Beloved Man," by the Cherokee Tribal Council in 2018, shortly before his death, at age 96.

Additionally, as for faith, he was both a Christian AND Cherokee - because they are not mutually exclusive :) 

If you'd like to read more about him and his life of service to both his country and his community, please read HERE in Cherokee's newspaper,

On that note, one of the first things you see upon entering town is a memorial honoring the Cherokee veterans of this country, The Cherokee Veterans Park, which includes monuments of all the Cherokee who served in the military in U.S. wars ... 

Our next stop was Medicine Man Crafts, which as mentioned above, sells authentic Cherokee artwork and pottery, signed by the artists with cards by the crafts authenticating them.  It also serves as a small museum of former artists who have passed on, whose crafts you can't purchase anymore, but are on display in honorary memoriam.   It also sells medicinal herbs and spiritual ceremonial items, gathered  and blessed by the Cherokee people and shaman, also authenticated.  

While there, I purchased this little pot made by Mary Panther :)

While waiting outside with Brookie for Mark's turn inside (where he bought a 7-clans T-shirt and bandana, since he is verified 1/8 Lakota Sioux), I noticed some women setting up a display in the wooden pavilion outside.  I wandered over to learn more, where I met Brittnee, a Cherokee Native-American and licensed doula. 


For those who don't know, a doula is a female person who provides resources and emotional support for mothers before, during, and after pregnancy - this differs from a midwife in that a midwife provides the actual medical care.

That day, Brittnee and friends were setting up materials to provide safe childbirth for women, as well as provide information about ALL pregnancy choices, birth control, and protection from STDs/STIs. 

Brittnee  is part of a organization called SistasCaring4Sistas - Doulas for Social Justice for women of color, which is under the larger umbrella of the Mountain Health Alliance Center, which provides medical care and dental care to mountain women of all races.

I asked if I could donate, and Brittnee said, "Ya know, I didn't even think of that so I don't have a way to take donations, but here's some pamphlets about our organization - perhaps you can contact someone there to do so?  I'm just here to help educate and support our community."

Bless that woman - so I told her I'd give a little shout out to their organization  :)

Next up was the  Museum of the Cherokee Indian, where we already knew we couldn't take Brookie inside, so we took turns visiting the gift shop and pre-exhibit, as well as taking pictures of the grounds outside :)

A plaque honoring the wife of the original museum director, Ken Blankenship, Georgia Blankenship, who designed and meticulously cared for the grounds ... 

However, the first thing you notice about the museum is the large carved statue of Sequoyah.

Now, it may surprise you the statue was commissioned by the EBCI and Chief Youngblood to be carved by Hungarian-American artist, Peter Wolf Toth, who has a special gift for depicting Native Americans in such a way that tribal councils feel is respectful and honors them, conveying their emotion well.

However, it shouldn't surprise you all that much - not only because it's difficult to find a good sculptor you feel can express you best on that scale, but Chief Youngblood was all about not being an isolationist - proving that Cherokee are not just tribal Native-Americans, but they are also American citizens, serving both community and country :)

If you look closely at the sculpture, you will notice first that Sequoyah is wearing a wrapped hat, which wasn't so much Cherokee as it was distinct to Sequoyah himself ;)

You will also notice that he is crying - because it was his lifelong mission to unite the Cherokee tribe back from the forcibly removed Cherokee to an Arkansas reservation on the "Trail of Tears" with those that remained in Southeast - but it was never fully realized. 

There is also a bronze status of Sequoyah at the U.S. Capitol Building (not my photo).

For those who don't know the history of the Trail of Tears, after a mini-gold rush in Georgia in 1829-1830, after gold was discovered on Cherokee land in Georgia, President Andrew Jackson led a push for removal of Indians from their territory - and despite being vehemently opposed by U.S. Congressmen like Davy Crockett from Tennessee (an enigma of man; initially anti-imperialist, but died at the Alamo, fighting Mexicans for Texas) -   U.S.  Congress passed the Indian Removal Act of 1830, which forcibly removed and relocated 60,000 members of the "5 Civilized Tribes" from the mid-south, southeast, and deep south via horses or walking  - the Cherokee, Chickasaw, Muscogee, Seminole, and Choctaw - and their black slaves.  

That's right, while most Native American tribes did allow sanctuary  to escaped black slaves, including and protected them in their tribe,  some other bands of tribes in the South bought and sold slaves - which I didn't know until this visit.

HOWEVER - owning black slaves was not all tribes, nor was it exclusive to  just the Cherokee - but it did occur in small bands within the 5 tribes in the South, mostly for the purposes of trading with white men to try to keep them at bay/keep peace, rather than forcing them to do their labor.  That of course doesn't make it okay, but I understand the (futile) attempt to try to play the white man's game, to keep them off their own backs - or another way of seeing it is throwing them under the bus to save their own backsides :/

However, I did know that freed blacks sometimes owned black slaves in Louisiana - proving that slavery is not exclusively a white-man's game and that power abuse is found in all races.

HOWEVER again - we white people especially sure took that ball and ran with it, pushing the bounds of cruelty to others in the name of Christianity to way past known limits, didn't we?

And I say that as a practicing liberal Christian - as I believe Christ was, freeing us from OT law :)

Regardless, thousands of Native Americans, and black slaves, died along the way or starved/died from exposure when they arrived.  

It was Sequoyah's dream to see the tribe reunited, but never fully realized - only partially realized to this day.

Because since Sequoyah, although Cherokee is now owned by the Cherokee and protected via a government trust, the Cherokee are still scattered and many descendants are still in Arizona, with many having abandoned the Cherokee way. 

On that note, it is important to distinguish between Cherokee, North Carolina and Cherokee reservations out West ... 

Cherokee, North Carolina, is NOT a reservation - it is now privately-owned Cherokee land, protected by a national trust.

The Cherokee reservations are the locations out west to which the U.S. government forcibly moved the Cherokee, such as Arkansas and Arizona.

Now - what many don't know - including most Americans - is how awful we truly were to not just black people, but Native Americans, but somehow calling ourselves "Christians" anyway.

Such as the fact that we set up "Christian Indian Boarding Schools to "christianize" them, established by both Catholic and Protestant missionaries that began in the early 1700s, grew exponentially after the Indian Removal Act of 1830,  and continued to operate well into the 1950s.

Native American children were forcibly taken away from their parents and shipped off to be "educated" several states away, supposedly in the basics (though they often had no educational materials), as well as Western-European and American culture.  They cut their hair,  forced them to dress in Western-European style clothing, were punished and beaten for speaking their native tongue , dressing in any way tribal including sentimental jewelry, or referring in any way to their life before, were denied healthcare and often thrown in mass graves at their deaths.

That is just a brief Wiki synopsis, but there are many matching detailed historical accounts and books written based on the experiences of both the former children and former staff, who admitted these abuses occurred, as these schools made no secret of  their goal  - the most famous being the Carlisle Indian Industrial School of Pennsylvania's public mission statement was  "Kill the Indian, Save the Man" - which was meant spiritually, and physically, if they deemed it necessary. 

All in all, the government officially recorded 22 government-funded/partially funded Indian Assimilation schools -  but as already stated, most were private missionary schools, both Catholic and Christian - and for once, Wiki gives a very detailed, comprehensive list of all of them, via the above link.

Even after they graduated and were considered "successfully Christianized," they were still mistreated, distrusted, not given employment, sterilized, and killed. :/

(Well, I guess some may say that's somewhat better than killing them on the spot for refusing to convert to Christianity, like we used to do - or not.) 


Racism, religious persecution out of arrogance and/or insecurity (in a country supposedly the first at federally protecting religious freedom), misogyny, and power abuse/need to dominate others.

In fact, previous to the federal law discussed below, there had been state laws literally called "eugenic" sterilization as far back as 1907.

However, the U.S. Government department known as the IHS (Indian Health Service) - - at the time, run by all white people and led by Republican Nixon as POTUS (who, as I mentioned in my last post, IMO irrevocably changed the Republican party, and whose unethical, fear-mongering and populist, political-pandering legacy we can still see today, perhaps more than ever) - - used the Family Planning Act of 1970 - as false pretense of providing "birth control choice" to women, to actually  forcibly sterilize Native American women - and only women - without their consent, many of them believing they were receiving simple surgical procedure for OB/GYN conditions, having no idea they were actually receiving a tubal ligation or hysterectomy.   

This practice continued even after Congress put a moratorium addendum on the law, but the U.S. government finally admitted using this act to force sterilization on poor populations - particularly Native American populations in certain regions  -  HERE (NIH/NLB) in 1976.

Now to be fair, LBJ's War on Poverty Program (which I previously mentioned in a post as being a well-intentioned poverty-trap disaster, pushed by an actually old-school pre-1964 old-school racist Southern Democrat, LBJ, whom I'm mortified was ever in my party) - also resulted in forced sterilizations for both poor whites AND people of color, long before Nixon and this federal law - but the 1970 Family Planning act became an institutionalized way for the entire U.S. to be able to sterilize the poor -  particularly Native Americans and black people, and continued until 1976 - all under the auspices of "providing choice birth control."

This is an adjunctive current theory (in addition to lack of financial ability to do so) on why many black people don't visit the doctor as much as white people even if they have good insurance, and why Native Americans themselves have admitted avoiding white man's healthcare, both public and private, out of residual fears of forced sterilization and their children being forcibly taken from them and adopted by white people - which still occurs, often under false pretenses - which they can do nothing about due to their poverty level. 

And that's why Brittnee is there, to be the mediator as a Cherokee woman herself - to help support women in whatever choice they make.  

She is pro-choice, but by her definition, this means a woman should never be forced by any government to either have a baby or not have a baby - U.S., state, or local.

In other words, she believes that the government has no business legally mandating a private citizen's choice in either marriage or reproduction,  one way or the other.

In that way, I guess you might consider her more of a left-libertarian rather than liberal/Democrat :)


Interestingly enough, I also thought this was worth a pic - taken at a red light, just after church let out in Cherokee ...

... just the juxtaposition.  The Cherokee man on the left, sitting on the bench, is the first Cherokee I saw in town, and I'm not sure what he was doing there, I don't think he attended - he's clearly not dressed for church  - a Southern Baptist Church especially lol.  

The minister is standing by the door, shaking hands and saying goodbye to people as they leave, as was the Cherokee man.  

In fact, we were at that red light a while, and with the window down (because I'm nosy lol), I heard them talking and laughing with each other, so I'm not sure what this was about, but a cool photo, considering the history, and nice to see they were cool with each other :) 

Back to the museum, now going inside, you will note there is this sign, mandating that you wear a mask, decided upon by the tribal council - please follow it. 

It was one of the few places we visited in North Carolina that still mandate wearing a mask.  

The Cherokee gift-shop employee who waited on me explained to myself and the others around, that even though they are all vaccinated, the tribal counsel and museum administration felt they should mandate mask wearing to protect all the visitors who perhaps were not vaccinated, being that it is yet unknown whether or not vaccinated people can still transmit the virus.

Additionally, it has been well documented that there is a disparity between white people and indigenous people and people of color populations when it comes to catching and dying from COVID.

In fact, both indigenous and black people have lost more to the virus  than we have.

One theory is, as stated above, distrust for "white man" medicine and vaccination - for good historical racist reasons, detailed above - however, they DO know the virus exists because they've lost many to COVID - which is why President Biden included $1.8 billion in aid to the Cherokee Nation as part of the COVID recovery plan, to both cover health costs and provide economic stimulus for these already economically deprived regions.

After a visit of the grounds, knowing we couldn't take Brookie in to tour the museum (planned for our next visit), I went inside the gift shop and bought a couple of Christmas ornaments ...

(Though made by Cherokee, I'm not sure what the moose is about because they don't exist here anymore.  Elk do, but they've only recently been reintroduced.)

Then I viewed the pre-exhibit  ...

And please take note ... THIS is how the Cherokee tribes of of the mid-South and Southeast looked and dressed when we first encountered them - notice the round metal disc (representing the sacred fire circle) and crescent moon amulets are a nearly constant part of dress, and are one of the distinguishing features of the Cherokee. 

This is the summer, faces painted only for battle or ceremony (the next 7 photos are NOT my photographs) ... 

But in the colder months, they were tunics or shirts, sometimes with blankets (because it's cold in the mountains)! 

Which you'll notice appeared increasingly with collars and frills after contact with the colonials, perhaps to be presentable/respectful during negotiation?  (I'll know more when I come back and can actually visit the museum exhibit).

And this, with the beaded belts and bands we typically associate with Cherokee  - but they were actually only for special ceremonies such as weddings or dances or pow-wows amongst themselves and other tribes.  

This is their most formal dress - like a tux and full-length evening gown would be for us ... 

(The next two photos are NOT my photographs.)

... but NEVER this  ...

Note the western-style pant and shoes,  the hair, the skin color, the feather, the facial paint  - it's all wrong.   Clearly, some white man's depiction of how all Indians look and how they greet you, regardless of tribe, because they were "all the same" to them  - including overly red skin - and what's with the light eyes? 

That kinda reminds me somewhat of what we did with depictions of Jesus -  who, being Middle-Eastern Ashkenazi Jewish, couldn't possibly have had pale skin, blue eyes, tiny facial features, and blonde hair - only even more historically inaccurate and offensive :(

Now, the statue in the photo above is actually a reproduction of the "Cherokee Muffler Man" original in the below photo (not sure where that came from, perhaps he used to sit in front of a Muffler Man store?) is standing in a mini-golf course that's under construction, in the back yard of a restaurant in Cherokee - and I'm not sure how long he will be allowed to be there, or at least without getting damaged - because there's a history, here. 

Because the original (seen below) is actually a statue of Chief Pontiac, who was Ottawa, a northern tribe, not Cherokee - and he was made of fiberglass by white people to sell stuff like Pontiac cars, car parts (like mufflers) and cheap Indian Souvenirs actually made in China :/

"The Muffler Man" (Chief Pontiac)  used to stand on the main strip in Cherokee for decades, in front of white-owned souvenir stores, looking more like this at the time (about 1977), with full headdress before he'd been damaged (though the only thing remotely Cherokee about him was his necklace anyway).

Then he was moved to Paint Town Road in front of a tattoo parlor until 2018 - where as you can see, he had been severely damaged (missing headdress) by then, though his necklace continued to be replaced (because, as I said, it was the only thing truly Cherokee about him anyway). 

I remembered him as a child from that main strip in front of that souvenir shop/trading post and wondered where he was, despite realizing there were some - erm -problems with him,

Because despite the inaccurate cultural representation and shameless cultural appropriation, I admit, I still guiltily missed him as my cartoonish childhood buddy, welcoming me to Cherokee :)

Apparently, he was taken down in 2018 and put in storage - reason being, based on what limited information I could find, due to a combination of wear (which was true, he's missing part of his original headdress even in the above photo), historical inaccuracy (Chief Pontiac was Ottawa, not Cherokee), and inappropriate cultural appropriation by white people trying to sell souvenirs (that were not even true Cherokee). 

Speaking of that main strip, the trading post and souvenir store that Mark and I knew as a child was still there, still with a Cherokee "chief" (not really, but he is Cherokee) telling stories and entertaining/dancing with children out front ... 

With some new additions all over town, including these bears painted by local Cherokee artists, bought by local businesses to stand out front ... 

After leaving, we vowed to come back and visit more of this place, and wished we had allotted more time :(

On a final note, the Museum of the Cherokee Indian, for a fee, has genealogists who will research your genealogy, using several U.S. government and Cherokee rolls and registries, proving your Cherokee heritage (considering everyone in America claims to have Cherokee in them now ;)

Next up, The Great Smoky Mountains National Park in Tennessee, as we drove home through it - including a gag reel of the unfortunate town just before Gatlinburg (which we avoided, trying to avoid traffic), known as Pigeon Forge :)

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