CULLOWHEE – Western Carolina University Chancellor David O. Belcher presented 2011 Mountain Heritage Awards on Saturday, Sept. 24 to well-known Cherokee storyteller Lloyd Arneach and to the Stecoah Valley Cultural Arts Center, which has become a dynamic community hub in Graham County.
The presentations were part of activities at the university’s 37th annual Mountain Heritage Day festival.
The university bestows Mountain Heritage Awards each year on one individual and one organization in recognition of their outstanding contributions to the preservation or interpretation of the history and culture of Southern Appalachia, or for outstanding contributions to research on, or interpretation of, Southern Appalachian issues.
Lloyd Arneach (Individual Recipient)
Arneach was born and raised on the Qualla Boundary, home of the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians. His father served for a time as vice-chief of the Eastern Band, his mother was the first woman to be elected to the Tribal Council, and his grandmother, Lula Owl Gloyne, was a “Beloved Woman” of the tribe. As a young man, Arneach attended Guilford College and served in the U.S. military, including a year in Vietnam.
Arneach first learned Cherokee legends as they were told by two storytelling uncles, David and George Owl. He moved to Atlanta to work in 1967, and in his spare time, Arneach traveled around the state of Georgia lecturing on Cherokee history and culture. Later on, he added storytelling to his presentations, and in 1993, Arneach began a full-time career as both storyteller and historian.
Arneach is now nationally recognized for his ability to present stories in a style that is humorous, informative and moving. His tales range from the “old stories” of the Cherokee to contemporary stories he has collected and others from a variety of Native American tribes. He has said, “I’m fortunate to have a wealth of stories to share, and I’ll tell stories to anyone who will sit down and listen.”
Arneach’s storytelling has taken him across the United States, with performances at the Kennedy Center, during the opening of the National Museum of the American Indian in Washington, D.C., and on the Discovery Channel. He also lectures on Cherokee history and culture in schools, universities, museums, and at many other venues, and he conducts workshops on Native American storytelling, helping to build appreciation for Native American culture.
In 1992, Children’s Press published Arneach’s book “The Animal Ballgame,” which is based on one of his favorite Cherokee animal stories, and his book “Long-Ago Stories of the Eastern Cherokee,” released in 2008, is now in its third printing.
Stecoah Valley Cultural Arts Center (Organizational Recipient)
Built of native rock with the skill and labor of many local residents, Stecoah Union School in Graham County opened to its first students in 1926. After 68 years of serving as a center of the community, the school was closed due to consolidation in 1994.
For two years, the school sat abandoned, but the Stecoah Valley Arts, Crafts and Educational Center Inc., a non-profit corporation, was formed by a group of concerned citizens who wanted to restore the old school to its original role as the community hub. Now the 14,000-square-foot building is home to the Stecoah Valley Cultural Arts Center, which offers cultural and heritage programming, and community services, to about 12,000 people each year.
The arts center’s well-known summer concert series, “An Appalachian Evening,” draws top acts such as Doc Watson and David Holt to perform, and the new Stecoah Artisans Gallery and Guild provides sales promotion and support for more than 125 local and regional artists.
The center also provides many services to the local community, including an award-winning after-school program that serves more than 50 students each year. The center’s Junior Appalachian Musicians (JAM) program offers students an opportunity to learn to play traditional stringed instruments, helping to preserve the culture of the region.
The Stecoah Valley Food Ventures project offers newly renovated kitchen and meeting facilities to support the development of food-related small business. The center also provides visitor information services and is home to other non-profit organizations.