Published On: Thu, Jun 2nd, 2016

EDITORIAL: The best things in life are free and in Cherokee      





Spring has sprung and folks are looking for great opportunities to spend great family time in Cherokee. We have some great natural attractions to enjoy from the Island Park downtown to Mingo Falls. The total cost to enjoy these attractions is your gas or some wear on your shoe leather and time. These attractions are available year-round.

During the months of May, June, July and August, the Cherokee Indian Fairgrounds Special Events Department coordinates two great, fun activities that will not hit your pocketbook and provide you with very different tastes of Cherokee culture.

Sonny Ledford, Museum of the Cherokee Indian, performs a Cherokee song at a Bonfire.  (Photo courtesy of EBCI Commerce)

Sonny Ledford, Museum of the Cherokee Indian, performs a Cherokee song at a Bonfire. (Photo courtesy of EBCI Commerce)

One is the Cherokee Bonfire. Daniel Tramper and his team provide weekend education and entertainment. The Bonfire is held every weekend on summer evenings on the bank of the Oconaluftee River in downtown Cherokee. Daniel and his team are tribal members. They don period dress of the 18th century Cherokee people. They share stories and folklore of the Cherokee people, give historical accounts of how Cherokee people hunted, gathered and waged war. There are demonstrations of weapons and other tools. Many of the nights, you will hear Cherokee songs and see Cherokee traditional dances. To top it off, a large campfire is built and you will sit on old split log seats to enjoy all of this. For those with bottoms not accustomed to hardwood seating (and the occasional splinter), you are invited to bring your own camp or lounge chair for the evening. There is also time set aside to allow a little marshmallow roasting for the kids. This activity is great for the local folks who want to spend an evening out that is kid-friendly and the visitors looking for a peak at authentic Cherokee activities.

Another great activity is the Music on the River (MOTR) outdoor performances. Held at the MOTR stage in the area of downtown commonly known as the “horseshoe”, these weekend night music events are some of the most interesting and well attended on the Qualla Boundary. There are a variety of bands that are scheduled to take the stage this spring and summer. Most of these bands are led by tribal members or have members who are a part of the band. The Fairgrounds staff has selected bands from a variety of genres so you may be assured that you have a different experience at every session. From blues to bluegrass, from classic rock to alternative rock, you will get your fill at the Music on the River. Some these local bands have been making music for decades, while others are new additions to the regional music scene. While at the music show, you will have an opportunity to speak with band members about their own unique take on the Cherokee experience. While there is some seating at the venue, again, your best bet is to bring a lawn or camp chair. There are eateries close by so you may grab beverages and chow while you enjoy great music.

In five locations throughout Cherokee, the Sequoyah Fund established “summer huts” within the area commonly known as the business district. Since the 1950’s, several tribal entrepreneurs have engaged in a practice called “chiefing”, which was basically an individual’s interpretation via dress of what the public perceives as Indian. For years tipis, headdresses and powwow dancing that were not a part of the Cherokee history and culture, where worn by these roadside vendors. Money was made by accepting tips and for posing for photos with visitors. Over the past few years, the Tribe and its Marketing Department has endeavored to make all cultural activities in Cherokee more in-line with the Cherokee culture. Tipis have been replaced by summer huts and the vendors now go through a licensing program to ensure that only those who have been through a reference check perform at the summer huts. They are required to incorporate Cherokee culture into their presentation, including their regalia, songs, dances and stories. Tips and payment for photos are still an option, but if you want to watch a great Native American performance at low or no cost, this could be a way to go. Chiefing is a long-standing and respectable business on the Boundary and the way many people from outside of the Tribe were introduced to the Cherokee people and history through these roadside venues over the past six or seven decades.

So, for locals and visitors alike, there are many great, free ways to enjoy the Cherokee culture, past and present. There are also many other fun and exciting activities in Cherokee, for a small fee. Spring, summer, fall, winter- any season is a great season to be in Cherokee and on the Qualla Boundary.