COMMENTARY: Find your way back

by Mar 19, 2020OPINIONS





If you are from Cherokee, live in the area, or commute here to work, getting around is fairly easy. Then again, I have lived in these mountains the bulk of my life and I don’t know all the roads and places, the nooks and crannies if you will. I can get to and from my places of interest and I bet you can too. 

But, for those who haven’t climbed these mountains and walked these streams, it can be a real challenge to explore our world. Country roads are windy, in some cases primitive, and a good many of them are unmarked. Getting directions from some of our local folks may be challenging as well. Unless they are willing to take you there, there is a language barrier, a dialect issue if you will, that keeps most folks from other areas of the country from understanding us. And, we do have a sense of humor when it comes to dealing with folks who are not around here. That is why many think the way to any Southern destination is “drive till you hear banjo music”.

Modern technology isn’t a big help in our neck of the woods. Mountains make Garmin and TomTom units cry. Directional and mapping units require frequently updated maps and strong, consistent satellite signals. If you have satellite radio in your vehicle, you know that a uniform satellite signal is a mythical beast. You will be listening to a favorite song, an intriguing story, or a pivotal play in a game only to hit a satellite dead spot and by the time you come out of it, whatever you were listening to is done. And, large corporations don’t send people or equipment our way often enough to have detailed maps of our area digitized and loaded into their units. If your GPS guidance tools had hands, it would scratch its touch screen, because at some point in the journey to and through the Qualla Boundary and western North Carolina, it will become totally disoriented and either refuse to tell you where to go or send you to places you either don’t want or shouldn’t go. 

Our townships on the Boundary could definitely benefit from some prominent and uniform wayfinding signage. Businesses would surely be affected positively by creating a system of signage for the community and the traveling public. Locals in need of specific tribal services could not only find those services, but also communicate more effectively to others where to go for services.

A couple of decades ago, the government (Travel and Promotion Office) and local business had a partnership for wayfinding signage. Remember the old arrowhead wooden signs that pointed travelers to specific businesses in town? The tribal travel office coordinated the installation of the signage and the businesses paid to have the direction to their locations posted on the signage. By the time I came to work for the Tribe, those signs were in disrepair and were eventually removed, partly because they were unserviceable and partly because the administration at the time didn’t like the use of the arrowheads. The concept is still good, but it will be up to tribal government and business to make wayfinding signage a priority on the Boundary.

There are some efforts at wayfinding by several entities currently. The unfortunate downside to that approach is that the Boundary ends up with a jumbled clutter of signs, some placed in front of other wayfinding signage. With utility boxes, garbage cans, and other clutter on our thoroughfares, we don’t need ten signs on ten different stakes to become part of that landscape. And, we need some commonsense management of the signs in areas that are designated for outdoor recreation. An authority to implement and regulate the signage would be nice. In fact, I think the Tribe already has the mechanism and a signage officer. Some leadership in the area would likely be all that is required. 

Since the turn of the millennium, the Tribe has grown, and culture has advanced. Political correctness would prohibit the replacement of the old arrowhead signage. But, there are viable signage options available to us. And, it might be a tool to rebuild the Cherokee Chamber of Commerce, the relationship of the business community with the economic development activities of the government and Kituwah LLC. Wayfinding signage could conform to the existing law and practice of printing the signs in both the Cherokee language and English, bringing additional attention and awareness of the tribe’s language. 

But, good ideas are like footballs, nothing happens until you pick them up and run with them. And like playing football, it really helps to know the field, have it well marked, and know which direction you are supposed to run it to win. 

I believe technology will advance to the point that we will have community standard GPS connectivity, eventually. I believe that corporations will eventually see enough value in our community and those who travel to us to provide better mapping in their GPS units and programs. In anticipation of that glad day, we, as government and business, should be flaunting our street addresses on our signs and businesses. My TomTom loves a good street address. In most areas, providing it a street address will get me to the front door of any destination I care to go to, except those off the beaten path. 

So, as we contemplate ways that we may improve the feng shui of our Boundary to the betterment of the environment, our community, and the traveling public (in that order), let’s ask our government and businesses to come together once again to remove cluttering signage and create a uniform wayfinding signage system that provide state-of-the-art information and guidance. I know that we are not travelling much now, or shouldn’t be, but soon we will be trying to find our way back.