By JORDAN OOCUMMA
When I was young, and admittedly that wasn’t very long ago, Cherokee was touted as a tourist destination, a family destination if you will. We had a few things to do for families here, though not many. We didn’t have a casino. We didn’t have much money, but we did have the Fun Park, a putt-putt or three, a cyclorama (wax museum), community pools, and a few other things to do. In a time before mine, in my parents’ youth, there were even more things to do. There was Frontier Land, water slides and I’m sure more than I know.
Today Cherokee is a bit different and, in my opinion, not different in a good way. Today, the Fun Park is gone, replaced by a bar. Frontier Land is gone, replaced by a casino. The Cyclorama is gone, replaced with a parking lot. The water slides are gone, replaced by nothing – only abandoned and forgotten.
When the casino came, we saw a time of great fortune for our Tribe, financially of course. We were no longer poor, no longer scraping pennies and taking out loans to pay the tribal employees. In some ways, the casino has been a blessing for our people. In many other ways though, it has been anything but a blessing.
It seems that since the casino has come to Cherokee this has been the singular focus of our tribal government. Gone are the days of family entertainment in Cherokee, replaced by gambling. The Tribe has kicked around ideas for family fun here, but kicked them out the door as well, never to come to fruition.
For our government there is only the casino, only dollar signs, only new hotel towers and convention centers. We have the amazing financial ability to build and market family-oriented fun in Cherokee – the Water Park that never was and other ideas that never saw anything other than wild and unchecked spending on architects and feasibility studies; wasted money, time and resources.
In the meantime, Cherokee has become a gambling destination and nothing more. If people come to Cherokee, it is only for the casino for there is nothing else to do here.
So, I ask you can we truly call Cherokee a tourist destination anymore? Is there anything other than cheap fake shops downtown? I mean, let’s be real. If you go into one you’ve been into them all. They hold your attention for five minutes, if even that. What is there to do here? It’s no small wonder drugs are so rampant here in a town where there is nothing for our kids to do, nothing for families, nothing for fun. Why would anyone come here unless they wanted to gamble?
In short, no, Cherokee is not a family friendly tourist destination any longer. I believe we must rectify this. We must expand the scope of fun here. We must give people other reasons to come and things to do. We need to give our own people things to do here.
The Catawba are building their casino a stone’s throw from ours and our tribal Government is still solely focused on the casino. It’s time our leaders wake up and smell the coffee. It’s time to remake Cherokee for the better.