By ROBERT JUMPER
One Feather Editor
I want to thank you for your visit to our Qualla Boundary. The Boundary is steeped in the history and culture of the people of the Cherokee nation, and more recently the members of the bloodline of Cherokee that remained after the forced removal to Oklahoma. These survivors used the mountains as a shield from an illegal action by the federal government and remained here until a legal remedy could be affected to secure land for a territorial holding, land in trust, similar but apart from being a true “reservation”. The signs you see at the entrances to our land are indicators of our desire to play on the romantic image of Indians that you see in old movies and “western” television shows. Not all natives to this land wore large, feathered headdresses, or lived in tipis.
Hopefully, you are visiting to enjoy the true heritage of the Eastern Band of Cherokee nation. It is rich and beautiful. It is a history of perseverance and endurance. It is a history of innovation and incorporation, engaging with and appropriating the best of each culture that we encounter while retaining who and what we are. You will find a focus on bringing all things back to our culture when dealing with our people.
We are a matrilineal society. Respect runs high for the women of our Tribe. In ancient times, as is today, women serve in leadership roles in our community and in our government. Women are honored in our culture and there is an expectation that they will be honored by those who visit with us. Consider it a privilege if you are in the presence of our mothers and daughters and provide for them the respect they deserve.
And we have respect for the land, never so much as a prized possession, but as a gift of use by the Creator. It is the Creator’s land, and we reside upon it at his discretion, not that of a government. Certainly, we respect the sovereignty of the federal government, but we also require the respect of any government for the sovereignty of the Eastern Band of Cherokee people. Please treat the land with respect and care. Did you know that something that seems as harmless as moving and stacking river rocks can destroy delicate ecosystems in our river and streams? Many forms of wildlife, both flora and fauna, take time in woodlands and waters to develop intricate life systems, or homes if you will, and in just a few moments of “playing” with rocks of disturbing plant life, you may destroy life cycles of creatures and plants that took many years to create.
By the same token, you must remove the civilization that you bring into our green areas. If it is not naturally there when you go in, don’t leave it there. Do not carelessly throw your trash out. Don’t flip your cigarette butts or empty vape cartridges out on our roadsides or in our woods or in our waters. Don’t leave your hiking or camping trash in our forest lands or even in our downtown. And for whatever purpose you might be using a syringe on the Boundary, carry that away with you for proper disposal. Don’t leave it on the ground for someone else to deal with and potentially be harmed.
Hopefully, your visit will be marked with mutual respect; us for you and you for us. We know that cultures not the same as our own may be difficult to understand. Our ways may not be your ways. In a multicultural environment on this continent that is confusing on its best days, we all will need to be more patient, understanding, and thoughtful when it comes to interactions with people who may not look like us, sound like us, or act like us. It is forgivable to be ignorant of cultural norms until educated. It becomes offensive to not be mindful of cultural norms when you are made aware of them. The adage of “when in Rome, do as the Romans do” applies here to a point. While a respectful spectator may be perfectly fine for some activities, it is rarely acceptable to mimic or wear certain clothing that makes fun of or demoralizes a culture. That would include our culture and, of course, it would include yours. While what you are saying, doing, or wearing might seem like a light amusement to some, to others it might be extremely hurtful and demeaning. Finding other ways to enjoy each other does not require that we make fun of each other.
For example, during public events, the Cherokee people will routinely sing and dance. Many of those dances will be freely shared by our people with you. It is totally fine and appropriate when asked if you care to join in when the song leaders invite you. You haven’t lived until you participate in a Cherokee Friendship Dance. It is an experience I highly recommend to you as you visit us.
Take a moment before and during your visit to walk through our Welcome Center and Museum (Museum of the Cherokee Indian). Our Welcome Center is a great place to learn the dos and don’ts of interacting with our people and our lands. The Museum is a repository of our history. Why we are the way we are. It is always a good first or second stop into the land of the Principal People.
We are thankful that you have chosen our Qualla Boundary to be a stopping point in your journey. You help us in many ways with your visit to us. Our businesses benefit from your dollars spent in our accommodations and amenities. We learn from you as you tell us your life stories as we tell you ours. It is our great honor and privilege to share who we are with you. It is critically important to our nation, and indeed to all nations, that we learn from each other and learn to live with each other. Ask questions. And so, we too will ask you questions. It is how we all learn to live together.