74 years of “Unto These Hills”

by Jun 25, 2024COMMUNITY sgadugi0 comments


One Feather Reporter


CHEROKEE, N.C. – The “Unto These Hills” outdoor drama is celebrating 74 years. In their 74th anniversary season, the Cherokee Historical Association (CHA) iconic show and amphitheater boasts maintenance and infrastructural improvements as well as enhancements to the show and script, balancing the nostalgia of the original Kermit Hunter script and increased incorporation of Cherokee language, culture, and history of the Indian Removal.

The 2024 season runs through Aug. 17. Director D Granke says CHA anticipates a successful season. “We have some cast members who come back year after year and sort of create a rhythm and routine to the show, but then every year we also have some new people who make little changes and bring something different to their role. So, every year is a little different.”

The “Unto These Hills” outdoor drama is celebrating 74 years and runs through Aug. 17. (Photo by Creative Raven LLC)

CHA Program Manager Dustin Wolfe, a member of the Muscogee Creek Nation who currently plays Yonaguska in the Drama, says each year is an opportunity for growth. “Every year [‘Unto These Hills’] becomes a bit closer to representing more of the culture. There is, of course, an artistic license that’s there and it’s always going to be there. It’s not going to be able to be completely historically accurate, but this year, you get a copy of the script and there is not only Cherokee Syllabary, but also a pronunciation guide adding more and more bits and pieces of the language every year,” Wolfe said. “I’m excited every year putting it on just to see what little changes we’re going to manage to get into it.”

CHA Operations Director and member of the executive management team Lance Culpepper is excited for the facility improvements this season. “We want to provide a wonderful experience for our guests as they come to the theater, whether they’re local or whether they’re from the other side of the globe. With funding from the Harrah’s Cherokee Tribal Scholarship Fund, we were able to replace a failing roof at one of our concession stand structures, and the roof at the entrance of our main box office. It was great to be able to give the venue a bit of a facelift at the beginning of the 74th anniversary season,” Culpepper said.

“That funding also allowed us to update a lot of our card payment systems so that we could accept Google Pay, Android Pay, Apple Pay, all those current payment options that people like to use these days. We have updated card readers and some updated point of sale interfaces just to bring us into a more current situation. It’s also great for our employees and the high school students that now work for us at the top of house to have that exposure working with current technology and the point-of-sale systems.”

With new facilities and technological advancements, the Drama also celebrates new additions of Cherokee language and cultural elements of the show. Granke appreciates the institutional knowledge of local cast members in generating an increasingly culturally relevant show. “I don’t have all the answers. I don’t know everything. I’m so grateful I can lean on people like Dustin and the cast members who are from the area who not only have so much historical knowledge and cultural knowledge about broader Cherokee culture, but also just the show itself,” Granke said.

“It’s the kind of thing where somebody can go, ‘Oh yeah, we used to do this thing back in the day,’ and maybe that thing comes back because we just needed that. In my first year here, we needed to make a sound effect and Philenia Walkingstick, who is playing Mrs. Perkins this year, said ‘Well, you could use the rock.’ I went, ‘What rock?’ She goes, ‘Oh, this rock. We used it for years to do this exact thing you want.’ That sort of thing happens all the time.”

CHA Artistic Director Marina Hunley-Graham noted an impressive cast return rate that allows for the continued success of the show. “We usually have about a 65% return rate. That speaks well because it feels like home back there, kind of like a little community.”

General admission is $35, and members of the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians (EBCI) have free admission. You can book tickets online, (https://cherokeehistorical.org/unto-these-hills/) or at the box office.