January 16, 2017

Cherokee Heritage

A suggested itinerary for exploring Cherokee heritage sites in southwestern North Carolina.

The North Carolina high country was already home to the Cherokee people for thousands of years before the first white explorer pitched camp in a creek-side cove. Despite the U. S. Government’s campaign in the 1830s to expel the Cherokee from their homes in the southern mountains, forcing thousands of people west on the Trail of Tears, the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians and their ancient traditions of art and folklore thrive in these mountains today.

This tour suggests an itinerary in which the visitor to the North Carolina mountains can begin to explore the rich Cherokee heritage of the Great Smoky and Blue Ridge Mountains. If you decide to visit all of the stops on this tour, you’ll need more than one day to do so, as the round-trip is between 150 and 200 miles, and there is a lot to see. (Note that most, though not all, of these stops are open on Saturdays, and few are open on Sundays.) There are plenty of lodging options for the weekend traveler – major motels, particularly in the Cherokee, Murphy (and nearby Hiawassee, GA), and Franklin areas, and plenty of smaller inns and bed-and-breakfasts in between. Should you prefer roughing it, there is no end of spectacularly beautiful state and national parkland in which to camp. The Smoky Mountain Host website is a great starting-place to plan the nuts and bolts of your trip.

Cherokee, North Carolina, the starting point of this tour, is essentially the capital of the Eastern Band of the Cherokee Nation. Though a sign in Cherokee welcomes visitors to the “Cherokee Reservation,” the Qualla Boundary is not actually a reservation. A land trust established formally in 1924, the 56,000-acre Qualla Boundary is made up of land that has been owned by the Cherokee for many generations, and it is still fully owned by the tribe. “Qualla” is derived from Kwali, the name of an elderly Cherokee woman who lived in the area in 1839. The largest single parcel of land owned by the Eastern Band, the hundred-square-mile Qualla Boundary is the home of about 8,000 Cherokees.

To begin your tour, please click follow the links on the right.

Photo: A Cherokee stickball match at the Fading Voices Festival in Robbinsville; photo by Murray Allen Lee.