Eastern Band, Cherokee Nation to reunite
JON OSTENDORFF • JOSTENDORFF@CITIZEN-TIMES.COM • UPDATED APRIL 16, 2009 9:28 AM
The show of solidarity and culture at Red Clay State Park in Cleveland, Tenn., is only the second time the two governments have returned to the place where Cherokee Chief John Ross learned his people would be forced from their homeland.
“It is a good thing for us to come together with the western tribe,” said Shirley Oswalt, who lives in the Snowbird community in Graham County. “It is like families coming home for a reunion.”
Federal troops in the spring of 1838 rounded up about 17,000 Cherokee and forced them to walk to Oklahoma on what became known as the Trail of Tears. At least 4,000 died along the way.
Red Clay was the Cherokee capital at the time. The government had moved there from its capital city of New Echota in north Georgia after the state outlawed its meetings.
The two nations reunited for the first time at Red Clay in 1984. The events this week start today with a symposium of scholars and cultural demonstrations.
Members of both tribes will run a relay to carry a symbolic eternal flame to Red Clay from Cherokee. Eastern Band Principal Chief Michell Hicks and Cherokee Nation Principal Chief Chad Smith will carry torches to lead the runners into the historic Red Clay Council Grounds.
There, leaders from both governments will meet in a joint council to pass resolutions to symbolize the reunification of the Cherokee Nation. The event ends Saturday with traditional dances, music, storytelling, a stickball game and arts and crafts demonstrations. It is free and open to the public.
“As a people and as U.S. citizens, we have an obligation to educate our children and our people about our ancestry and history,” Hicks said in a statement. “This event will assist us in moving the Cherokee people forward while remembering the trials and lessons learned from our past.”
The Eastern Band has about 12,000 enrolled members and the western Cherokee's rolls contain more than 200,000 names.
Barbara Duncan, a scholar with the Museum of the Cherokee Indian, said the reunion next weekend, with food, traditional crafts and games, will turn Red Clay into a place much like it was in the late 1830s. Travelers at that time reported seeing not just a political capital, but a vibrant representation of Cherokee culture.
The reunion aims to live up to that.
“It is kind of a celebration that the Cherokee people are still alive and still here,” she said.
Tom Belt, the Cherokee language coordinator at Western Carolina University who is a member of the Cherokee Nation, agreed.
“It's an event that symbolizes the survival of the Cherokee people in many ways,” he said. “It validates our common ancestry and our common homeland as well as our common history.”
He said it's also a way to make sure traditions live on.
“For our children, it passes down the richness of their own legacy,” he said.