Cherokee and Qualla Boundary

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Cherokee and the Qualla Boundary

The Qualla Boundary of the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indian Nation

The Qualla Boundary is a large tract of land on the Oconaluftee River which serves as the main home of the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indian Nation. The town of Cherokee is also located within this tract.


Since the Great Smoky Mountains National Park was dedicated in 1940, tourism has been the chief economy of the Qualla Boundary, and approximately 75% of the tribe's revenue comes from the tourist industry.


There are over fifty-five motels on the reservation and numerous campgrounds and shop's and restaurants. Visitors to the town of Cherokee can choose from wide variety of attraction's including several excellent galleries that feature Cherokee and other Native American art.


What visitors don't have the opportunity to see are two of the ancestral villages of the Upper Towns, Nununyi and Tsiskwaki. While Kituwah, located several miles west of the Qualla Boundary on the Tuckasegee River, is considered to be the original or "mother" village for the entire Cherokee tribe. (See: Cherokee Heritage and History: An Introduction to Cherokee History and Culture and Cherokee War Rituals, Culture, Festivals, Government, and Beliefs.)


Nununyi and Tsiskwaki were the two oldest Cherokee villages on the Oconaluftee River.

Qualla Boundary : Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians
Qualla Boundary Map.gif
(Eastern Band of Cherokee Indian Nation Map)

Although the villages were destroyed, they remain the two most important archaeological sites on the Qualla Boundary and provide much information on the development of the Cherokee culture. Nununyi, or "potato place", was a Cherokee village with mound which was occupied in the 1700's. On the map created in 1730, the village was identified as Newni.


In 1776, the naturalist William Bartram referred to it as Nuanhi.Nunuunyi; it was, however, destroyed in October 1776, by Colonel William Moore.


A second nearby village, Tsiskwaki, or "bird place", was also destroyed by Moore’s North Carolina militia during the Revolutionary War. This town was also known as Oconaluftee or Egwanul'ti meaning "beside the river". The site of Tsiskwaki is in Birdtown and area in the eastern section of the Qualla Boundary.


There was a mound here until it was excavated by representatives of the Valentine Museum in 1883. The Nununyi Mound remains largely intact, but part of the large village site and middle around Nununyi has been damaged. The Nununyi mound is located on private property near Cherokee High School. At least one proposal has been made to restore the Nununyi Mound and village site to its pre-1776 condition and open for visitation as a complement to the Oconaluftee Village.


In the early 1800s, the area near the confluence of Soco Creek and the Oconaluftee River was known as Indiantown. In 1839, when the first post office was established, Indiantown was renamed Quallatown in honor of Kwali, an old Indian women who lived nearby.


William Holland Thomas was a white trader who operated a store in Quallatown and owned several other enterprises in the area. As a boy, he was adopted by the Cherokee Chief Yonaguska. Thomas later became a spokesman, Indian Agent and lawyer, for the Cherokee living in the Quallatown area. Thomas lobbied the federal government for several years to obtain permission for the Oconaluftee Cherokees to remain on their homelands. The foundation for his argument was that the Oconaluftee Cherokees were North Carolina citizens, unlike the Cherokees living inside the Cherokee Nation.


Under the Cherokee Treaty of 1819, many Oconaluftee Cherokees had chosen to accept 640 acres (reserves, or presently referred to as tracts) from the government and to become citizens of both the United States and North Carolina. In addition, there was an unusual clause in the 1835 Treaty of New Echota which allowed certain Cherokees to remain in the east, yet still collect the same payment as those being removed. Thomas, with his experiences as a self-taught lawyer and Indian Agent, argued that this clause applied to his people, the North Carolina Cherokee. (Cherokee Treaties.)

Cherokee Map
Cherokee Map.gif
Courtesy Cherokee, North Carolina, Chamber of Commerce

While Cherokee Indians in other parts of the Southeast were being rounded-up for the Indian Removal in 1838, the Oconaluftee Cherokees waited for the outcome of Thomas's efforts. Finally, the Oconaluftee Cherokees were granted permission to stay or remain. During the Indian Removal, Thomas cooperated with the federal forces - in particular, General Winfield Scott - in the capture and execution of Tsali, a Cherokee who had killed a soldier during the round up. (Cherokee Trail of Tears: A History and General Winfield Scott's Cherokee Indian Removal Enforcement Orders for the Trail of Tears.)


Although Thomas had already received permission for the Oconaluftee Cherokees to remain, he cooperated in the effort to capture Tsali to avoid jeopardizing the Oconaluftee Cherokees tenuous position with the U.S. government.


After the removal, nearly all of the eleven hundred remaining North Carolina Cherokees gave William Thomas their power of attorney. He represented them in efforts to collect the money the government owed them from the Treaty of New Echota. (Red Clay Council and Red Clay Council Grounds.)


When Chief Yonaguska lay dying in 1839, he named William Thomas as his successor. Because Thomas was the official Cherokee Chief, and had become a respected businessman and prominent citizen of western North Carolina, he was appointed Indian Agent and trustee of the Oconaluftee Cherokees by both the federal government and North Carolina.


This gave Thomas control of all Cherokee funds. During the years leading up to the Civil War, Thomas continued to buy parcels of land for the Oconaluftee Cherokees, holding their lands in trust via his own name (since the Cherokee were not citizens, they were not able to own land), and the largest tract was called the Qualla Boundary. (Chief William Holland Thomas and the Cherokee Lawsuits.)



• The proper name of the Cherokee Indian Reservation is the Qualla Boundary. It contains nearly 57,000 acres. Additional tribal lands are found at the Snowbird Community near Robbinsville and in Cherokee County, NC.


• Visitors often ask “Where are the tipis?” (Yes, that's the proper spelling!) Tipis were developed by western plains Indians for portability. They followed migrating and roaming herds of game. The Cherokee and other tribes in the east lived in permanent structures. Small game, fish and crops were readily available.


• Today's Cherokee Tribal Government doesn't resemble the Cherokee government of centuries ago. Once a matriarchal society with traditional stickball games settling disputes, a democratic form of government now exists. The principal chief and vice chief are elected for four year terms with tribal council members being elected every two years.


• The Qualla Boundary is federal government public trust land held as such only for the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians. Tribal and federal laws apply with jurisdiction by Cherokee Police or federal agencies such as the Federal Bureau of Investigation.


• Current tribal enrollment is slightly less than 13,000. About 9,000 tribal members reside on the Qualla Boundary. Tribal members are permitted to own land and houses but can sell only to other members of the tribe. All land and business transactions are recorded by the local agency of the Bureau of Indian Affairs.


• Centuries ago the Cherokee territory included parts of what eventually became the states of North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia, Alabama, Tennessee, Kentucky, West Virginia and Virginia. The Cherokee, along with members of other southeastern tribes, were relocated to Oklahoma in 1838-39 during the infamous “Trail of Tears.”


• The Cherokee were the first Native Americans to have their own written language. Invented by Sequoyah, the syllabary contains 86 characters. The Cherokee also had their own newspaper in the mid-1800s named The Phoenix.


• The Cherokee language, almost extinct a decade ago, is now being taught in all grades of the Cherokee school system. (See Learn How to Speak, Read, and Write in the Cherokee Language.)


• The Qualla Boundary (Cherokee Indian Reservation) and the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians are the only federally recognized tribe and reservation land between western New York and southern Florida.


• Qualla Arts and Crafts Mutual is the oldest Native American cooperative in the United States with more than 350 local craftspeople as members.


• “Unto These Hills” outdoor drama is one of the oldest outdoor dramas in the United States. Its first performance was July 1, 1950, and it still runs nightly during the summer in the beautiful mountainside theater.


• One of the top three Indian museums in the United States is the Museum of the Cherokee Indian. In 1998, it underwent a major renovation to make it a highly informative and interactive experience.


• All employees of the Oconaluftee Indian Village are enrolled members of the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians.


• Native Americans became citizens of the United States in 1924, with the Indian Citizenship Act of 1924.

(Continued below.)

Recommended Reading: The Eastern Band of Cherokees, 1819-1900, by John R. Finger. Review from University of Tennessee Press: This volume presents the story of the Eastern Band of Cherokees during the nineteenth century. This group – the tribal remnant in North Carolina that escaped removal in the 1830’s – found their fortitude and resilience continually tested as they struggled with a variety of problems, including the upheavals of the Civil War and Reconstruction, internal divisiveness, white encroachment on their lands, and a poorly defined relationship with the state and federal governments. Yet despite such stresses and a selective adaptation in the face of social and economic changes, the Eastern Cherokees retained a sense of tribal identity as they stood at the threshold of the twentieth century. Continued below…

“Most scholars, like most Cherokees, have tended to follow the Trail of Tears west with scarcely a backward glance at the more than 1,000 Indians who stayed behind in the North Carolina mountains. In this pathbreaking book, John R. Finger combs federal, state, and local archives to tell the story of these forgotten natives.”

-- Journal of Southern History

“This work is a significant contribution to the literature on this long-ignored group….Finger works [his] sources well and out of them has produced a narrative that is readable and that puts the Eastern Band of Cherokees as a tribal entity into a clear, historical perspective.”

-- American Historical Review

John R. Finger is professor of history at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville.

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Recommended Viewing: The Trail of Tears: Cherokee Legacy (2006), Starring: James Earl Jones and Wes Studi; Director: Chip Richie, Steven R. Heape. Description: The Trail Of Tears: Cherokee Legacy is an engaging two hour documentary exploring one of America's darkest periods in which President Andrew Jackson's Indian Removal Act of 1830 consequently transported Native Americans of the Cherokee Nation to the bleak and unsupportive Oklahoma Territory in the year 1838. Deftly presented by the talents of Wes Studi ("Last of the Mohicans" and "Dances with Wolves"), James Earl Jones, and James Garner, The Trail Of Tears: Cherokee Legacy also includes narrations of famed celebrities Crystal Gayle, Johnt Buttrum, Governor Douglas Wilder, and Steven R. Heape. Continued below...

Includes numerous Cherokee Nation members which add authenticity to the production… A welcome DVD addition to personal, school, and community library Native American history collections. The Trail Of Tears: Cherokee Legacy is strongly recommended for its informative and tactful presentation of such a tragic and controversial historical occurrence in 19th century American history.


Recommended Reading: Cherokee Proud, Second Edition, by Tony Mack McClure. Description: Absolutely the "Bible" of Cherokee Genealogy. New, 336 pages, 2nd Edition. If the information in this remarkable new book doesn't lead a person to proof of their Cherokee roots, nothing can! “It is an A-to-Z on organizing and locating the requirements / qualifications for membership.” Continued below...

Are you Cherokee? Are you the individual that has always been told that you are a Cherokee, but have no facts or records to prove it? To claim Cherokee membership means that you must prove it – you must have the facts, so toss the doubt away, get the facts, and claim what is rightfully your heritage by blood quantum. Now, are you ready to prove that you are a Cherokee? It’s not difficult if you take the time to locate the facts. Included are proven resources for tracing your family genealogy, the family tree, roots, bloodline, and for researching your ancestors to prove that you meet the blood requirements (qualifications) for Cherokee membership and tribal enrollment. Those that qualify as “American Indians are American Indians” and are entitled to the rights and benefits of the tribe! Also includes a proven “how to dos” written by the foremost expert in Cherokee history, genealogy and heritage. Cherokee membership is not like joining a gym or paying dues, it’s your blood, so claim it. Are you remotely interested in knowing that you are a “Cherokee Indian” or are you the individual that enjoys genealogy? Do you want to locate and preserve your Native American ancestry? Finding information about ancestors for genealogy and heritage is also a lot of fun. Moreover, you are preserving your own family history and heritage with your relatives and loved ones for generations and generations… Take a look at exactly what is required to locate and organize and present your information to prove that you meet the qualifications as a member of the Cherokee tribe. Cherokee Proud, by Tony McClure, is referred to as the "Bible for Cherokee Genealogy." Cherokee Proud has also been rated a SOLID FIVE STARS by every person that has read and rated it. To see if you meet the 'Cherokee qualification and requirement for membership', then look no further -- purchase Cherokee Proud. Read the reviews and see what people and organizations are saying about it.


"Cherokee Proud is the very best book I have ever seen on tracing Cherokee genealogy." -- RICHARD PANGBURN, acclaimed author of Indian Blood, Vol. I & II found in most libraries

"McClure unabashedly loosens his journalistic standards for portions of this book which reach him too emotionally. Understood. Fascinating and enlightening."

BACK COVER: Among the people of this country are individuals in whose blood runs the proud heritage of a noble and resilient people whose ways and talents rank with the finest civilizations the world has known. They are the " Tsalagi ". . . the Cherokee. This book will help you learn if you are one of them. -- BOOK READER

"The contents of Cherokee Proud are exceptional - valuable information that can be used by so many readers and researchers who have Native American (Cherokee) ancestry." -- DON SHADBURN, Famous Georgia historian and noted author of Unhallowed Intrusion and Cherokee Planters of Georgia

"This Cherokee guide is the best yet!" -- LAWTON CONSTITUTION

About the Author: Well known and acclaimed Cherokee author Dr. Tony Mack McClure, a native of Tennessee, is a certified member of the Native American Journalists Association, Wordcraft Circle of Native Writers and Storytellers, and Committeeman for the Tennessee Chapter of the National Trail of Tears Association. His work has appeared in numerous magazines, over 250 newspapers, on all major television networks and many cable systems.


Recommended Viewing: 500 Nations (372 minutes). 500 Nations is an eight-part documentary (more than 6 hours and that's not including its interactive CD-ROM filled with extra features) that explores the history of the indigenous peoples of North and Central America, from pre-Colombian times through the period of European contact and colonization, to the end of the 19th century and the subjugation of the Plains Indians of North America. 500 Nations utilizes historical texts, eyewitness accounts, pictorial sources and computer graphic reconstructions to explore the magnificent civilizations which flourished prior to contact with Western civilization, and to tell the dramatic and tragic story of the Native American nations' desperate attempts to retain their way of life against overwhelming odds. Continued below...

Mention the word "Indian," and most will conjure up images inspired by myths and movies: teepees, headdresses, and war paint; Sitting Bull, Geronimo, Crazy Horse, and their battles (like Little Big Horn) with the U.S. Cavalry. Those stories of the so-called "horse nations" of the Great Plains are all here, but so is a great deal more. Using impressive computer imaging, photos, location film footage and breathtaking cinematography, interviews with present-day Indians, books and manuscripts, museum artifacts, and more, Leustig and his crew go back more than a millennium to present an fascinating account of Indians, including those (like the Maya and Aztecs in Mexico and the Anasazi in the Southwest) who were here long before white men ever reached these shores.
It was the arrival of Europeans like Columbus, Cortez, and DeSoto that marked the beginning of the end for the Indians. Considering the participation of host Kevin Costner, whose film Dances with Wolves was highly sympathetic to the Indians, it's no bulletin that 500 Nations also takes a compassionate view of the multitude of calamities--from alcohol and disease to the corruption of their culture and the depletion of their vast natural resources--visited on them by the white man in his quest for land and money, eventually leading to such horrific events as the Trail of Tears "forced march," the massacre at Wounded Knee, and other consequences of the effort to "relocate" Indians to the reservations where many of them still live. Along the way, we learn about the Indians' participation in such events as the American Revolution and the War of 1812, as well as popular legends like the first Thanksgiving (it really happened) and the rescue of Captain John Smith by Pocahontas (it probably didn't).

Recommended Reading: The Cherokee Nation: A History. Description: Conley's book, "The Cherokee Nation: A History" is an eminently readable, concise but thoughtful account of the Cherokee people from prehistoric times to the present day. The book is formatted in such a way as to make it an ideal text for high school and college classes. At the end of each chapter is a source list and suggestions for further reading. Also at the end of each chapter is an unusual but helpful feature- a glossary of key terms. The book contains interesting maps, photographs and drawings, along with a list of chiefs for the various factions of the Cherokee tribe and nation. Continued below...

In addition to being easily understood, a principal strength of the book is that the author questions some traditional beliefs and sources about the Cherokee past without appearing to be a revisionist or an individual with an agenda in his writing. One such example is when Conley tells the story of Alexander Cuming, an Englishman who took seven Cherokee men with him to England in 1730. One of the Cherokee, Oukanekah, is recorded as having said to the King of England: "We look upon the Great King George as the Sun, and as our Father, and upon ourselves as his children. For though we are red, and you are white our hands and hearts are joined together..." Conley wonders if Oukanekah actually said those words and points out that the only version we have of this story is the English version. There is nothing to indicate if Oukanekah spoke in English or Cherokee, or if his words were recorded at the time they were spoken or were written down later. Conley also points out that in Cherokee culture, the Sun was considered female, so it is curious that King George would be looked upon as the Sun. The "redness" of Native American skin was a European perception. The Cherokee would have described themselves as brown. But Conley does not overly dwell on these things. He continues to tell the story using the sources available. The skill of Conley in communicating his ideas never diminishes. This book is highly recommended as a good place to start the study of Cherokee history. It serves as excellent reference material and belongs in the library of anyone serious about the study of Native Americans. 


Recommended Reading: Confederate Colonel and Cherokee Chief: The Life of William Holland Thomas. Description by University of Tennessee Press: William Holland Thomas (1805-1893) was a unique transcultural figure. A white man from western North Carolina, he was adopted by a small Cherokee Indian band and later became its chief. Equally at home in a drawing room or at a Green Corn Dance, Thomas served as agent for the Oconaluftee Indians in Washington, protecting them from removal to the West in 1838 along the infamous Trail of Tears. Thomas was also a frontier merchant, a builder of railroads and turnpikes, a wealthy owner of land and slaves, a state senator, and a Confederate colonel in the Civil War, in which he commanded a legion of Cherokees and white Appalachians. Continued below…

In this first published biography of Thomas, the authors depict nineteenth-century America at a turning point and document a human tragedy. An influential businessman and politician who enjoyed a storybook courtship and marriage, Thomas came to ruin when—as a member of the North Carolina secession convention—he committed his loyalty toward his people, family, and region to the hopeless cause of the Confederacy. This investigation of Thomas's life also reveals much about the culture and plight of the Cherokees, their experience with removal, their legal battle to "legitimize" themselves as citizens of North Carolina, and their role in the Civil War. Confederate Colonel and Cherokee Chief will be of interest to students of the Civil War and of Native American, North Carolina, Appalachian, and Southern history. The Authors: E. Stanly Godbold, Jr., is a professor of history at Mississippi State University and coauthor of Christopher Gadsden and the American Revolution. Mattie U. Russell was curator of manuscripts in the William R. Perkins Library at Duke University.

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