Learning about the Cherokee

By Frank Ramirez

Many of the 46 NOAC attendees who traveled by bus to Cherokee Village, and to the Museum of the Cherokee Indian, were still mulling over what they had heard earlier in the day from keynote speaker Mark Charles (see “Tracing a traumatic history, laying bare the roots of the Doctrine of Discovery” at www.brethren.org/news/2023/tracing-a-traumatic-history).

Upon arrival to the village the NOACers learned firsthand how the Cherokee of North Carolina lived, hunted, created useful and beautiful crafts, and both struggled with and survived the arrival of Europeans.

Crafts included finger weaving, where the ancient designs were recreated–although their ancient meanings had been lost. The beadwork recalled the original beads that had been made from clay or bones, although trade with the Europeans led to the creation of glass beads. Pottery was fired not in a kiln but in an open pit. Also being displayed were basketweaving, and wood carving. Pipes had seven separate holes so that members of the seven different clans of the Cherokee nation could share them.

A bus tour took NOAC participants to the Cherokee Village. Photo by Benjamin Hoffmann

John Tooni, who led one of the tours, spent extra time at the weaponry station. Arrowheads for hunting were made of quartz and obsidian, the latter derived from trade with South America, and deadly looking clubs were built for warfare. Dry bear intestines were used in the bows. Tooni demonstrated the blow pipe with a target, insisting that a good shot could “hit a turkey in the eye at 60 feet.”

Also on display were homes representing the styles of different centuries, a gruesome bear trap, a sweat lodge, and a trading post.

The NOAC group next visited the Museum of the Cherokee Indian, which chronicles over 13,000 years of local history. The interactions between Europeans and the Cherokee–both positive and negative–were chronicled in models, artifacts, and words.

NOAC participants were largely quiet as they concluded their time at the museum, with some still thinking back to what they’d learned from Mark Charles.

Frank Polzin of Merrill, Mich., said the day was “very interesting” and had increased his interest in reading The 1619 Project.

“The speaker this morning was tremendous,” said Terry Grabb of Washington, Ill. “I had no intention of getting his book until I heard him speak. That was probably the strongest thing I heard.” Regarding the Cherokee Village, he said, “I appreciate the young man showing us the way his people lived. He seemed well versed and he was interesting.”

But Grabb added, reflecting on the history he’d absorbed, “This makes me sad.”

— Frank Ramirez is a writer and pastor of Union Center Church of the Brethren in Nappanee, Ind., serving on the press team for National Older Adult Conference (NOAC) 2023.

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