Displaying items by tag: Cherokee

A move by the town of Franklin to spray the ancient Nikwasi Indian Mound with weed killer is not sitting well with the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians.

Principal Chief Michell Hicks last week described himself as “appalled” and called on the town to formally apologize for what he termed a culturally insensitive action and one that demonstrated a marked lack of respect for the Cherokee people.

“I’m going to make an issue out of it. I am not a happy camper. I’m not happy at all,” Hicks said in an interview. “I think this is really disrespectful to the tribe.”

Hicks said he plans to talk to both town and county leaders in Macon County.

For its part, Franklin leaders said they were merely trying to cut back on weekly mowing maintenance of the mound, which is located on town property. After the grass was killed off, the town intended to replant it with a low-growing native grass variety that wouldn’t need mowing.

“If they were tired of taking care of it or something, they could have approached us for help. We would have sent over our own mowing crew,” Hicks responded.

Nikwasi Indian Mound is one of the largest intact mounds remaining in Western North Carolina. Large earthen mounds were built to mark the spiritual and civic center of American Indian towns that once dotted the Little Tennessee River Valley through Macon County and the region. Scholars note that while its precise age is uncertain, Nikwasi Mound pre-dates even the Cherokee.

Last month, the town sprayed the 6,000-square-foot mound with an herbicide to kill the grass with the intent of replanting with “eco-grass,” a grass that grows much slower and shorter than regular grass. It had taken a town crew of four workers about half a day once each week during the spring, summer and fall to take care of Nikwasi Mound.

Town Manager Sam Greenwood said he’d made the decision to use the weed killer independently of the town board or of the town’s mound committee. Greenwood said replanting had not taken place yet because “we’re still waiting on the herbicide to break down so we can made sure there’s nothing residual.”

Greenwood said he felt the decision was in the best interest of the town, the mound, and that it was respectful of the tribe.

“This way we can put in a permanent ground cover and keep the town crews off the mound,” he said in explanation.

The future eco-grass won’t require mowing.

“I think they had good intentions, but they went about it wrong,” said Tom Belt, a Cherokee scholar who teaches at Western Carolina University. “It is like deciding you would like to make a change to an alter in a church and not consulting the clergyman or congregation. It would have been appropriate for the people doing that, the caretakers in Franklin, to consult with someone first, to talk with them about what would be the appropriate thing to do.”

The mound is not just a historical marker or symbol to the Cherokee, Belt said, “but has a deeper meaning. A spiritual meaning. And I know the Cherokee people would work with anybody to conserve it.”

Franklin town Alderman Bob Scott was accused in a town memo as having triggered subsequent media coverage of the now denuded mound. He in fact did not do that. Scott said, however, that he didn’t comprehend how some in town had thought the action of spraying herbicide on Nikwasi Indian Mound would pass unnoticed.

“You can’t hide a 500-year-old mound in the middle of town that’s turning brown,” he noted accurately.

Scott, who is a member of the town’s mound committee, said that his understanding was that the town would “let the grass grow up naturally on the mound until we decided what to do. We were trying to do it right so that it would be OK with everybody. We were in no hurry.”

Mayor Joe Collins stopped short of saying the town would issue an apology to Cherokee. He did express regret that the spraying had taken place and said that Greenwood “had overstepped his authority.”

That said, Collins noted that running mowers up and down the mound also isn’t a good caretaking solution. The new grass, he said, “will allow for less tromping around on it.”

Collins is in a particularly sticky situation. He and Hicks both noted his family ties to Cherokee — Collins’ mother was an enrolled member; the mayor is what’s called a first descendent.

“Cherokee is me,” Collins said. “We certainly want to be in accord with the Eastern Band, which is our neighbors and, in some ways, our family.”

Collins said this situation might prove an opportunity to engage in a conversation with the tribe about the mound.

There have been some discussions in Franklin about turning the area into a park of sorts.

“We have been a faithful steward of Nikwasi Indian Mound,” Collins said. “We are acutely aware of its significance. We have protected that mound for generations and will continue to do so.”

The Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians is taking matters into its own hands in the tug-of-war over the best route to Cherokee.

A tribe-purchased billboard on Interstate 40, heading west of Asheville, will soon tout two possible routes to Cherokee. Official highway signs direct Cherokee-bound traffic through Maggie Valley, but both Cherokee and Jackson County leaders had asked the state highway department to change the sign, touching off a dispute between Maggie and Jackson County, both hoping to lay claim to passing tourists en route to Cherokee.

The DOT rejected the request to change the official signs, prompting the tribe to put up its own billboard noting that U.S. 74 is also a direct route to Cherokee. The billboard will target drivers coming from the east, according to Robert Jumper, head of Cherokee Travel and Tourism. The new billboard is in production now, and Jumper expected it to be on I-40 within the next week or so.

Jumper said the tribe hears multiple complaints from motorists at the Cherokee welcome center who have been surprised, and sometimes scared, by the winding two-lane route thru Maggie Valley and over Soco Gap. Some also complain of getting stuck behind slower vehicles because there are no passing lanes, Jumper said.

U.S. 74 through Jackson County, by contrast, is a four-lane highway.

“This is for the benefit of everybody,” Jumper said. “Cherokee is going to provide a billboard that provides the customer with a choice.”

The new billboard will list both options, reading “easy access to Cherokee via U.S. 74 or U.S. 19.”

Jumper said the billboard’s message would ultimately benefit Maggie Valley, too, because some motorists now are frustrated by the trip through the small town on U.S. 19, and that could potentially repel them from wanting to go that way next time. This way, Jumper said somewhat ingeniously, the tribe can redirect those visitors looking for a more “scenic route” on their return trip, and they’ll have a more positive impression of the small Haywood County town because they’ll know what to expect on the two-lane highway.

More than 3.5 million visitors a year come to Harrah’s Cherokee Casino and Resort, and hundreds of thousands of additional tourists come to Cherokee as a cultural destination or jumping off point for the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. After receiving some poor tourism-related numbers last year, Jackson leaders went hunting for a method to entice more visitors to the county, hence the sign request.

Cherokee quickly jumped on the sign bandwagon, sending letters of support for a new sign from the chief and the tourism office.

The route through Maggie is shorter mileage-wise, but a study by the state DOT showed that travel time was essentially the same — about 35 minutes — no matter which road was taken. The study also looked at safety and found that the risk of a motorist getting into an accident on U.S. 19 compared to U.S. 74 was negligible. The Maggie route follows a narrow, two-lane winding road over Soco Gap. The crash rate — which in simple terms is the ratio of wrecks to the total number of vehicles — is 10 percent higher for the Maggie route than for U.S. 74.

DOT turned down the request for a new sign citing safety concerns, as in the possibility of more wrecks as motorists attempted to puzzle out a sign offering dueling routes. Cherokee’s billboard will be bigger than a standard highway sign, allowing the information to be read clearly, and will be placed on I-40, giving people plenty of time to decide which route to take rather than a highway sign giving only a split second of decision time before the exit.

Large, walk-in beer coolers are ready and waiting to be stocked at Dwight and Jamie Winchester’s Catamount Travel Center, a gas station directly across the street from the entrance to the Cherokee Indian Reservation on U.S. 441.

They’ve been there for eight years in anticipation that one day alcoholic beverages could be sold countywide in Jackson. The day of reckoning has finally come, with Jackson voters poised to decide on countywide alcohol sales in the May primary election.

And the financial stakes for the sale of alcoholic beverages by the Winchesters and others in the Gateway community along U.S. 441 just got a lot higher after Cherokee voters overwhelming decided this month to keep the reservation dry except for the casino.

Winchester’s gas station is literally the first and closest stop for potential beer buyers from Cherokee, literally a stone’s throw from the reservation boundary line.

Winchester is keenly positioned to capture the business of anyone in Cherokee looking for beer, saving them what would otherwise be 15-minute drive west to Bryson City or a bit more than that east to Sylva.

“We don’t have to have beer to be successful,” said Dwight Winchester, gesturing at his bustling store, mid-morning on a workday. “But we do, of course, want it.”

Winchester said there has been a lot of land speculation along U.S. 441 in anticipation of a “yes” vote to alcohol sales. Winchester said that he expects plenty of company in coming days, in the form of other businesses setting up to sell alcoholic beverages, if the vote indeed passes.

The Winchesters currently employee 42 people, and they expect to add two or three more workers if alcohol sales are allowed.

Winchester, though he clearly and unabashedly hopes the referendum does go through, is concerned about perceptions of his business on the nearby Cherokee Reservation when he begins selling alcoholic beverages.

“I have great respect for the folks and the pastors who feel so strongly against it,” said Winchester.

The Bryson City native added that he’s struggling with how exactly to broach the matter with those Cherokee residents who just voted “no” so clearly — more than 66 percent specifically voted against the sale of beer and wine at gas stations and grocery stores — firmly and unequivocally.

“But, the economic increase is going to outweigh any negative you can come up with,” Winchester said.

Winchester said the beer companies clearly believe the sale of alcoholic beverages will pass in Jackson County because they’ve frequently been in his store to discuss the matter. Those sellers’ guesses are as good as any: there’s barely been any discussion of the matter publicly, for or against, in Jackson County since commissioners first decided on the vote last year. That, however, certainly wasn’t the case in Cherokee.

In the weeks leading up to the vote, groups for and against the sale of alcoholic beverages on the reservation were busy mailing out flyers, putting up signs and giving speeches to bolster their cases.

A recent study by Martin and McGill found that the tribe conservatively would have received up to $3.8 million in revenue via an ABC retail store within five years. The tribe’s version of sales tax was projected to pump a total of $1.7 million into Cherokee’s general fund from the addition of alcohol sales.

Winchester’s Catamount Travel Center is a combination gas station and Huddle House. The Winchesters have an identical business in Cullowhee, too, another potential hotspot for the sale of alcoholic beverages with the captive Western Carolina University population. The Gateway business was built in 2004, the one in Cullowhee in 2001. When both were built large beer walk-in coolers were included in each.

To say they are now perfectly positioned to benefit financially from the sale of alcoholic beverages is to indulge somewhat in understatement.

If it passes, Jackson would be one of only three counties in WNC with countywide alcohol sales. Henderson County is holding a referendum on countywide alcohol in May as well.

The majority of voters in Jackson County support countywide alcohol sales, at least according to a Western Carolina University Public Policy Institute/The Smoky Mountain News poll conducted to two years ago. It revealed that 56 percent of registered voters would support legalizing countywide alcohol in Jackson County compared to 39 percent who would be opposed. The poll surveyed nearly 600 registered Jackson County voters.

Jamie Winchester said she is uncertain how quickly the couple’s stores would be able to sell alcohol if the measure passes May 8. She has been undergoing a self-taught crash course in North Carolina alcohol sales to, in part, try to determine just that.

Dwight Winchester said if the vote is “no” that’s OK with the couple, too.

“We’re not going to go anywhere regardless,” he said.

About two dozen people gathered outside the tribal council house broke into song with the words “Praise God, Praise God, Praise God,” after the final results of Cherokee alcohol vote were tabulated last week.

The Cherokee Reservation will remain dry, keeping in place the historic ban on alcohol sales, following Thursday’s vote on the issue. Enrolled members of the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians sent a strong message with about 60 percent voting “no” to alcohol sales.

“It sent a clear message that we are not going to be affected by those few who would benefit” from the sale of alcohol, said Amy Walker, an enrolled member from Birdtown.

Opponents of the referendum said that easier access to alcohol would lead to increased rates of alcoholism, drunken driving and domestic violence.

“If we made $100 in revenue from alcohol, it would cost us $10,000 to treat the problem,” said Peggy Hill of the Yellow Hill community.

A few of those gathered wore T-shirts that read, “We have come too far to die by our own hand.”

Harrah’s Cherokee Casino and Resort is the only establishment in Cherokee where alcohol is sold. Cherokee residents instead have to drive 20 minutes or more into Sylva or Bryson City to get a six-pack of beer or bottle of wine.

That could change later this year, however, as voters in Jackson County are having an alcohol election of their own in the May primary. If Jackson County voters approve countywide alcohol sales, it would become available literally a stone’s throw from the reservation.

Jeff Arneach, who was leaving the polls last Thursday, voted to allow alcohol sales on the reservation partially because he had read that drunken driving is more common in areas that are dry. If alcohol can be purchased in Cherokee, the incidents of drinking and driving might decline, Arneach theorized.

Proponents had also said that alcohol sales were necessary for the tourism industry. Businesses have lost customers because visitors can’t get wine or beer in Cherokee, even on the menu in restaurants, supporters of the referendum said.

For some enrolled members who live in other states, the vote was important enough to them to travel back to the reservation to vote in the election.

Larry Maney, a 70-year-old enrolled member who lives in Tennessee, drove more than two hours to have his say.

“I’ve seen a lot of harm — broken homes, marriages, a lot of abuse in families,” Maney said. “It just doesn’t make sense” to approve the referendum, he said.

Earlier Thursday, before the vote results rolled in, students from Cherokee High School presented the results of their own vote to Cherokee leaders. During that vote, an even larger percentage of students — 66 percent — voted down the measure, said Missy Crowe, an enrolled member whose son attends the high school.

Crowe was one of at least 40 Cherokee who filed an injunction three days before the election trying to derail the vote. The injunction said tribal council, the election board, the ABC Commission and Chief Michell Hicks violated tribal law by holding the vote. The Eastern Band held a referendum vote in 2009 to allow the sale of alcohol in its casino. The law states that the tribe could not hold another alcohol vote until 2014, according to the injunction request.

A judge later denied the request, saying that an injunction is an extraordinary remedy. The enrolled members had not sought out other avenue in which to air their grievances, such as filing a formal protest with the election board, the judge’s decision reads.

 

Sovereign say

As part of the referendum, each community had the option of voting alcohol sales up or down. The flexibility meant any of the six communities in Cherokee could separately opt out even if the majority elsewhere on the reservation had approved alcohol sales.

However, the option is moot at this point since the reservation will remain dry.

Birdtown was the only community where a majority of voters approved any form of alcohol. They narrowly voted in favor of opening an ABC store — the final total was 308 for and 306 against. But, like other communities, they voted against alcohol sales in restaurants, groceries or convenience stores.

The vote was close in Yellowhill and Birdtown, communities closer to the center of town, with the anti-alcohol sentiments winning by only a narrow margin.

Meanwhile, one of the reservation’s more traditional communities of Big Cove answered an emphatic ‘no,’ with more than 75 percent of voters striking down the referendum.

“I think there was a lot of emotion involved” in people’s decision, said Don Rose, a retired business executive and former vice chair of the tribal ABC board. Rose spearheaded a committee who promoted the referendum.

Rose said alcohol sales could have garnered millions of dollars in revenue for the tribe and the economy on the reservation.

“I am not terribly surprised” that people voted against the sale of alcohol in restaurants, grocery stores and convenience stores, however, Rose said.

Of those who voted, 1,640 enrolled members voted down the sale of beer or wine in grocery and convenience stores — compared to the almost 1,500 who voted down the other two questions. Critics of the referendum disparaged the words grocery and convenience stores, asking if someone could put a can of beans on a shelf and call it a grocery store. People did not want beer joints cropping up all over the reservation.

In the election, 2,517 people cast a ballot. Voter turnout among local members of the tribe is difficult to determine, however. All enrolled members no matter where they live are eligible to vote in tribal elections, but have to travel to Cherokee to cast a ballot.  There are a total of 6,715 eligible voters in the tribe, making total voter turnout around 30 percent — but the turnout was likely much higher than that among local enrolled members as enrolled members who live elsewhere in the state or country may have opted not to make the trip to Cherokee to vote, bringing down the total voter turnout.

Now that the vote has taken place, the tribe cannot hold another referendum vote on alcohol for at least five years.

 

Vote results

There were three separate questions on the ballot related to different types of beer, wine and liquor sales:

• 60 percent voted against an ABC store where the public could purchase liquor.

• 61 percent voted against the sale of beer, wine or mixed drinks in restaurants.

• 66 percent voted against the sale of beer or wine in grocery and convenience stores.

Although the anti-alcohol movement handily won this time around, supporters of alcohol sales have gained a little ground during the past two decades. In 1992, a ballot measure to allow reservation-wide alcohol sales was defeated by a wider margin of 72 percent in a vote of 1,532 to 601.

A class action complaint aims to hold the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians responsible for money lost when the stock market crashed in 2008 and eroded the personal accounts of Cherokee youth held in trust by the tribe.

All 14,000 members of the tribe share in profits from Harrah’s Cherokee Casino and Hotel. For those under the age of 18, the tribe holds the money in trust, not only adding the annual casino payments to it but also investing it to help it grow until they reach adulthood and can cash out.

The suit claims 138 youth each lost about $22,000 when their cut of casino earnings were invested in risky, unapproved ventures.

To safeguard against losses in the stock market, the funds of 17-year olds are supposed to be transferred to a safe and stable “pre-payout” account to protect it from market volatility. The holding account guards against erosion of the principle in the year just before payout.

The suit claims the investment committee for the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians Minors Trust Fund failed to transfer funds into the safe holding account in 2008, and the 17 year olds that year “suffered significant monetary losses as a direct and proximate result of the decision to not transfer funds to the pre-payout sub-account.”

In other words, the stock market tanked and money was lost because it wasn’t in safekeeping. The youth that year received approximately $65,186 instead of the $88,000 that they should have accrued by turning 18. Minors can cash out when they turn 18 if high school diploma or GED. Otherwise, they have to wait until they are 21.

The suit names each of the five members of the investment committee and Principal Chief Michell Hicks, both individually and in their official capacities.

“They played the stock market and they lost,” said Attorney Russell McLean of Waynesville, who represents the plaintiffs. “They gambled and invested it in funds that were not protected.”

The investment committee and Hicks had not as of last week filed a response to the civil suit.

The suit claims the tribe should reimburse the youth for their losses. The tribe, in fact, previously pledged to do just that in the face of angry backlash over losses in the Minors Trust Fund.

In an tribal-wide update on the Minors Fund status in April 2009, Chief Hicks. stated the tribe “stands good for the principal balance of our children’s investments by tribal law,” according to the suit. The proclamation said that the Eastern Band would make up the difference “if a minor leaves the fund and their balance is below the principal amount contributed.” Despite the promise, the tribe did not follow through on its commitment and did not reimburse the children involved, the suit alleges.

McLean said that he expects to file a second, larger class action suit on behalf of Eastern Band children ages birth through 17.

“We’ll see if an entire group of children on the reservation should be protected by the courts,” he said.

McLean said the next step in the current class action suit is to identify and notify each of the children involved. They’ll need to each decide whether they want to proceed as part of a class action suit or if they prefer to file their own individual lawsuits. He said the notification would take about two months to complete.

Maggie Valley has emerged victorious in an ongoing tug-of-war with Jackson County over who can rightfully lay claim to tourists en route to Harrah’s Cherokee Casino and Resort.

The N.C. Department of Transportation rejected a request from Jackson County leaders that a new highway sign direct Cherokee-bound travelers past their own doorstep instead of through Maggie. Instead the current sign, which takes motorists through Maggie Valley via U.S. 19, will remain the lone highway marker pointing the way to Cherokee for tourists coming off Interstate 40.

Cherokee leaders had sided with Jackson County and joined the push for a second sign that would direct visitors to take the four-lane Smoky Mountain expressway instead of the curvy two-lane road over Soco Gap. More than 3.5 million visitors a year come to Harrah’s Cherokee Casino and Resort, and hundreds of thousands of additional tourists come to Cherokee as a cultural destination or jumping off point for the Great Smoky Mountains National Park.

Maggie Valley leaders were happy to hear that DOT decided to maintain the status quo.

“It was certainly good news,” said Maggie Mayor Ron DeSimone. “It didn’t seem there was any compelling reason to change it.”

The route through Maggie is shorter mileage-wise, but a study by the DOT showed that travel time was essentially the same — about 35 minutes — no matter which road was taken. The study also looked at safety and found that the risk of a motorist getting into an accident on U.S. 19 compared to U.S. 74 was negligible. The Maggie route follows a narrow, two-lane winding road over Soco Gap. The crash rate — which in simple terms is the ratio of wrecks to the total number of vehicles — is 10 percent higher for the Maggie route than for U.S. 74.

“I am glad that they did come to the decision that they did,” said Maggie Alderman Phil Aldridge.

Leaders in Haywood County and in Maggie sent letters to the DOT asking them to deny Jackson County’s request, saying that the sign simply took from one and gave to another. The sign would take business and visitors away from an already struggling Maggie Valley, opponents of the new sign said.

“It definitely would have had an impact,” DeSimone said.

DOT, however, also denied Haywood County leaders’ apparent tongue-in-cheek request that it install a sign along U.S. 441 in Dillsboro that would inform travelers from the Atlanta area that they could reach Cherokee by going up and around through Waynesville and Maggie Valley. Dillsboro to Cherokee via U.S. 441 is 14 miles and takes some 20 minutes. Dillsboro to Cherokee via Waynesville and Maggie Valley is 45 miles and takes about an hour.

Jackson County leaders took the news about no-new-directional sign on U.S. 74 in diplomatic fashion.

“I’m not surprised with the final decision,” Jackson County Manager Chuck Wooten said. “It seems our request did not fit within their policies.”

Jackson County Commissioner Chairman Jack Debnam said the county would not argue with the DOT regarding its decision.

“We’re OK with it,” Debnam said. “I just don’t think we’re going to qualify for a sign, and that’s just one of the battles you don’t pick. You’ve just got to let it go sometimes.”

The cost of a new sign had been estimated at about $100,000 minimum — and perhaps double that depending on how much information it attempted to convey about the two dueling routes.

In a letter sent to everyone involved earlier this month, DOT Division Engineer Joel Setzer noted that the agency’s focus “was to look primarily at traffic safety, travel time and travel distance” along U.S. 74 and U.S. 19 when considering the request. Other factors considered were traffic crashes, routing by mapping services and average winter weather conditions along both routes.

DOT tried to craft a highway sign that would include both routes, listing things such as mileage, drive time and road conditions for each. But, that proved problematic.

“NCDOT recognized that the request (for a second sign) was reasonable and made sense but struggled with how a sign or series of signs could effectively communicate to high speed traffic that this choice was available,” the letter stated.

This difficulty, the DOT letter continued, “is the very reason that it is against policy.”

“To a motorist unfamiliar with the area, seeing two choices for one destination would cause confusion, which could create a dangerous situation in a high speed highway environment,” the letter stated.

The DOT also noted that the current sign meets state rules on sign placement because the U.S. 19 route is 11 miles shorter than traveling U.S. 74 to Cherokee.

The agency, in rejecting Haywood County leaders’ request for a sign in Dillsboro rerouting Cherokee traffic their way, said what’s good for the goose is good for the gander: the route proposed is longer and therefore violated state policies for road signs.

A mask is a mechanism employed to cover the face as a protective screen or disguise. For protection, they have been utilized for centuries by medieval horsemen, welders, fencers, hockey goalies, and so on. Their most intriguing uses, however, have been as a devices of disguise, as in a theatrical production or as part of the paraphernalia of religious and/or cultural ritual.

We don’t have to go to darkest Africa or the remote jungles of South America to find recent and extensive use of a variety of masks in this latter context. Until very recently they were an important element of Cherokee ritual.

A visit to the Qualla Arts and Crafts Mutual Inc. or other outlets in Cherokee will turn up a variety of the contemporary masks being produced by the reservation's carvers. They sometimes use skins or gourds, but for the most part masks are carved from buckeye or other suitable wood and then colored with natural dyes, paint, clay, charcoal, or shoe polish.

Often these modern masks simply depict a man with horns (the buffalo mask) or maybe a bear’s face. I am especially attracted to those haunting masks that are presented unadorned as a skull-like rendering. A favorite theme of some carvers is that of a man’s head topped by a coiled rattlesnake. And then there are those grotesque or sometimes even obscene productions known as “booger masks.”

If you take the time to look up and talk with a Cherokee mask-maker, you’ll get a friendly enough reception (especially if you’re actually shopping for a mask), but you’re not likely to get much insight into their themes. These people just don’t make their living talking. They’ll say something like, “Oh, that’s just a snake that happens to be on that man’s head”; or, “Funny thing, I started in to carving and it just turned out that way”; or, “You think it looks like a what?”

Unless you happen upon an unusually talkative mask-maker in an unguarded moment, your best sources for detailed information on the Cherokee mask tradition are the book-length study Cherokee Dance and Drama (1951) by Frank G. Speck and Leonard Broom, and the article by Raymond D. Fogelson and Amelia B. Walker titled “Self and Other in Cherokee Booger Masks” that appeared in the fall 1980 issue of the Journal of Cherokee Studies.

Cherokee Dance and Drama was written in collaboration with Cherokee mask-maker and cultural authority Will West Long. Others who contributed to the book were Long’s elder sister, Roxy, his elder half-brother Lawyer Calhoun, Deliski Climbing Bear, and Mrs. Sampson Owl. This book is the real thing.

Will West Long — the son of Sally Terrapin and John Long, a Baptist minister — was born about 1870 in the traditional Big Cove section of the Qualla Boundary.  After attending a school near High Point, he returned to Cherokee at the time the famous ethnologist James Mooney was there collecting data for his book subsequently published in 1900 as Myths of the Cherokee. Mooney hired Long as a scribe and interpreter.

Long later attended Hampton Institute and lived in New England until he was in his mid-30s. He returned once more to Cherokee shortly before his mother died in 1904, married, and spent the remainder of his life on the reservation.

His mother's interest in such matters, along with Mooney’s influence, created in Long a passion for preserving the quickly fading history and social customs of the Cherokee. He acquired manuscripts and insights from the medicine men that would otherwise have been lost. Long is rightly considered by many to be the authoritative scholar of his people’s customs during his lifetime.

In addition to his other interests, Long helped preserve the traditional dances and became one of the community’s foremost mask-makers, a craft he learned from a cousin, Charley Lossiah. Allen Long succeeded his father as the tribe’s top mask-maker during the early 20th century.

As described in the sources cited above, the Booger Dance (also called the Mask Dance) was a ritual performed after the first frost that featured masks which exaggerated human features; that is, they represented racial types: Indian man (a dark red face); Indian woman (light red face with paint on cheeks) white man (woodchuck or opossum fur as a beard); black man (charcoal colored); and so on.

What made the booger masks exceptional were the sometimes grotesque, often humorous, and usually obscene elements incorporated into them that suggested European features like bushy eyebrows, mustaches, chin whiskers, big noses, ghastly white pallor, and bald heads.

The boogers — generally depicted as older men — represented “people far away or across the water” (Europeans, blacks, northerners, southerners, alien Indians) who intrude upon the peaceful social dances of the Cherokee. Upon entering the dance house, they break wind, chase women, and generally behave as barbarians.  Asked what they want, the boogers first reply “Girls!” then announce that they want “To fight!” Instead of reciprocating, the Cherokee allow them to dance out their hostilities.

This ritual has been interpreted in several ways. It was a way to deal with “the harmful powers of alien tribes and races, who, as living beings or ghosts, may be responsible for sickness or misfortune.” It also served as “condensation of the acculturation process as seen from the Cherokee perspective: first the white man tried to steal women; second he wanted to fight; and then, finally, he was satisfied to make a fool of himself.”

It’s also clear that many of the ingeniously crafted masks used in the ceremony simply poked fun at boorish masculine traits in general, including the “excessive preoccupation with sexuality” and the desire to be “in charge.”

And so, my friend, always remember that masks are mirrors ... the next time you spot a Cherokee booger mask in a shop, at one of the craft festivals, or in a museum, pause and take a closer look ... it just might be looking back at you.

George Ellison wrote the biographical introductions for the reissues of two Appalachian classics: Horace Kephart’s Our Southern Highlanders and James Mooney’s History, Myths, and Sacred Formulas of the Cherokees. In June 2005, a selection of his Back Then columns was published by The History Press in Charleston as Mountain Passages: Natural and Cultural History of Western North Carolina and the Great Smoky Mountains. Readers can contact him at P.O. Box 1262, Bryson City, N.C., 28713, or at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

The Cherokee Reservation will remain dry, keeping in place the historic ban on alcohol sales, following Thursday’s election on the issue.

Enrolled members of the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians sent a strong message with about 60 percent voting “no” to alcohol sales. There were three separate questions on the ballot related to different types of beer, wine and liquor sales.

• 60 percent voted against an ABC store where the public could purchase liquor

• 61 percent voted against the sale of beer, wine or mixed drinks in restaurants.

• 66 percent voted against the sale of beer or wine in grocery stores and convenience stores.

Harrah’s Cherokee Casino and Resort is the only establishment in Cherokee where alcohol is sold. Cherokee residents have to drive 20 minutes or more into Sylva or Bryson City to get a six-pack of beer or bottle of wine.

That could change later this year, however, as voters in Jackson County are having an alcohol election of their own in the May primary. If Jackson County voters approved countywide alcohol sales, it would become available literally a stone’s throw from the reservation.

Each community had the option of voting alcohol sales up or down. The flexibility meant that if the majority of voters approved alcohol sales on the reservation, any of the six communities in Cherokee could decide separately whether to keep alcohol out.

This two-part litmus test of sorts means one community couldn’t push through selling alcohol in their own neck of the woods if the idea of alcohol sales in general failed to garner the support of the majority.

However, the option is moot at this point since the reservation will remain dry.

Birdtown was the only community where a majority of voters approved any form of alcohol. They narrowly voted in favor of opening an ABC store but like other communities voted against alcohol sales in restaurants, gas stations or convenience stores.

Opponents of the referendum said that alcohol would only lead to more instances of drunken driving, alcoholism, child neglect and domestic violence. Proponents had said that alcohol sales were necessary for the tourism industry. Business owners have lost customers because they can’t obtain a glass of wine or beer in Cherokee, supporters of the referendum said.

In the election, 2,517 people cast a ballot. Voter turnout among local members of the tribe is difficult to determine, however. All enrolled members no matter where they live are eligible to vote in tribal elections but have to travel to Cherokee to cast a ballot.  There are a total of 6,715 eligible voters in the tribe, making total voter turn-out around 30 percent — but the turnout was likely much higher than that among local enrolled members while enrolled members who live elsewhere in the state or country may have opted not to make the trip to Cherokee to vote, bringing down the total voter turn-out.  

See The Smoky Mountain News print edition Wednesday for a full analysis and break down of results.

Opinions among members of the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians remain mixed leading up to a vote that could lift a historic ban on alcohol sales on the reservation or continue the longtime moratorium.

In the days leading up to the monumental vote, those polled on the street in Cherokee offered up the full range of views — along with those for and against it, some have yet to form an opinion or just don’t care — making it difficult to predict which side will prevail in the alcohol referendum. There are currently 6,717 enrolled members registered to vote.

Some businesses and churches are open about their dislike for a beverage that has caused so much heartache for families affected by alcoholism. Opponents have posted yard signs throughout the reservation telling people to vote “no to greed,” accusing supporters of putting economic tourism interests ahead of what’s best for local people.  

“I kind of totally agree with the signs they have out,” said Regina Rosario, a former tribal council member and Painttown resident. Alcohol has never done anyone any good, Rosario added as she shopped in Food Lion in Cherokee last week.

However, Rosario wagers that she is probably in the minority.

“I think it’s going to pass because of the younger generation,” Rosario said.

Supporters of the referendum have said that alcohol will lead to an increases in tourism, which will lead to an increase in casino patrons, and in turn increase income for enrolled members.

“I think the main part of it is money,” said Megan Stanford, an 18-year-old enrolled member from Painttown.

Stanford, who is against selling alcohol on the reservation, said that people should listen to their elders who have more life experience.

However, for supporters, a ‘yes’ vote is a vote for the freedom to choose as well as additional prosperity for Cherokee.

“I think it’s people’s personal choices,” said Adrianne Petrilli, an enrolled member as she sat with her husband in Tribal Grounds Coffee. “I’d just like to have the option.”

Proponents have said that people need to look at the bigger picture, which is more revenue for the tribe.

Plus, if people want alcohol, all they need to do is drive to Bryson City or Sylva to find it, supporters of the referendum have said.

“They are going to get it anyway,” Petrilli said.

But opponents have said the easier access will only lead to higher rates of drinking problems among enrolled members.

“I am voting ‘no,’” said Owens Walkingstick, a member of the Yellowhill community. “If it’s harder to get it, it will be less people getting it.”

Even if the referendum is voted down, the reservation may still find gas stations selling beer cropping up at its doorstep.

Jackson County is voting on a similar measure during the May primary, and if approved, places selling alcohol could settle along the border of the reservation, which lies partly in Jackson County.

A few opponents have said that that fact will not influence their vote, however.

“I would rather just let Jackson County handle that,” Walkingstick said.

A couple of enrolled members indicated that they plan to stay out of the argument and will likely not vote Thursday.

Charles Tchakeirides, a 28-year-old resident of Birdtown, said he is undecided about whether alcohol should be sold on the reservation.

“People are going to get it regardless,” Tchakeirides said. “I think a lot of young people will vote for it.”

Nadine Tramper was blasé about the matter, though she could save gas money if alcohol was available in Cherokee, she said.   

“It doesn’t bother me. I really don’t care,” said Tramper, of Big Cove.

 

Day of reckoning

Members of the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians will head to the polls Thursday, April 12, to vote on whether the reservation should remain dry. They can approve all, none, or some of the following:

• To permit the sale of beer, wine and mixed-drinks drinks to consume on-premise in restaurants.

• To permit the sale of beer and wine in grocery stores and convenience stores.

• To permit a tribal ABC store to sell liquor to the public.

The vote will be decided on a community-by-community basis for each of Cherokee’s six townships. One community can open the door for alcohol sales while another can keep the ban.

However, the referendum must garner an overall majority of votes reservation-wide for any one community to enact alcohol sales.

Several raceways were completely submerged in water, hundreds of thousands of trout laid dead on the ground, and the national trout hatchery in Cherokee lost nearly two-thirds of its stock. That was the picture of the hatchery in Cherokee not even one year ago when heavy rains sent a 10-foot wall of water washed over it.

“It was bad. It was real bad,” said Robert Blankenship, manager of the Cherokee fish hatchery and stocking program. “It was devastating to the staff.”

Now, after less than a year, the hatchery is well on its way to recovery. Blankenship estimates that the hatchery will once again be self-sustaining, hatching and raising all its own trout, by late May.

The hatchery plays a critical role in Cherokee’s reputation as prized fishing grounds. The sheer number and size of the trout stocked in Cherokee’s streams and rivers have led to a successful and viable fishing tourism industry — one the tribe was determined to uphold even in the wake of the natural disaster.

During the flood, the hatchery lost more than $160,000 worth of trout and 16 to 18 inches of silt sat at the bottom of each raceway — the long, narrow pools where the trout live. Employees spent the first couple of months collecting the dead trout, scrapping mud, rocks and logs from the raceways and sorting the surviving fish by type and size. Then, it was time to start rebuilding its trout supply. Since it takes a year to raise a mid-sized trout, or two years to raise a trophy trout, the natural disaster could have had long-term repercussions, affecting the number of trout being stocked in Cherokee waters for some time.

Luckily, however, a cooperative arrangement with other nationally certified hatcheries entitled the Cherokee hatchery to any surplus fish or fish eggs that the others might have. Hatchery workers traveled across the U.S. gathering them.

Had it not received aid from other national hatcheries, the hatchery in Cherokee would have spent at least two years trying to regain its composure rather than 10 months.

“We’ve had a lot of support and assistance,” Blankenship said.

Eleven national hatcheries in Georgia, Tennessee, Montana, Wisconsin, Arizona, Missouri, Kentucky and West Virginia have been crucial to the recovery.

He estimated that the hatchery has received more than 1.5 million trout and fish eggs from the other hatcheries.

“That is a major part of us trying to rebuild,” Blankenship said. “The more we can get, the more we can put in the river, the more it’s going to help out our program.”

The hatchery must constantly be birthing baby trout to replace the larger fish that it tosses into the river every day to maintain Cherokee’s status in the fishing world.

The tribe’s stocks 30 miles of river and stream on the reservation with 400,000 fish per year.

“For years, people have loved to come to Cherokee for vacation and enjoying the streams and rivers is a major part of their fun,” said Matthew Pegg, executive director of the Cherokee Chamber of Commerce. “The fishing here in Cherokee is some of the best east of the Mississippi and as more people come here to fish the better our hotels, restaurants and other retail shops will do.”

The hatchery currently has about 2 million eggs and baby trout incubating in its smaller indoor raceways and about 800,000 in its larger outdoor raceway. However, six of the usually full raceways sit empty, and the hatchery will not be self-sustaining until next month.

The hatchery is receiving about $100,000 from a federal government relief program and Bureau of Indian Affairs to help with its recovery. A portion of the money will help the hatchery help prevent such a disaster from occurring again by reinforcing already existing water barriers and adding more or larger piping to allow more water to drain away from hatchery lands.

The changes will help “but you will never be able to control Mother Nature,” Blankenship said.

Before Harrah’s Cherokee Casino and Hotel, one of the tribe’s main attractions was trout fishing. The Oconaluftee River has 2.2 miles of water specifically devoted to catch-and-release, fly fishing and hosts numerous tournaments throughout the year.

And now that it has nearly recovered, the hatchery hopes to bring fishing to the forefront once again by keeping the river open year-round and using an electronic system to keep track of and issue fishing permits. Previously, anglers had to receive a handwritten permit each visit — a time-consuming task.

“We are trying to rebuild fishing here in Cherokee,” Blankenship said. “That’s our goal — to make it one of the best family trout fishing destinations.”

This year, the Oconaluftee River will be open year-round for the first time. While it only closed for three weeks each year, the hope is that the prospect of quality, year-round fishing will attract visitors who will then spend money at Cherokee’s various businesses.

“People’s got to buy gas. They got to buy snacks. They’ve got to have a place to stay,” Blankenship said.

 

Events

• Cherokee's Summer Kickoff Trout Fishing Tournament: April 27, 28, & 29

• Meet Me in the Smokies Fly Fishing Tournament: May 18, 19 & 20

• US Junior National Fly Fishing Championships: June 22, 23 & 24

• Cherokee's Mid Summer Trout Fishing Tournament: July 13, 14 & 15

• Cherokee's End of Summer Trout Fishing Tournament: September 7, 8 & 9

• Rumble in the Rhododendron Fly Fishing Tournament: November 2, 3 & 4

• How long is your trout?

ongoing - Bring your trout to the Cherokee Welcome Center and have it measured for the weekly contest which will run from Saturday to Sunday. You must present a hotel or camping receipt to qualify for this contest.

The Catch & Release water is excluded.

For more information on these events, visit www.fishcherokee.com

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