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Dorm renaming recognizes Cherokee history

Dorm renaming recognizes Cherokee history

Before white settlers corrupted the name to Cullowhee, the land along the Tuckasegee River south of Sylva was known to the Cherokee people as “Joolth-cullah-whee,” or Judaculla’s place.

Now, a newly dedicated building on Western Carolina University’s campus pays homage to that heritage with the name Judaculla Hall, a change celebrated during a ceremony Oct. 10.

“I think what it speaks to is the level of respect and honor that Western Carolina University attaches to the land they’re on, and equally as important the relationship that the university has with the tribe,” said Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians Principal Chief Richard Sneed. “All the land that the university sites on at one time was Cherokee land. The current chancellor and his administration do an outstanding job of paying respect to the history and heritage of the Eastern Band.”

Naming rights for university buildings have the capacity to bring in significant donations from donors who want to see their names on the sign. But in its December 2016 meeting the WCU Board of Trustees voted to rename Central Hall in honor of the area’s Cherokee heritage — pending approval from the Cherokee Tribal Council.

“I have to tell you, it took us a little time to find that perfect name, but we did it,” WCU Chancellor David Belcher said during the dedication ceremony.

Tribal Council gave its approval unanimously during its February 2017 meeting with the promise that Western Carolina would continue working with the tribe’s consortium of Cherokee speakers to get the best possible Cherokee syllabary translation for the sign. The finished sign includes English, Cherokee syllabary and a phonetic spelling of the Cherokee words using English characters.

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“We’re committed to getting this right and to trying to celebrate that heritage on the WCU campus,” Brett Riggs, WCU’s Sequoyah Distinguished Professor of Cherokee Studies, told councilmembers in February.

The name Judaculla refers to a great giant who, according to Cherokee legend, resided in Cullowhee Valley along the Tuckasegee River. In his remarks at the dedication ceremony, Sneed described Judaculla as a “great teacher who taught humans how to live in this place,” teaching them the languages of birds, forest animals and fish to pass on to future generations after he left. Judaculla Rock, a large soapstone boulder located in the Caney Fork community, contains some of the most significant petroglyphs east of the Mississippi River, which Judaculla himself is said to have scratched into the rock with his seven-fingered hands.

“Western Carolina University is built in ‘joolth-cullah-wee’ — or Judaculla’s place, which we’ve shortened to Cullowhee — a seat of higher education in the place of a great teacher,” Sneed said at the ceremony.

Former Principal Chief Joyce Dugan, who is also a member of the WCU Board of Trustees, told those gathered at the dedication that the current relationship between the tribe and the university is probably the best it’s ever been. WCU is currently in the midst of a yearlong observance of an interdisciplinary learning theme titled “Cherokee: Community. Culture. Connections” designed to help all associated with the university better understand WCU’s relationship to the Eastern Band.

“This naming of Judaculla Hall is an example of the university embracing our historical and present cultural value — I’m not saying ‘values,’ I’m saying ‘value’ — as a people,” she said. “I am hopeful that the students will educate themselves on this name and that, through their research and their inquisitive natures, they will be inspired to learn more about the Cherokee and to learn more about our history in this place.”

In addition to celebrating renaming of the building, Belcher and Sneed also signed documents pledging future collaboration between the two entities and an instructional credit agreement to increase the number of Cherokee students enrolled at WCU and to strengthen Native American student organizations on campus. Goals for the instructional credit agreement include reinvigorating the Digali’i association for Native American students and keeping a minimum of 50 EBCI students at Western.

Built in 2004, Judaculla Hall is a four-floor building terraced into a hillside landscape. It includes 300 beds, arranged into suits consisting of either four private rooms or two private rooms and one double room, as well as a shared bathroom and living area.

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