Cherokee passport checkpoint a fun reminder

Martie Hoofer was driving her motorcycle into Cherokee from the Great Smoky Mountains National Park when an Anikituhwa warrior dressed for battle stopped her and asked for her passport.

“I was shocked,” Hoofer said. “I believed him. My passport is at home.”

Sonny Ledford, a founding member of the Warriors of Anikituhwa, stopped Hoofer and her son Sam and addressed them in Cherokee, his war club clasped in his right hand.

Ledford was participating in a new effort to market the Cherokee Passport, a tourism booklet produced by the Goss Agency that highlights the many cultural activities available in Cherokee.

“It feels like when they used to do it in the earlier times,” Ledford said. “In a way it’s telling people you’re coming onto our land to hear about our people, and we are going to give you a passport so you are welcome.”

The Anikituhwa Warriors are a group of men who speak Cherokee and dress in 17th century traditional costumes. Ledford’s traditional name through his paternal bloodline is Usquetsiwo, which means “wears something on his head,” a reference to the Cherokee warriors’ headdress.

“There’s too much stereotypical Indian out there and people believe it’s true,” Ledford said. “This is who we are.”

The passport checkpoint was essentially a public relations stunt, but it was a significant way of reframing Cherokee as a tourist destination.

The passports have event schedules, write-ups of rich cultural offerings and a short list of free things to do, but their focus is on Cherokee as a cultural landmark.

Robert Jumper, travel and tourism manager for the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians, helped organize the event.

“It’s a fun reminder of the culture of the Cherokee,” Jumper said. “Certainly you can see the sovereignty of the nation in this, but it’s really just a fun way to introduce visitors to Cherokee.”

Mike Crowe, another of the warriors, said dressing up in traditional attire was an honor.

“We don’t speak in terms of pride. We speak in terms of honor. Adelagwodi. It’s like honor a thousand times,” Crowe said.

Crowe was wearing wampum prepared by Robert Saunooke and a war club fashioned by Ledford.

He said he hoped the checkpoint would encourage tourists to dig deeper into Cherokee culture during their visits.

“Hopefully they’ll get it through their head to check out our museum, our village, and come away with a better understanding of who we are as a people,” Crowe said.

If Karen Bess of Fishersville, Va., is representative of the other tourists that passed through the checkpoint, the plan worked.

“I liked it,” said Bess. “I’ve always been fascinated by Native American culture.”

The tribe’s audit is bound to cause bitterness

How do you kick out a member of a Native American tribe? The Eastern Band of Cherokee is about to find out, and there’s no way it’s going down without some bitterness and fighting.

The EBCI is almost finished with an audit of its enrolled members, and the Tribal Council is apparently leaning towards DNA testing to determine who is actually a member in the future.

The 1924 Baker Roll is the official document from which tribal membership is determined. Those families on that roll who meet the blood quantum level are considered members of the tribe. The enrollment audit started in 2006, and the tribal council is set to decide in June how to proceed with those whose tribal identity is being questioned.

Some are saying that new members should only be admitted after a DNA test, regardless of their family history. Others want to go further and do DNA testing on all enrolled members in order to clean up the rolls.

The potential for misery and family upheavals is just around the corner. What if someone has lived their entire life as a Cherokee and now is told, no, you don’t have enough Cherokee blood ? It seems the council has no choice but to follow through with DNA testing, but for some the results will be life changing.


Years of column writing have taught me this — think you’ve written something enlightening that the multitudes should take to heart, and the piece is quickly forgotten; dash off a column that you’d rate as benign at best, and the phone rings off the hook and the email box gets slammed.

Last week’s piece about Haywood County’s solid waste system and proposed changes in how it operates falls somewhere in the middle of those two extremes, but comments from a couple of county commissioners do merit a mention. First, I said commissioners voted to make changes to the solid waste system. That’s a mistake. The proposed budget includes cost savings from the overhaul of the system, but the budget has not been approved yet. Nothing’s been decided for sure.

Second is the widespread use of the term “privatize.” Some are taking exception to that description. A Haywood task force has recommended changes to the solid waste system that would send some services to the private sector. The pick line that separates recyclables would simply disappear, as commissioners would outsource recycling services if the proposal were approved. A private company would also be in charge maintaining the convenience centers. At this point, the county would still be heavily involved in maintaining the transfer station and running the landfill.

Solid waste won’t be privatized entirely. Fewer county employees will be involved in solid waste disposal and recycling. The column’s premise was that these economic times are going to force many elected leaders — not just Haywood’s — to look for cost savings, and that outsourcing what were once government operations is likely to occur more rapidly until things get better.

I think that a close look at what can be outsourced is a good idea, that there is only so much government can and should do. In Haywood’s case, the overhaul of the solid waste system is a good idea with plenty of merit.

(Scott McLeod can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..)

The EBCI enrollment audit at a glance

What is the enrollment audit?

A review of the nearly 14,000 people on the tribe’s roll to determine whether they qualify as being Cherokee. The Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians requires members to be one-quarter Cherokee by blood and to have a direct link to the Baker Roll of 1924.

An outside firm, The Falmouth Institute, was hired to do the audit. So far, the Cherokee have spent $746,000 on the audit, with another $100,000 budgeted for its completion, which is slated for September.

What is the Baker Roll?

The final roll of the Eastern Cherokee, prepared by United States Agent Fred A. Baker, in 1924. Termination of the Tribe as a government and political entity was the ultimate goal of the Congressional act that initiated the Baker Roll. After termination efforts failed, the Tribe continued to use the 1924 Baker Roll as its base roll. Descendants of those persons of the original Baker Roll are enrolled on the Baker Revised Roll, providing they meet the membership requirements of the Tribe.

What did the audit find?

The report found 2,251 “actionable” files, meaning that some action needed to be taken to correct their status. Most were only minor incongruities that were easily cleared up.

The audit turned up only 303 tribal members with no direct link to the Baker Rolls, the majority of them the result of missing birth certificates.

Perhaps the most crucial number turned up by the audit was the 50 enrolled members who were revealed to have insufficient blood quantum levels to meet the enrollment requirements.

What’s at stake?

Enrollment bring with it a host of benefits, including the right to own land in the Qualla Boundary and about $8,000 a year per person in shared casino revenues.

Cherokee enrollment quandary leads to talk of DNA testing

The Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians is talking about moving to DNA testing as a way of verifying the blood requirement to be enrolled as a tribal member.

The tribe’s latest quandaries over its enrollment audit have led Principal Chief Michell Hicks and a number of members of the Tribal Council to point to DNA testing as the way forward when enrolling new members of the tribe.

“Going forth DNA is the only way to correct this issue. I’ve said this from day one,” Hicks said. “Council has control over the enrollment process. The chief’s office doesn’t have any control here. But that’s always been my recommendation. If we want to get it right, let’s get it right, going forward with the DNA process.”

Making DNA testing mandatory for those who want to be included on the tribe’s rolls became the focal point of discussion at a Tribal Council meeting earlier this month. The conversation ensued after two enrolled members from the Snowbird community asked the tribe to stop enrolling new members until the auditing process had been completed.

The Tribal Council received the results of the enrollment audit in October. Since that time, an enrollment committee has worked on implementing the policies and procedures that would allow the tribe to proceed with disenrolling tribal members who don’t meet enrollment requirements.

The auditors report showed that 50 people on the rolls don’t meet the blood degree to qualify as a member of the tribe. Another 303 people on the rolls can’t prove they have an ancestor on the Baker Roll, a 1920s-era federal roster of tribal members considered a litmus test for enrollment today.

Even the Baker Roll is a contested issue. When the roll was adopted in 1924, the Tribal Council approved 1,924 names and challenged 1,222 names on the 3,146-person list.

Big Cove Representative Theresa McCoy said the audit can’t be considered complete until the council acts on the findings of the consulting firm that conducted the study.

“The process included the removal of the names of persons who do not meet the criteria for enrollment when they were enrolled, so to me, the enrollment audit is not complete,” McCoy said. “The paperwork is, the findings are, but the audit is not.”

While the enrollment audit was approved by a vote of tribal members in 2002, it was not until 2006 that the Falmouth Institute, an outside consulting firm, began its work. The Tribal Council is scheduled to vote on the policies and procedures it will use to enforce the results at its June meeting and the process could be complete as early as September.

The painstaking and lengthy audit has led some sitting council members to push for the use of DNA testing in the future.

“Let’s start doing DNA. We’ve got that technology, and we need to utilize it. Instead of putting people on that aren’t supposed to be,” said Snowbird Representative Diamond Brown.

The tribe has enrolled 157 new members, mostly infants, since last June. At its meeting earlier this month, the Tribal Council voted to pass an amendment that would prevent any new members, except those ages 0 to 3 and 18 to 19, to enroll until the audit process is complete.

One of the major issues concerning the tribe’s rolls centers on the right to per capita payments. Every tribal member gets two checks a year as a share of casino revenue. It amounts to about $8,000 a year. Per capita payments will be released to members on June 1.

Snowbird Representative Adam Wachacha said a complete enrollment audit and DNA testing were the only ways to save the tribe from repeating the painstaking review process again in the future.

“The people want the rolls to be cleaned up and unless we fix the process which we’re at, 20 years from now we’ll be in the same boat we are in now,” Wachacha said.

Hawk Brown, an 18-year-old enrolled member from Painttown, said DNA testing could make for painful realizations for some families.

“Everybody’s got skeletons in their closets. But if we want to clean this up, the people voted on it and that’s what they want to do,” Brown said. “Them things will have to brought out. Them things will have to be brought out in my own family.”

The Tribal Council will vote on the issue of whether to include DNA testing as an enrollment requirement and on policies and procedures governing disenrollment hearings in June.

Welsh TV crew visits Cherokee

Iolo Williams is one of the Wales’ most recognized TV personalities. “Wildlife” Williams, as he is known by some fans, or “Birdman” as he is known by others, revolutionized BBC nature shows by bringing heady ecology together with rugged good looks and his native language, Welsh.

Williams and his production crew traveled to Cherokee this past week to film an episode of a series whose working titles is “Iolo yn Native America,” scheduled to air in the UK later this year.

The crew –– camera director Mei Williams, researcher Luke Peavey, and producer Bethan Arwell –– have already cut an episode in Navajo country.

But for Iolo, the trip to Cherokee was special, primarily because he sees the parallels between the Cherokee and Welsh efforts to revive their native languages.

“Williams in Native America” is being filmed entirely in Welsh and the indigenous languages of the tribes Iolo interacts with.

“When I was little, Welsh wasn’t cool, and that’s a big thing for kids,” Williams said. “But there’s been a massive revival, mostly through education. With the Cherokee, and with this school, you can see there’s hope now.”

Last Thursday, Iolo visited the Kituwah Immersion Language Academy, the Cherokee’s state of the art new immersion school.

Williams grew up in Llanwwddyn in the Welsh midlands as a Welsh speaker and a child yearning for wild places. His imagination was captivated my Native Americans from an early age.

“One of the main reasons is because of the huge similarities I see between the Native Americans and the plight of the Welsh,” Williams said.

Americans know little of Welsh history. But if your name is Thomas, Morris, Williams or Jones, chances are you could trace the roots of your family tree and wind up somewhere near Cardiff or Builth Wells.

Wales was conquered by England over 800 years ago, and since that time they have slowly become Anglicized.

“A lot of our old traditional ways are long gone, but we do have differences from the English, especially with regard to the ways we value our family and the language,” Williams said.

Today, only 1 in 10 Welsh speak their native tongue, but it is taught to schoolchildren and is an official language in the country. Welsh is cool again, and the Welsh are exploring the boundaries of their own identity. While the English have forgotten they did anything bad to the Welsh, the Welsh haven’t forgotten.

Williams said he admires the way the Cherokee have taken advantage of the economic benefits available in American society while working hard to preserve their own identity.

“The Cherokee haven’t forgotten,” Williams said. “They do remember, but they’ve moved on. You know we still hate the English.”

As Williams and his team toured the Kituwah Preservation and Education Program, he felt a sense of satisfaction.

“It looks like you’ve caught the Cherokee language within a hair’s breadth of dying out,” Williams said. “This really has to be the way forward. There’s a lot of personal responsibility placed on the individual when a language is dying, but education has to be the way forward.”

Williams and his crew will return to Wales to work on other projects before coming back to the United States and Canada to film episodes with the Haida, Lakota, Blackfoot, and Northern Cree tribes.

The show has not yet been scheduled for airtimes in Wales, but Iolo said anybody interested in watching has plenty of time to practice their Welsh.

Joel Queen draws on many sources for artistic inspiration

Many who walk into Joel Queen’s gallery mistakenly assume the artwork there solely represents Cherokee tradition.

After all, Queen comes from a long line of Cherokee potters and basketmakers who passed down their art to him as soon as he was able to crawl. And he’s one of Cherokee’s most prominent artists — among the few to successfully run his own gallery and to teach at the Southwestern Community College’s Oconaluftee Institute of Cultural Arts.

But looking closer, it becomes clear that Queen’s artistic vision extends far beyond the Qualla Boundary. His work is as much inspired from Greek vessels, Egyptian sculptures, and Celtic designs as aesthetic traditions from Cherokee and the Southeast.

Queen is just as interested in seeing what Cherokee artists produce as what artists on the other side of the country are up to. He loves traveling across the nation with his family, competing at art shows like at the Sante Fe Indian Market, especially for this purpose.

“The competition keeps me on my toes,” said Queen. “I thrive on it. If I don’t win one year, I’m going to have to do something better next year. That part of it, I really love.”

Even if he doesn’t win, though, the art market provides Queen the perfect opportunity to observe new artistic traditions as they are being formulated.

Queen, along with fellow artist and friend John Grant, decided to create Cherokee’s own annual art market because they saw it as integral to bringing fresh ideas to the region’s art scene.

“The only way art advances is to be able to see what’s going on outside of here,” said Queen, adding that the art market has the additional benefit of boosting the local economy.

An ongoing education

Queen had learned the craft of basketmaking from his grandmother when he was just 5 years old and later fell in love with sculpture. But when Queen settles down to work in one of his two studios, he doesn’t limit himself to just one, or even two, kinds of media.

Queen credits his high school art teacher for showing him how to diversify, which ended up complementing Queen’s own personality in the end.

“It was very eye-opening for me to be able to work in leatherwork, silverwork, clay and paintings,” said Queen.

“... I don’t like being confined. I like being able to express how I feel through different media.”

Luckily for Queen, that versatility has been useful in a volatile economy, when one medium might not sell as well as another.

With a diverse skill set in tow, Queen set out for his next challenge, large-scale pieces — what later became his signature style. Since many artists didn’t like to work large at the time, Queen had to resort to self-teaching to learn to build such heavy pieces.

“Large pieces are more challenging. That’s why I like doing them so much,” said Queen. “It keeps it interesting. It’s very easy for me to lose interest if there’s not a challenge to it.”

Now, Queen can create sculptures 10 to 12 feet tall as well as he can build miniature pieces as small as 2 or 3 inches tall.

Queen also hand builds his pottery, rather than throwing it on the wheel. Pots won’t be perfectly symmetrical this way, but each piece is unique, different from the one before. Though hand building was slow going at first, Queen learned techniques to speed up the process, so he can create at nearly the same rate as an artist who wheel throws.

“I’m not knocking wheel throwing work,” said Queen. “It’s still beautiful and takes talent to do it, but hand building is just a totally different area.”

For one thing, when the electricity goes out, Queen can go right on creating.

“As long as you got wood, you can still burn the pot,” said Queen.

No Wal-Mart for Cherokee

Wal-Mart will not build a new Supercenter in Cherokee. After months of speculation that the deal between the tribe and the mega-retailer had fallen through, a company spokesperson confirmed the news this week.

“We decided not to move ahead with the project,” said Bill Wertz, Wal-Mart spokesperson. “It is a combination of things. We have to consider a number of factors.”

The tribe hoped Wal-Mart would be the center of a new mega development bringing an array of services to Cherokee, saving residents a drive into Sylva or Waynesville to purchase household wares that they can’t get on the reservation. But the planned Wal-Mart also drew criticism for its potential to hurt local businesses.

To lure Wal-Mart, the tribe intended to build a 150,000-square-foot store at a cost of $25 million on Hospital Road near downtown Cherokee and lease it to Wal-Mart. The store was projected to create 200 jobs and nearly double the tribe’s sales tax collections, theoretically paying for the tribe’s upfront cost of the building over time. Last May, the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians Tribal Council approved the deal, which was four years in the works, by a vote of 9 to 3.

Last month, Cherokee’s director of economic development, Mickey Duvall, said a consulting firm working on behalf of the tribe was still trying to persuade Wal-Mart’s upper management to move forward with the deal.

“Our consultants informed us in early 2010 that Wal-Mart’s domestic focus had changed primarily to urban markets due to the recent recession, however they would continue to pressure Wal-Mart’s upper management to get the Cherokee deal approved and construction scheduled as soon as possible since lease negotiations with the Tribe had been ongoing prior to the downturn in the U.S. economy,” Duvall said in an update published in the Cherokee One Feather newspaper.

The Tribal Council split on the issue of offering hefty incentives to Wal-Mart to bring the store to Cherokee, and some local retailers said the store would kill their businesses if it came. With the announcement that the project is scuttled, Wertz stopped short of saying Wal-Mart would rule the site out in the future.

“Every year we have a certain amount of investment capital, and we have to determine the sites best suited for its use,” Wertz said. “This site didn’t meet the threshold this year, but that’s not to say it couldn’t do so in the future.”

Wertz said Wal-Mart has focused more energy on remodeling existing stores since the recession hit.

“Two or three years ago, we made the decision to build fewer new stores and devote some of the money to remodeling existing stores,” Wertz said.

Principal Chief Michell Hicks, whose administration has been characterized by an aggressive agenda of economic development, did not respond to a request for comment Monday.

Last month, Hicks had been hopeful that the deal would still go through.

“The Eastern Band of Cherokee remains committed to opening a Wal-Mart in our community however we cannot discuss the content of those negotiations at this time,” Hicks said.

Enrollment audit a slow, uneasy process for Cherokee

In a 2002 referendum, the members of the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians voted to authorize an audit of the tribe’s enrolled members. Almost eight years later, the process is coming to a head as the Tribal Council considers how to use the findings of the study.

The primary issue facing the council is what to do about the 300 names the audit showed to have no connection with the Baker Roll, the tribe’s benchmark for enrollment qualifications.

“The Cherokee people are currently working through the procedures and policies to be set in place to deal with these individuals,” said Principal Chief Michell Hicks. “This is a difficult situation for us all, but a necessary step to ensure we are all in compliance with the Eastern Band’s enrollment guidelines.”

After perusing 18,000 files and more than 115,000 documents, the staff of The Falmouth Institute presented the final enrollment audit report to the Tribal Council last October. Now the council is charged with setting the policies and procedures that will be used to implement the findings.

The auditors found 1,405 files they deemed actionable, 683 files that did not meet the current enrollment requirements, and 300 people with no connection to the Baker Roll

At stake is not just who can be considered a member of the tribe, but also the benefits and rights that come with recognition as a tribal member, including the right to own land in the Qualla Boundary and the right to per capita payments. There are currently about 13,000 enrolled members of the Eastern Band of Cherokee.

During committee meetings last month, tribal council members considered the possibility of taking land back from disenrolled members and asked their legal team whether they would have to provide compensation for it.

EBCI Attorney General Annette Tarnawsky said the Pechanga Tribe in California and the Saginaw Chippewa Tribe of Michigan are in the midst of similar enrollment verification proceedings, but neither has used the enrollment audits to expel people from their reservations or to repossess land.

Jennifer Bainbridge, a tribal attorney in charge of researching the issue, said the lack of precedents makes for slow going, but that property rights issues would be the sticking point.

“There’s not any case law out there about tribes who have disenrolled people and taken their property,” Bainbridge said.

As complicated as it is, figuring out how to enforce the enrollment audit may prove simpler than determining how to interpret it.

Tribal Council member Terri Henry, who represents the Painttown community, pointed to the fact that the original Baker Roll was a contested document. When the roll was adopted in 1926, the Tribal Council approved 1,924 names and challenged 1,222 names on the 3,136-person list. For Henry, that fact shows that even at that point the tribe felt its membership should be a smaller group than the one the federal government recognized.

“To me, this kind of answers the question about the body politic at the time,” Henry said. “This was actually at the time the roll was enacted. This would be at the genesis moment of the enrollment of the tribe.”

The dispute over the Baker Roll can be traced to the fact that it was a document that relied on land records belonging to William Thomas, who facilitated the purchase of the land used to establish the Qualla Boundary. According to Tarnawsky, the Baker Roll “was derived from landholdings of Cherokee enrolled members who either sold or gave land to Mr. Thomas that then became part of the boundary.”

The Thomas papers date to the 1840s.

The difficulty of verifying all of the records available to the Cherokee that could establish enrollment criteria was made evident when David Wyatt, head of the tribe’s GIS mapping program, began discovering historic documents during his research of land tracts.

“In the process of scanning all that information at BIA, we came across a little bit of everything,” Wyatt said

Wyatt found original copies of Thomas’ records, census records from as early as 1912, and a 1967 revised version of the Baker Roll, among other documents. None of these were included in the enrollment audit conducted by Falmouth, and their staff indicated to Tarnawsky that the scope of their project would be limited to records in the possession of the tribe’s enrollment office.

So far, the Cherokee have spent $746,000 on the audit, with another $100,000 budgeted for its completion. But with the discovery of new records that could be pertinent to the effort, it’s not clear when the job will be done.

Tribal Council member Teresa McCoy was clear in the meeting last month that her constituents want closure.

“I do prefer that there be a deadline placed on this. Let’s not let it drag out for another six months. Our community met last week, and they were adamant. They were ready to start the next morning. They are tired of waiting. They have waited for seven years, and they don’t know what’s taking so long,” McCoy said.

But the council will have to decide whether to push disenrollment proceedings on the list of 300 or on a broader group identified by the audit.

With a vocal part of the membership clamoring for resolution, the council will have to negotiate intricate legal issues in addition to sorting out how to deal with records in possession of the Bureau of Indian Affairs and the State of North Carolina that could shed light on the status of enrollment claims.

Tribal Council member Tommye Saunooke asked for patience.

“I think the public needs to understand that the results of the audit did not come back to the council until late 2009. Council has not drug their feet on this,” Saunooke said.

Veterans take to Cherokee waters for healing

I don't do people, Bart Crowe said matter-of-factly.

But there he was getting his fishing tackle together to hit the trophy waters in Cherokee with a couple of fishing buddies.

Crowe carried an M-60 machine gun during Operation Desert Storm in 1990. His war was four days long, he said, and punctuated by a 20-hour tank battle. Now he is a disabled veteran with diagnoses of post-traumatic stress disorder, post-traumatic brain injury, fybromyalgia and chronic fatigue.

I don't sleep. I've bounced from job to job. I've literally gone after bosses, Crowe said. I really don't do people. I center my life around veterans.

Crowe and a handful of other Western North Carolina veterans gathered at River's Edge Outfitters in Cherokee on Monday morning and then headed up Oconaluftee River to fish alongside members of the North Carolina Fly Fishing Team. The outing was the inaugural fishing event for the Cherokee Chapter of Project Healing Waters.

For Crowe, it was a much-needed respite.

Just getting out there on the water is relaxing, Crowe said. It's not about catching fish. It's about getting some peace and hearing the streams instead of thinking about things I shouldn't.

Project Healing Waters was founded in 2005 as a way to help rehabilitate wounded veterans at Walter Reed Hospital in Washington, D.C. Today, there are more than 80 chapters nationwide and the project continues to grow.

John Bass, the project's regional coordinator for North Carolina, South Carolina, and Georgia, has been involved since the beginning. Bass is wheelchair-bound, having broken his neck in a swimming pool in 1974. He got involved in Project Healing Waters after meeting a young wounded veteran on the water near Lebanon, Va.

I made up my mind right then, that I couldn't live with myself if I didn't do something to help these guys, Bass said.

Bass called Project Healing Waters founder Ed Nicholson, and the rest is history. He started working with veterans at Walter Reed and realized he had something special to give them. Having been a fly fisherman since his school days, he never let his injury keep him from his passion afterwards.

It's sort of hard for a guy to tell me he can't do it, when I've done it, Bass said.

Bass has a special place in his heart for the Cherokee chapter of the organization because of his longstanding friendship with a Native American Vietnam Veteran from Kyle, South Dakota, named Archie Hopkins.

I think a lot of the reason the veterans today get the opportunities they do is because the guys from Vietnam didn't get the thank yous they deserved, Bass said.

Crowe, whose father is a Vietnam veteran and whose two brothers served in Iraq, agrees.

My father dealt with people in airports spitting, calling him baby-killer, but when I got home, I got an orange certificate, Crowe said. The country did an about face and started welcoming home its veterans.

But after the hero's welcome, life wasn't the same for Crowe. He drank heavily and divorced his first wife. He hit rock bottom one day and checked himself into the suicide watch at a hospital in Gainesville, Fla. Since that time, he's actively sought ways to deal with his PTSD, which he says acts the same for everybody whether they got it in Vietnam or the desert.

It's all the same. One place had trees and the other had nothing. I tried to have a job and a family and put it all behind me and it didn't work, Crowe said.

After moving to North Carolina, Crowe heard about Operation Healing Waters through the VA, and he has embraced it wholeheartedly.

On Monday, Crowe was fishing with Jamie Dufault, a 29-year-old disabled veteran who lives in Hendersonville, and Brandon Wilson, a 31-year-old Brevard native who got back from Iraq in February and now lives in Maggie Valley.

Wilson, a life-long fly fisherman, has organized a side project called Pints and Flies at the Rendezvous Bar inside the Maggie Valley Inn and Conference Center as a way of sharing his passion for the sport.

It's awesome to see guys getting into it, beginning to understand it for themselves, Wilson said. You don't think about anything you did in war. It's just you and a little bitty fish out there in the water.

Crowe's wife Melinda, tied him a fly at Pints and Flies. It was pink and purple and three times the size of a normal wooly bugger. He caught three fish with it.

The art of healing

Joanie Ledford is a recreation therapist at the Veterans Administration hospital in Asheville. Ledford has been involved with the Asheville chapter of Project Healing Waters for two years, and she sees the fishing as a multi-faceted therapy that incorporates fine motor coordination, self-esteem building, and patience.

It lets them learn that they can continue fishing or learn a new skill no matter what their ability is, Ledford said. To help the overcome their limitations and learn some self-confidence.

Ledford's embrace of the program has been crucial. Project Healing Waters chapters require a VA or Department of Defense hospital or clinic to act as hosts, a local fly fishing organization to supply volunteers and organize events, and wounded or disabled veterans who want to participate.

In the case of the Cherokee chapter of Project Healing Waters, the North Carolina Fly Fishing Team is the sponsor organization, and their effort is supported by the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians tribal fishery.

Fisheries Manager Robert Blankenship said helping underwrite Operating Healing Waters is a chance for the tribe to accomplish its goal of providing an accessible fishery for everyone. Blankenship hopes to see the Cherokee chapter attract Native American veterans from the Qualla Boundary, and to that end, the tribe will help host a tournament event in September that will feature a team of Cherokee veterans against a team of veterans from North Carolina.

We'll support them in any way we can, Blankenship said.

On Monday, Blankenship closed a section of trophy water to give the veterans first crack at the giant rainbow, brown and brook trout there.

Troy Bailey, a Vietnam veteran in a wheelchair, got some individual attention from Asheville project coordinator Ryan Harmon, and much to his own surprise hooked a beautiful trout.

Somewhere far upriver Crowe, Wilson and Dufault waded into the water.

Healing Waters

The Cherokee chapter of Project Healing Waters a national nonprofit whose mission is to encourage the physical and emotional rehabilitation of servicemen and veterans through fly-fishing is currently recruiting members from Haywood, Jackson, Macon, Swain and Clay counties. 828.550.8487 or This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. or

Cherokee casino renovation halfway home

Last week, the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians celebrated the topping off of their new 21-story hotel tower, the centerpiece of Harrah’s Cherokee Casino’s $633 million expansion.

“This, for us, is a game-changer,” said Harrah’s Cherokee General Manager Darold Londo. “This is the exclamation mark on the resort.”

More than 1,000 workers gathered with tribal officials, casino administrators, and others to watch as the final steel beam, decorated with an evergreen tree, was hoisted by crane to the highest point of the structure.

Principal Chief Michell Hicks said the event was an opportunity to recognize the workers who had erected the tower in nine months, but also to celebrate the foresight of the tribe’s leaders in planning the expansion.

“I just want to take a moment to recognize the planning and foresight not only for creating these jobs, but for creating a facility that will benefit us for many, many generations,” Hicks said.

The 21-story Creek Tower will add 532 new rooms to the resort, doubling the casino’s overnight capacity and making Harrah’s Cherokee the largest hotel in North Carolina. Construction should conclude later this year.

The ceremony was a chance to recognize the grandiose nature of the casino’s expansion as a resort. When the project is finished, it will boast a Paula Deen Kitchen restaurant with 400 seats, 78 luxury suites with mountain views, a 16,000 square-foot spa, and a 3,000-seat auditorium.

Together with the new Robert Trent Jones-designed Sequoyah National Golf Club, the elements represent Cherokee’s move to remake itself as a resort destination.

For Norma Moss, chair of the Tribal Casino Gaming Enterprise, that’s exactly what the goal has been since the EBCI Tribal Council approved the investment in 2008.

“Take a good look around you,” Moss said. “Our masterpiece in the mountains is becoming a reality.”

For Tribal Council Member Perry Shell, who voted for the appropriation, said Cherokee and the tribe is becoming an economic driver for the region.

“I see this as an investment,” said Shell. “I think it will have a positive impact not only for the tribe, but for the entire area.”

Builder and tribe share love of ceremony

Topping off ceremonies are a 1,000 year-old tradition for builders, according to Turner Construction Company’s project manager Bobby Fay. With his 1,000-plus workers arrayed in front of him, Fay took pains to make sure they knew the ceremony was for them.

“This ceremony has traditionally been for the workers,” Fay said. “To honor their sweat.”

Fay, a bear of a man with a bushy beard, stood in a black full-length duster with his hard hat on and gave a rousing speech in English and Spanish to a delighted audience.

“We brought in the drillers from the south. The concrete workers from north over the mountains. The architects from the west. The steel workers from the east,” said Fay. “I’ve never had so many area codes in my phone.”

Londo said Turner Construction’s value system has been a good fit with the tribe and that was evident in the topping off ceremony, which began with a traditional prayer to the seven spiritual directions of the Cherokee offered by tribal Elder Jerry Wolfe.

“I love the fact that Turner honors traditions,” Londo said. “We appreciate those types of things in Cherokee.”

The company won the $120 million construction contract last summer, and they have worked hard to get the hotel tower up in just nine months. Miraculously, the project has not lost a day to weather, despite Western North Carolina experiencing an historic winter of snow and ice.

Fay said the hotel construction was on schedule to finish in December. In the meantime, the casino will be rolling out a series of new amenities. The first full bar on a gaming floor is scheduled to come on line next month, the events center will open Labor Day weekend, and Paula Deen’s Kitchen restaurant will start serving food late in the year.

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