Tribal police struggle to communicate in outlying areas

In the farthest reaches of the Cherokee Indian  Reservation, work is being done to ensure that when crime happens, the police can be there.

While most portions of the reservation are central to Cherokee itself, within easy reach of police officers and their radio systems, the slivers of tribal land that lie unattached to the main reservation are a far larger challenge to law enforcement officials.

At issue here is the police department’s radio system, which, according to Cherokee Indian Police Chief Ben Reed, is just not strong enough to reach into the Snowbird community in Graham County or the Cherokee County portions of tribal property.

Sometimes this causes problems and sometimes it doesn’t, but it’s something Reed said his department is actively looking into.

“Due to the mountainous terrain, it does create issues for us to develop a radio communications system that would reach 45 miles away or 60 miles away,” said Reed. “It’s very difficult to do.”

And while this doesn’t necessarily keep officers from answering calls, it does make communication between the police department and its officers in the outlying regions more difficult and time consuming.

Reed said that his department works closely with the sheriff offices of both counties, who allow the tribal cops to use their radio systems whenever it’s necessary. But calls don’t always come into the local counties’ 911 dispatches; sometimes, they’re called straight into the Cherokee dispatch center, which makes contacting an officer in Graham and Cherokee counties onerous.

Reed said that he and the other emergency response agencies are now putting together a task force to address that very issue, and hopefully they’ll be able to come up with some solutions as early as the end of next week.

“We’re going to figure out, you know, what are our options,” said Reed. “We need to get all these things in place and see where we’re at and is it even possible?”

Whether that means erecting new towers or getting newer, more powerful radio systems for outlying officers, Reed said he’s confident they can find solutions to the problem. The real issue, however, is funding those solutions.

“That’s probably going to take a lot of funding, and where’s the funding going to come from?” Reed said. “We can search for grants and lobby for more funding through our current resources, but there’s a lot of work to be done.”

Meanwhile, the community is calling for a fix to the police communication problems that they see on the ground in the outer counties.

At a special tribal council meeting last month called specifically to address concerns of law and order on the Qualla Boundary, several residents lamented the slow response times to the more remote communities.

“When we talk about the jurisdiction of the land, the Qualla Boundary, it’s not just here on the main which has Jackson and Swain counties, but you’ve got Graham County and you also have Cherokee County,” said Cherokee resident Missy Crowe. “I’ve heard from the brothers and sisters way down in Cherokee County that they would call the police and they’d be lucky if they’d get an officer to respond to them.”

Reed said that, while they do have substations in both counties and six officers assigned to them — four in Snowbird and two in Cherokee County — he knows that more officers can always make things better.

“You can never have enough police officers, and although the calls are minimal in those areas, we still have to provide the community with sufficient resources to serve that population there,” said Reed, adding that his department has worked with those two communities over the last several years to identify just what residents want and need from law enforcement.

But when it comes to actually improving on-the-ground radio communication and coverage for remote communities, Reed said it’s just not something he and his officers can tackle alone.

Reed and his department are overseen by a police commission appointed by tribal council. And while he said he welcomes the oversight and needs the help, it’s no secret that the department and the commission have been at odds in recent months about the commission’s role and relationship to the police.

At last month’s meeting, Reed and members of the police commission had vocal disagreements about the commission’s actions, with Reed taking the position that commissioners were homing in on petty and restrictive issues while ignoring the bigger problems at hand. Radio communications, he said, were one of those concerns, and he reiterated that stance in an interview.

“That’s where we need help,” said Reed. “Those kind of issues aren’t easy. That’s not something that we can just look at tomorrow and say we need A, B and C done and just knock it out.”

He didn’t say whether the commission had been approached for involvement in the process, but noted that improving their radio signals was an important proactive step in the tribe’s crime-fighting approach.

“We’ve not had any major issues with it,” said Reed, “but we shouldn’t sit round and wait on a major issue to happen.”

Tragedy and the Ghost Dance’s demise

(Editor’s note: This is the second of a two-part series regarding the Cherokee Ghost Dance.)

A recent column focused on a so-called Ghost Dance movement that took place among the Cherokees in 1811-13. That, of course, was almost 80 years before the infamous era in the American West that culminated in the Indian massacre at Wounded Knee in 1890. The western Indians initially believed the dance would unite them with friends and relatives in the ghost world. As the movement spread from tribe to tribe, however, the dancers began to imagine that the dance would make them invincible.

The unity and fervor that the Ghost Dance movement inspired, however, only brought fear and hysteria to white settlers and contributed to the events ending in the massacre at Wounded Knee in 1890. When the smoke cleared and the gunfire ceased, more than 300 Sioux, some wearing ghost shirts, lay dead.

In the previous column I relied upon an essay titled “The Cherokee Ghost Dance Movement of 1811-1813” by William G. McLoughlin in the book The Cherokee Ghost Dance: Essays on the Southeastern Indians, 1789-1861 (Mercer University Press, 1984). McLoughlin’s essay is presented as an overview of the extant 19th century accounts of the movement. He treated the various episodes as part of an interrelated related “Ghost Dance” movement:

“In the troubled years 1811-1812 … a prophet named Charlie [i.e., Tsali, but not the individual involved in the Removal events of 1838] appeared among the Cherokee and described a dream or vision in which the Great Spirit … said he was angry with the Cherokees because they had departed from the customs and religious practices of their ancestors and were adopting the ways of the white man … Though Charlie met some opposition, he found many ready to accept his revelations, and he went on to say that it had been revealed to him that on a specific date, three months hence, a terrific wind and hailstorm would take place that would annihilate al the white men, all the cattle, and all the works of the white man … After the storm, these true believers would be able to return to their towns where they would find all of the deer, elk, buffalo, and the other game that had disappeared. Then they would live again as their ancestors did in the golden era before the white man came.”

There was no storm or eclipse. The Ghost Dance fervor withered and died without a return to a golden era.

Michelene E. Pesantubbee is a professor of American Indian studies at the University of Iowa who specializes in Native American religious traditions.  In “When the Earth Shakes: The Cherokee Prophecies of 1811-1812” American Indian Quarterly (1993), Pesanttubbee took a closer look at the evidence and concluded that there was no “Ghost Dance” movement per se among the Cherokees. Unlike McLaughlin, she also felt that the Cherokee incidents were, in part, fueled by rumors about the Shawnee movement led by Tecumseh. Even so, her descriptions of various incidents provide evidence of stress-related symptoms … dreams, visions, phophecies, and apopalyptic forecasts … in Cherokee society 35 years before forced removal took place:

[According to Charlie’s vision] the Cherokee were adopting the customs of the white people. They had mills, clothes, feather beds, and tables-worse still they had books and domestic cats! This was not good-therefore the buffalo and other game were disappearing. The Great Spirit was angry, and had withdrawn his protection. The nation must return to the customs of their fathers ... They must discard all the fashions of the whites, abandon the use of any communication with each other except by word of mouth, and give up their mills, their houses, and all the arts learned from the white people. He promised, that if they believed and obeyed, then would game again abound, the white man would disappear, and God would love his people. He urged them to paint themselves, to hold feasts, and to dance ...

[In] the next record of a prophecy …Big Bear, a Cherokee man, informed the missionaries of a vision another Cherokee man experienced in December 1811. According to Big Bear, this man and his sick children were in their house when: A tall man, clothed entirely in the foliage of trees, with a wreath of the same foliage on his head … said to him ... “I am not able to tell you now whether God will soon destroy the earth or not. God is not pleased that the Indians have sold so much land to the white people. Tugalo [along the GA-SC border], which is now possessed by white people, is the first place that God created. There in a hill he placed the first fire, for all fire comes from God. Now the white people have built a house on that hill. They should abandon the place; on that hill there should be grass growing, only then will there be peace.”         

The third pattern of prophecies was apocalyptic. It began in 1812 after the appearance of a comet and a series of earthquakes. The Moravian records contain three entries describing apocalyptic predictions. On February 23, 1812, the missionaries wrote that David McNair, an intermarried white, told them about the stories he had heard. Later in the entry, the missionaries wrote about an incident in which the residents of one town fled into the hills to hide from a storm of hailstones, the size of half bushels, that were to fall on a certain day. That day passed without incident and the people returned to their homes. A March 1 account came from Laughing Molly, an elderly Cherokee woman, who heard that a sorcerer predicted that in three months the moon would become dark and afterwards hailstones as large as hominy blocks would fall, all the cattle would die, and the earth would come to an end.

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..

Help restore the Cherokees’ rivercane

Volunteers are needed to help transplant rivercane from near Western Carolina University to a site near Cherokee as part of a rivercane restoration project.

Rivercane is a mainstay of Cherokee culture, and traditionally has been used in making baskets, blowguns and mats. It once was plentiful along stream banks and floodplains in Western North Carolina, but the species has been heavily impacted by development. WCU and the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians are working together to restore the native bamboo. Not much rivercane still grows in Cherokee, so WCU students and faculty members started working with Cherokee tribal members last fall to move plants from  Cullowhee Valley to the site near the Cherokee school.

“Over the course of four days in October, volunteers dug up rivercane behind the baseball stadium on campus, wrapped the roots in plastic, loaded them onto a truck and replanted them in Cherokee,” said Adam Griffith, a staff member in WCU’s Program for the study of developed shorelines. “The dense network of tough underground stems and roots made the digging difficult, but the result was the planting of more than 50 feet of underground stems and 30 above-ground stems.”

A much larger rivercane transplantation effort is planned for March and April to a site at the new Cherokee Central School.

“The long-term goal of the project is to establish a patch of rivercane on Cherokee tribal land that can be used for educational purposes and even harvesting by Cherokee artisans,” Griffith said.

The transplanting work is scheduled for March 11 and 19, and April 1, 2, 8 and 9.

Visit or email This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.. Area landowners who have rivercane on their properties they’d like to donate are asked to contact Griffith.

Cherokee hits the big time: Top U.S. anglers to sample reservation waters

This little slice of Western North Carolina just landed the big one when it comes to competitive fly-fishing.

The 2011 U.S. National Fly Fishing Championship will be held this spring from May 19 to 22 in Cherokee. In addition to fishing in tribal waters, about 60 of the nation’s top fly-fishing experts will test their angling skills along nearby stretches of water: the Tuckasegee River below Western Carolina University, the upper and lower sections of the Nantahala River, and a to-be-determined area lake.

This marks the first time the competition has been held in the Southeast.

“It’s a really big deal,” said an unabashedly excited sounding Matt Pegg, executive director of the Cherokee Chamber of Commerce. “This events puts fishing in and around Cherokee on a national stage. It puts us up with the big boys.”

Not to mention the corresponding upward spending bump expected at area hotels, restaurants and shops. Hundreds of spectators from the U.S. and from other countries are expected to attend.

The anglers will be tested in a variety of water — low, high, fast, slow.

“We’re putting them in places where we know there’s great fishing, but they have to be skilled,” Pegg said. “And these guys are the best.”

If, for instance, a raft full of tourists paddles through, or a kayaker drifts by, the competition on the lower Nantahala, so be it, Pegg said. That’s fishing, and so goes on many days the experience of fishing that particular stretch of water.

The tournament organizers and hosts are the N.C. Fly Fishing Team, the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians Fish and Wildlife Management Department and the Cherokee Chamber of Commerce, with River’s Edge Outfitters in Cherokee a supporter of the effort.

Cherokee is well known as a trout fishing destination, due in part to the stellar stocking of creeks and rivers by its own tribal hatchery. Robert Blankenship, director of the Cherokee fish hatchery and stocking operation, said putting Cherokee on the map as the best fishing destination in the Southeast has been their goal.

They raise and stock 400,000 trout, including trophy-sized, in 30 miles of stream. Compare that to the state of North Carolina, which puts 800,000 trout on 1,000 miles of stream.

“We are putting half that into only 30 miles,” Blankenship said.

Cherokee has gotten a great response from designating a 2.2-mile stretch of the Oconaluftee as catch-and-release, fly-fishing-only waters, a move that has lured new fishermen to the area.

Blankenship agreed it was quite a coup to land the tournament.

“It’s normally held in Vale, Colorado, or Jackson Hole, Wyoming, or somewhere out West,” Blankenship said.

Fishermen watching the nationals might decide to book their next fly-fishing trips here instead, further enforcing the region’s growing reputation.

“It will be good for Cherokee and the surrounding area and the local economy,” Blankenship said.

Another factor that puts WNC on the national fly-fishing map: fishermen from the western counties regularly dominate spots on the N.C. Fly Fishing team, and a couple of them usually go on to claim spots on the U.S. team each year. The tournament held here will determine who gets a spot on that coveted national team this year, said Paul Bourcq of Franklin, vice president of the N.C. Fly Fishing Team of Franklin. Those who make Team USA have a shot at the world team.

Bourcq is one of the big reasons the U.S. National Fly Fishing Championship is coming to WNC. He’s hosting the Southeastern Regional Qualifier for anglers this weekend (Feb. 19-20) with venues on the lower Nantahala, upper Nantahala and Queens Creek Lake in northwestern Macon County. Bourcq said this qualifier would serve to help polish organizational skills the sponsors need to pull off a great national championship competition.

Fly-fishing has long been a hotly competitive and avidly followed sport in Europe, and it enjoys a level of popularity there comparable to that of bass fishing in this nation.

“This will help make the Southeast a destination for fly fishing,” Bourcq said, who added that an angler is only as good as the water he fishes, and in WNC some of the best fly-fishing in the nation can be enjoyed.


Get involved

If you can read a ruler and measure a fish, then you have exactly the skills necessary to be a judge in the U.S. National Fly Fishing Championship, scheduled for May 19-22 in Cherokee.

Organizer Paul Bourcq needs judges, and lots of them — 60, to be exact, and he has only 20 signed up. This, he said, would be an excellent service project, perhaps for Boy Scout or Girl Scout troops. Grownups are welcome, too, of course. Contact This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.; or through

Cherokee police ask citizens to text their tips

Crime reporting in the region has moved into the digital age, thanks to the Cherokee Police Department’s new text-a-tip program.

The system offers tipsters the option to text, via their cell phones, about crime they know about. This can be done anonymously, and the text-a-tip program has the added option of online reporting.

“It is good,” said Bo Taylor, a resident of the Big Cove community, and leader of the neighborhood watch. “Our only issue is everywhere in Big Cove is not accessible to the Internet, or has good phone coverage.”

Police Chief Ben Reed said the new program gives his department another weapon in their arsenal to use against criminals, while simultaneously offering the community another avenue to stay connected to the organization tasked with keeping them safe.

“I thought it would be a good way for the public to report crime anonymously,” Reed said. “A lot of people want to contribute and talk but they don’t want to put their name out there.”

Reed said the system is not only targeting would-be informants wishing to protect their identities, but also those too busy to use traditional means of reporting.

“A lot of people communicate though texting and we saw that it was a convenient way to target the amount of people that do text on a daily basis.”

The system itself is simple to operate – a text to the designated number along with keyword “saferez” will instantly reach the department’s e-mail system. It’s then forwarded to the appropriate officers to investigate the charge.

The data sent to police is encrypted on multiple levels, so it’s impossible for investigators to track the sender, making it a truly anonymous report. Citizens can choose to allow the department to text them a response to the tip, but their phone number still won’t be available to investigators.

Reed said that although many of the tips they get are for drug-related crimes, he wants residents to know that the system isn’t just a drug-reporting line.

“It’s important for people to know that this is designed to report any crime, not just drug crime,” Reed said. “You can report child abuse, neglect, information on theft, open investigations, assault, drug crimes, traffic crimes, anything.”

Cherokee isn’t the first to implement such a program; tip texting has become part of the reporting system at larger police departments around the country in places such as San Francisco and Boston, where police said they struggled for decades against a strong anti-snitching culture. But Reed said that his department is the first to offer the service in this area.

Cherokee offers the service through a company called TipSoft, which sells and operates a wide-ranging menu of software designed to help law enforcement officials track, report and stop crime in an increasingly digital era.

Reed said they’re employing text-a-tip as one facet of a new digital approach to crime prevention. Soon, he said, they’ll be rolling out online programs that will allow residents to access digital maps of the crime in their area and see constantly updated crime statistics for the entire reservation.

Reed said he sees far-reaching implications for these new, hi-tech crime-fighting techniques, and hopes that they will engage the younger generation to actively work against crime in the community.

“We want to target younger people as well with this by promoting it in the school system to help prevent bullying,” said Reed.

Such measures might also help relieve community tensions that have built surrounding arrests and prosecutions on the reservation. At a special public meeting on law and order held last month, Reed fielded complaints from more than a few citizens who lamented witnessing crimes in their neighborhoods but having little police response, especially in outlying areas of the reservation.

While the crime mapping and statistical services are not yet operational, the text-a-tip server is up and running, and officials said they’ve already seen an uptick in reporting, a trend they hope will continue.

Jurisdiction quagmire challenges Cherokee courts

Tribal leaders and prosecutors in Cherokee will now have stronger tools to mete out justice to criminals on the reservation, thanks to a bill signed into law by President Obama last year.

The Tribal Law and Order Act of 2010, approved by Congress and the president in July of last year, gives tribal governments and court systems such as the ones in Cherokee increased power and flexibility in fighting crimes that are committed on their lands.

In the past, the jurisdictional tangle surrounding justice for crimes committed on the reservation, along with limited allowances on punishments, have meant that criminals don’t always get the penalties they may deserve for offenses in Cherokee.

Under old law, the harshest sentence a tribal court could impose for any charge was one year in prison and a $5,000 fine, which pales in comparison to the maximum penalties allowed at the state and federal level.

Now, tribes are free to approve penalties of up to three years and are allowed to stack up to three charges. That means that, if adopted by Tribal Council, multiple severe offenders could see as much as nine years of prison time.

To Tribal Prosecutor Jason Smith, this is a huge accomplishment for tribal justice and will change the face of many of his cases.

“It’s the biggest change that the new law has brought about as far a criminal liability is concerned,” said Smith. “I’m hopeful that it will allow the tribal court to prosecute and to punish a broader range of crimes more appropriately, to more appropriately and effectively deal with more serious crime than they have done in the past.”


A convoluted court

Committing a crime in Cherokee – and being prosecuted for it – isn’t as cut and dried as it would be outside the reservation. Not everyone who breaks the law in Cherokee can expect to go to tribal court for it, nor can everyone expect that they’ll be held accountable by state or federal law enforcement. As Smith puts it, “jurisdiction is a huge quagmire. It’s not as simple as that.”

To begin with, only enrolled members of the Eastern Band, enrolled members of other federally recognized tribes and non-U.S. citizens can be punished by tribal courts. In Cherokee, they have an extra provision for others who want to fall under the tribe’s authority – a waiver of jurisdiction, in legal speak – but it’s entirely optional and not without controversy.

Everybody else – which includes non-Indian local residents, American tourists, casino patrons – will get pursued by the long arm of some non-Native law, be it local for piddly offenses such as speeding, state for bigger but still victimless crimes, or federal for more major crimes or those perpetrated by Indians against non-Indian victims, and vice versa.

To call it a quagmire is putting it kindly, but according to Smith and Don Gast, his cohort in the U.S. Attorney’s office who prosecutes Cherokee’s federal cases, they do a good job of working within that framework.

According to Gast, his office doesn’t decline tribal cases in the same way they would with non-tribal cases. Of the many cases that come across a normal federal prosecutor’s desk, many are just too small-time to warrant attention in federal courts.  Gast doesn’t do that with cases that come to him from Cherokee.

“We don’t decline cases in our districts on the basis of crimes being not big enough in scope like we do on state cases,” said Gast, because they realize that for these cases, many of which are violent crimes such as rape and child abuse, federal court is their one chance to bring the alleged criminal to justice.


Bringing order out of chaos

Such crimes are the very reason the Tribal Law and Order Act was created. An Amnesty International study found that Native American women were more than twice as likely to suffer domestic abuse than other women in the United States, and a separate Department of Justice study found that one third of Native American women will experience rape in their lifetime.

Although neither of these unusually high statistics is caused by the difficult maze of prosecution and justice tribal jurisdiction creates, both named it as a barrier to lowering those high rates.

In light of that, the other important provision the law makes is a recommendation for formalized procedures for sending cases to federal court and closer communication with the local U.S. Attorney’s office. There’s even a provision for cross-training a tribal prosecutor as a Special Assistant U.S. Attorney, or SAUSA, who would be able to follow cases off the reservation and into federal court and prosecute them there.

In Cherokee, they’re keen to see more cases federally prosecuted. At a special meeting on law and order held last week, more than one member expressed frustration at what they perceive as a high number of cases that don’t get taken to federal court, leaving victims without justice.

Council Member Teresa McCoy believe that some of the burden for making sure fewer cases fall through the cracks should fall to the council.

“Well, if we’re telling our public it just wasn’t big enough for the feds to take, then our laws should handle it,” said McCoy, advocating for adoption of the stiffer penalties the new federal law allows and possible banishment from the reservation for non-tribal members who can’t be prosecuted in tribal court.

“Every time there’s a dismissal there’s a victim and that victim got no help,” she said.

“We still have a way to help ease the pain of the public.”


No state “safety net”

Gast wouldn’t entirely agree with that assessment. He’s firm on the fact that he prosecutes any and every tribal case that comes before him unless it’s out of his jurisdiction or it’s a bad case. And, he said, because of the nature of many of the crimes – domestic, child and sexual abuse, among other violent crimes – there are more bad cases than a normal federal prosecutor, who mostly deals with proactive cases like sting operations, would see.

The sad truth, said Gast, is that often victims won’t or are afraid to speak, recant their stories or don’t want to prosecute their attackers. And this is true across the nation, not just on the reservation.

He maintains that, while tribal cases may be declined more often than non-tribal federal cases, that declination rate isn’t really any higher than the rates for similar crimes in state courts. Unreported or unprosecuted violent crimes are part of a broader, national trend that often has nothing to do with the prosecutor and everything to do with the victim.

“The mission of the U.S. Attorney’s office is to prosecute crime,” said Gast. “And in Indian country, the scope of that mission is broader because we don’t have the safety net of the state court.”

Still, in Indian Country, many would like to see the cracks that criminals have long slipped through closed, in whatever way they can.

Though Gast doesn’t see a need for it, Smith said he’d like to look into the possibility of a SAUSA for Cherokee. “It’s certainly something I think a lot of the public here would be in favor of,” said Smith, an observation that was proven true by public sentiments expressed at last week’s meeting.

But overall, Smith echoed Gast, noting the good working relationship that he enjoys with Gast’s office, a benefit not enjoyed by many western tribes, who are laboring with overworked prosecutors in huge districts.

“We’re in better shape than a lot of places and a lot of reservations because we have that cooperation and we have had with the U.S. Attorney,” said Smith. “But could it be better? Absolutely.”

Ghost Dance has a long history in Cherokee

(Note: This is part one of a two-part series regarding the Cherokee Ghost Dance. Part two will present Michelene Ethe Pesantubbee’s conclusions and perspectives on the movement.)


The belief in the coming of a messiah, or deliverer, who shall restore his people to a condition of primitive simplicity and happiness, is probably as universal as the human race, and takes on special emphasis among peoples that have been long subjected to alien domination. In some cases the idea seems to have originated from a myth, but in general it play safely be assumed that it springs from a natural human longing.

— Handbook of American Indians (1906)


Few know there was a Ghost Dance movement among the Cherokees almost 80 years before the infamous epoch in the American west that culminated in the Indian massacre at Wounded Knee.

Flash back to January 1889 … a Paiute Indian named Wavoka (aka Jack Wilson), while suffering from high fever, had a vision during a total eclipse of the sun. This revelation became the genesis of the religious movement known as the Ghost Dance. At first the Indians believed the dance would simply unite them with friends and relatives in the ghost world. As the movement spread from tribe to tribe, however, the dancers began to imagine that the dance would make them invincible.

It consisted of slow shuffling movements following the course of the sun. It would be performed for four or five days and was accompanied by singing and chanting. It would, they imagined, cause the world to open up and swallow all other people, while the Indians and their friends would remain on this land, which would return to its beautiful and natural state. In addition, a ghost shirt made of buckskin cloth was said to render the wearer immune to bullets.

The unity and fervor that the Ghost Dance movement inspired, however, only fear and hysteria among white settlers and contributed to the events ending in the massacre at Wounded Knee in 1890. When the smoke cleared and the gunfire ceased, more than 300 Sioux, some wearing ghost shirts, lay dead.

Flash back another 78 years. The story of the much earlier Cherokee version of the Ghost Dance is related in an essay titled “The Cherokee Ghost Dance Movement of 1811-1813” by William G. McLoughlin in the book The Cherokee Ghost Dance: Essays on the Southeastern Indians, 1789-1861 (Mercer University Press, 1984).  McLoughlin’s essay is presented as an overview of the extant 19th century accounts of the movement: as told by two Cherokees, Major Ridge and James Wafford; as published in the “Cherokee (Oklahoma) Advocate” in 1844; as recorded in the official mission diaries, 1811-1812, of the Moravians; and as observed by two U.S. Indian agents.

It was James Mooney, author of Myths of the Cherokees (1900), who first characterized the events as a Ghost Dance movement. Mooney, who lived among the Cherokees during the late 1880s, was also the author of The Ghost-Dance Religion and Wounded Knee, the definitive study of the western events.

McLoughlin summarizes the eastern Ghost Dance events as follows, with this writer’s additions in brackets:

“In the troubled years 1811-1812 . . . a prophet named Charlie [i.e., Tsali, but not the individual involved in the Removal events of 1838] appeared among the Cherokee and described a dream or vision in which the Great Spirit spoke to him. [Some accounts speak of there being several prophets rather than just one.] The Great Spirit said he was angry with the Cherokees because they had departed from the customs and religious practices of their ancestors and were adopting the ways of the white man. To regain the favor of the Great Spirit and overcome their troubles, the Cherokees were told by their prophet to give up everything they had acquired from the whites (clothing, cattle, plows, spinning wheels, featherbeds, fiddles, cats, books) and return to the old ways: they must dance their old dances…. The prophet also said that those who did not heed this message would be punished and some would die. [`Now I have told you the will of the Great Spirit, and you must pass on it,’ he is reported to have said in one account, `But if you don’t believe my words, look up into the sky.’] Though Charlie met some opposition, he found many ready to accept his revelations, and he went on to say that it had been revealed to him that on a specific date, three months hence, a terrific wind and hailstorm would take place that would annihilate al the white men, all the cattle, and all the works of the white man. [Some accounts predicted a three-day eclipse rather than a hailstorm.] The hailstones would be ‘as large as hominy blocks’ and would crush all those who did not retreat to a special, charmed spot high in the Great Smoky Mountains where they would be safe. [The charmed spot was perhaps Clingmans Dome, the highest peak in the Smokies, which the Cherokees know as Yonah.] After the storm, these true believers would be able to return to their towns where they would find all of the deer, elk, buffalo, and the other game that had disappeared. Then they would live again as their ancestors did in the golden era before the white man came.”

There was no storm or eclipse. The Ghost Dance fervor withered and died without a return to a golden era. In the end, as was inevitable, superior numbers won out. Four thousand Cherokees died during the 1838 forced removal. But for a while the Cherokees danced and returned to the old ways in an attempt to stem the tide.


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..

Cashing in: Tribe teaches teens to get smart with casino windfall

This year in Cherokee, a major change will quietly work its way into law, causing little fanfare but marking a historic shift in policy towards the casino profits that, for 15 years, have been divided among all members of the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians.

After April, teenagers will be required to go through financial training, before getting their share of the money, a measure that’s the first of its kind among Native American nations.

Principal Chief Michell Hicks says he’s pretty pleased with that decision, and the advantage it gives the tribe.

“Cherokee is way ahead of the game,” Hicks says. “The Eastern Band stands out in front.”

Hicks interacts with other tribes at conferences and events around the country, but knows of none that require this level of financial planning for the recipients of casino profits.

He — and the Tribal Council — hope that it will bring increased responsibility and burgeoning bank accounts to the tribe’s newest adults, who have not always had a history of cultivating either.


Big money (and big responsibility)

It’s ten minutes past three on a cold, Friday afternoon, and five high school seniors are gathered around a conference table at Cherokee High School, laden with backpacks and clearly very ready to get away from school work and into the weekend.

In the vast majority of ways, they appear to be like every high school senior in every town across America. They have the kind of names that characterize their generation — Kayla, Katlin, Skylar — and the attendant trappings, too. Cell phones flip back and forth idly in more than a few hands, more than a few thumbs swiftly click across tiny keyboards.

But in one unique way, they’re less similar to their peers in other places than a first glance might betray: these particular kids will mark their 18th birthday with more than some kudos, a voting card and maybe the keys to a used clunker. Quite a bit more, actually.

Since the end of 1995, every enrolled tribal member of the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians has enjoyed a cut of the earnings from the boundary’s biggest breadwinner — Harrah’s Cherokee Hotel and Casino. Back then, that amounted to $595 a year. By 2010, it had jumped to $7,347 annually.

Today, the total payments for someone who have received the money from the outset works out to $92,000, no paltry sum. Children have their portion held in trust until their 18th birthday, and invested – “conservatively” says Chief Hicks – by Tribal Council and a special committee. And as the casino grows, so will revenue, and so will the trust fund for minors.

So when that monumental day comes to these six teens — and the other four-and-a-half-thousand odd tribal members who are still minors — a sizeable chunk of money will be laid in their newly adult hands.

“The first thing one goes out and gets is a brand new car,” says Jeremy Wilson. “This is the first question everyone who is about to get their big per-capita check is asked: ‘What kind of car you going to get?’”

Wilson would know, too. He’s 22 now and he got his money in 2007, so he had 12 years to consider what four-wheeled treasures such a cache of cash could purchase.

When he got the money, he did buy a new car — a Honda, relatively low in the flash department but still with a respectable level of youthful hipness — but with the remaining $35,000, he made a rather more adult decision. He invested it.

Is that normal?

He’s not sure. He can’t speak for everybody, says Wilson diplomatically. He was pushed towards the decision by his mother and elders in his life. But he will say that he was fairly unique among those he went to school with.

“When you’re 18 years old, and you are holding a check for $50-70,000 in your hands, what is the first thing you are going to think of?” he asks, almost rhetorically, answering himself: “it most likely won’t be mutual funds or Roth-IRAs.”


The Prodigal Spender

If you spend long enough talking to nearly anyone in Cherokee about kids and their per-capita checks, there is a certain sentence that will always enter into the conversation, in some incarnation or another. You will hear it from local leaders, young adults like Jeremy Wilson, school officials, financial counselors — the underlying theme in the current of conversation that will, without fail, bob to the top of the stream. It goes something like this: “you always hear about the kids who got the money and frittered it away on flash,” or some variant thereof.

According to Tribal Council Member David Wolfe, it’s why the idea of mandatory financial education was broached in the first place. And it was, in fact, an effort by young people themselves.

The teens at Junaluska Leadership approached the tribal council asking for help for themselves and their peers.

“They’ve heard the horror stories,” says Wolfe. “As the money in the trust fund has grown over time, now it’s getting to be a huge pot of money for them to be responsible for at 18.”

Keith Sneed, who works with Qualla Financial Freedom and has a vested interest in the issue, puts it in terms of cars. There is a multitude of bad stories, he says, about the giddy purchase of a set of wheels at sticker price and nothing to show for it years later but an old car.

“That’s all he’s going to have is an old Ford pickup,” says Sneed of the proverbial teen about whom there are so many cautionary tales.

It would be an understatement to say that Sneed rather dislikes that scenario. It is his dream to see every per-capita check recipient parlay that money into a million by age 40. And he genuinely doesn’t think that’s an unreasonable goal, which is why he started Manage Your ECBI Money.

In the simplest terms, it’s an online financial management course, and as of April, passing it with 80 percent is mandatory for anyone who wants their money at 18, as is high school graduation. For those that forego either, they’ll have to wait until age 21 to get their check.

Sneed is no fool when it comes to knowing what does — and does not — get through to teenagers.

According to Jason Ormsby, Cherokee High’s principal, he’s started heading up a yearly program called Mad Money, where he and volunteers from the community come together and simulate real life for an hour, throwing ninth graders into an imaginary financial world where they must manage their own money and deal with financial problems that are thrown their way.

“It’s real world scenarios in about a hour — your whole life in about an hour,” says Ormsby succinctly. And, he says, the simulation’s proven a success thus far.

Sneed is a far cry from teenagerhood himself, but he has spent the lion’s share of his life in the presence of the young, as a school teacher and now a financial outreach worker of sorts. And, making the adept observation that his interactions with youth these days trended towards the technological — e-mail, texting and the like — he saw an opportunity emerging to realize his dream that could actually work.

So he pitched it, and pitched it hard, enlisting the help of the First Nations Development Institute, who offer support and grant funding to initiatives by and for Native Americans, as well as the expertise of financial experts from every side of the economic world — bankers, investors, money managers and their ilk. And when he’d gotten a product he liked, he took it to the Tribal Council, who voted to make it mandatory.


It’s all in the approach

At this point in the tale, it should be noted that this isn’t the tribe’s inaugural foray into giving their young members some guidance in the ways of wise money management. It is the first time it’s been mandatory, but there have long been voluntary options for fiscal training.

Jeremy Wilson says he got some, in the form of the College Experience Program put on by the Tribal Education Department. A guy from First Citizen’s Bank came in, he says, and talked to Wilson and his youthful compatriots about financial options, wise investing and other similarly responsible and important economic topics.

“The only problem was, we were young,” says Wilson, by way of explanation for the less-than-lasting impact the surely admirable efforts had.

“This was nothing but sheer boredom to us, and even though a lot of people get onto us about how important it is for us to listen and pay attention, those people need to realize that you have to have the right strategy for the right audience,” says Wilson, offering a comparison to put a finer point on the problem. “If you are going to talk to a bunch of 15- to 18-year-olds about portfolios and showing stocks and numbers in a Powerpoint, you may as well talk to your grandfather about how to work an iPad.”

And it’s a salient point. If the youth of Cherokee have been playing the part of the prodigal son for the last 16 years, the well-intentioned programs and educational options of teachers and other adults were little more than the father’s pontificating to the son’s party-ready ears.

That, says Sneed, is why he’s looking to the kids themselves to craft a program that’s a little more, well, down with the kids.

“We’re asking the questions that they ask, not what their parents want to ask,” Sneed says. He brought young people into his office to meet with bank presidents, let them open up about what they didn’t understand in a more familiar environment on their terms, because, he says, “an 18-year-old walking into a bank president’s office is intimidating. It’s intimidating for grown people.” And the feedback from those interviews and many more like them built the groundwork for the Manage Your Money course, which is the first of its kind. They even have a series of YouTube videos featuring young tribal members and a hip-hop soundtrack that tout the merits of the program.

Sarah Dewees, a lead consultant with First Nations who helped Sneed develop the curriculum, says the efforts are groundbreaking.

“EBCI is actually on the cutting edge,” says Dewees. “They’re the first tribe that I know of to do an online financial course,” though she says many are re-examining their policies about minors and their monies, now that the amounts are beginning to grow.

She too, thinks the program is becoming necessary, not because Cherokee teens in particular have a hard time managing money, but because kids in general do.

“Any young person who is given a big responsibility or a large amount of money needs help to think about the best way to manage it, and when you’re young, you don’t really have a long-term view,” says Dewees. That’s the sentiment in Cherokee among those working to put that education in place, and those who wish they’d had it.

Getting back to 22-year-old Wilson, he has a lot of faith in his peers, but there’s only so much you can expect from an 18-year-old if you don’t give them any guidance.

“Our youth are smart, they really are,” says Wilson. “They just need to be given the right tools and strategies to help them become financially savvy.”

Chief Hicks says that this, more than anything, is the goal for young people, and the goal of this new law — equipping them to make better investments that will serve them longer than a new car.

“I’ve always been a believer that we need to continue to raise the bar on financial responsibility,” says Hicks. He says that financial programs like Sneed’s are, and have been, the key to changing the way young members think about where their money goes. That, says Hicks, is the long-term goal: change thinking to change actions.

“We want them to simply make the long-term investment, whether that’s a home or some other long-term investment, [to think] ‘you know this big nest egg, I’m going to do something with it,” says Hicks.


The conscientious kids?

Cut back to the high school, where our six seniors are sharing their plans for their per-capita money. Given Wilson’s assessment of his classmates attitudes towards investing the cash just four short years ago — “it’s not a popular topic”— it’s a little surprising to hear six teenagers talk about what they’re going to do with tens of thousands of dollars and not hear a single mention of the word Porsche.

In fact, the buzzwords that are bandied about are fiscal terms like “stocks” and “property” and “savings account.”

At the head of the table is Troy Arch. He’s antsy to leave for some other extracurricular activity, and when asked what his plans are, he quickly shoots back, “invest it in stocks.”

What kind of stocks?

“I don’t know, just some kind of stocks.”

Well, at least the intent is there, even if he hasn’t gotten the specifics nailed down yet.

Down the table, Kaitlin Bradly interjects confidently, rattling off what she thinks today’s Google stock price is.

She seems to be the ahead-of-the-curve type — the only one here who has already gone through the online course — and she’s in favor of settling her money in several different bank accounts, choosing the ones that have the best interest to drop the bulk into.

Skylar Bottchenbaugh, one of two 18-year-olds in the room, wants to invest his, too, though he’s got a more concrete goal in mind than simple savings.

He’s headed to Texas upon graduation, where he’ll study to be an auto mechanic.

“I want to invest into my own garage,” he says, and he’s gotten feedback from his family and college advisors that investing his big check first is a good way to start on that dream.

Of course, he adds, he’s going to buy himself a car, but not a new one, “because you’ll end up trading it in sooner or later. Probably a Kia or something.”

Again, not quite the expected car of choice for a teenager sitting on 70 grand.

In terms of pure intent, these students are a far cry from the anecdotal teen who has historically featured so heavily in the minds of those trying to help educate them. And that may be, in part, because that education is working, that programs like Mad Money are already getting through.

But another factor in play here may simply be time. Per-capita checks have been handed out now for just over 15 years, which is as far back as most of these students can remember.

All of them will say that the decisions of those that came before them had a hand in crafting their outlook today. They have seen firsthand how easy it is to flush away a few thousand. And so have their families.

“My parents have kind-of had a say in mine,” says Kayla Smith, also 18. “They see how everybody else spends theirs just randomly — two months and it’s gone.”

Yes, agree the others, we’ve seen that, too. And we do not think it is a clever idea.

To stick with the Biblical analogy, they’re playing the part of the other brother, watching unimpressed as the prodigal parties to the pig pen, determined not to share that path themselves.

Some of them, though, are similarly unimpressed that their responsibility — or intent towards such — hasn’t translated into a greater degree of respect from authorities. They don’t think money management should be mandatory for everyone, just those who drop out or flunk out. Yes, they’ve all chosen to study up on savings and investment, to seek sound financial counsel. But they resent the fact that they’re being forced into it.

“I think it’s unfair that they make us take this test,” says Bottchenbaugh. “We’ve waited all this time to get it. It’s our money, we should be able to spend it the way we want to, even if it’s blowing it in a few days.”

Some of that viewpoint, of course, is a by-product of youth, the compulsion to bristle against anything that’s compulsory.

And Sneed says he thinks the tribe would be remiss in not giving every kid the chance to acquire some solid financial skills, because, he says, in every group, regardless of outside influence, there will always be a few on each extreme of the spectrum — some who blow through the money recklessly, some who care for it wisely. The crowd he’s after is the middle, the average kid who might do great things with it, if only they knew how.

“There’s going to be a few that, no matter what you do, they’re going to throw their money away,” says Sneed. “The majority need direction and help, and that’s what we’re trying to provide: direction and help.”

Chief Hicks has a response for that mindset, as well: they will still get their money, just a few years later. And, he says, the idea in that was to, at least, provide every young person with three extra years of “natural experience” before coming into such wealth.

In other tribes around the country, the concept of staggered payments – breaking the lump sum into smaller chunks to be paid out at age 18, 21 and 24 – has been introduced for precisely that reason. And Hicks says it’s been bandied about for years among the Eastern Band. Even with the new course in place, it’s an idea that he’s certain isn’t dead yet and will swing back into the dialogue at some point.

“I think it’s going to be a topic that comes back alive as the money increases,” says Hicks. “Our students could save $10,000 if we did staggered payments.”


Hope for the financial future

Whether or not attitudes are already changing among Cherokee’s youth, Sneed says he hopes the direction and help will begin to show itself four, five or 20 years down the road, when today’s teens — and by extension the community around them — are more financially stable than their predecessors.

For the chief, it’s his hope as well, that the young people of the tribe would make sound investments now that would carry into the future. And while he thinks that gaining experience, education and training off the boundary is important — he, Sneed and Wolfe have all done so — he doesn’t see return and reinvestment of that same money into the reservation as an impossibility.

“I definitely think that’s an area that’s wide open,” says Hicks of entrepreneurship on the boundary, and he says that, even now, the tribe is making efforts to close the gap between current entrepreneurs, many of whom are older, and younger minds and money trying to learn the ropes.

In Wolfe’s eyes, he sees the long-term benefits of this program and others like it coming back to boost the whole community. He sees it as a “nation-building” effort.

“Before this, we didn’t have very many going to school and college. I think that’s a great sign of things to come out of these investments — to promote secondary education, that we can build on it,” says Wolfe. “That’s the type of scenario that we’re trying to create in a nation.”

And it’s hard to tell if our six teens represent a wholesale change in the attitudes of youth across the board. There is some element of self-selection — why come talk about your per-capita plans if you have none or don’t care to make any?

Principal Jason Ormsby, who has a more on-the-ground perspective, says he has seen a change in the attitudes of his students as a whole.

“I see more and more kids investing it, going on to college or buying a house, using it more wisely,” Ormsby says, and he hopes his students take the new education they’re about to get to heart.

“I’d like for them to take some of it and have a good time, you know buy themselves something, but I’d like to see them invest it and go on to school and see what happens then. Just don’t be in a hurry to spend it on stuff that’s not really that important.”

As someone who’s looking back from just a few years down that path, Jeremy Wilson’s parting wisdom to today’s 18-year-olds runs in the same vein.

“Don’t let per-capita consume you, don’t let it be your main concern, because there are too many areas in our communities that are in need of dire attention,” counsels Wilson. “If we can improve how we manage our money, we won’t need to look forward to the next per-capita check because then we will know we’re doing just fine, and we can then focus on more important things.”

Renowned historian and storyteller to give presentation in Haywood Jan. 16

The Haywood County Arts Council is proud to present Master Cherokee storyteller and historian Lloyd Arneach will perform at the Haywood County Arts Council’s Sunday Concert Series at 3 p.m. on Jan. 16 at the Haywood County Library in Waynesville.

An enrolled member of the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians, Arneach was born and reared on the Cherokee Reservation in Cherokee. He learned his first legends from two storytelling Uncles on the reservation.

His father was vice chief of the Eastern Band and his mother was the first woman ever elected to the Tribal Council. From 1970 to 1990, Lloyd traveled throughout the state of Georgia lecturing on Cherokee history and culture. This was done in his spare time while working for AT&T. In 1990, he added storytelling to his presentations on culture and history, and in 1993 began a full-time career as both storyteller and historian.

Arneach  presents his stories in a style that is humorous, informative and extremely moving. Lloyd’s stories range from the “old stories” of the Cherokee to contemporary stories he has collected, from creation stories to behind the scenes of “Dances with Wolves.” He tells stories of different Native Americans like Floyd Red Crow Westerman; Billy Mills, an Olympic champion; a young Cree Indian girl with no stories to tell; and a postmaster on the Papago Reservation.

He shares historical stories from a variety of Native American tribes. Some of these stories are difficult for Arneach to tell because of the strong feelings associated with his experiences as a Native American. Arneach will also have a number of Native American artifacts to show and demonstrate on Jan. 16.

Arneach has told stories at the Kennedy Center, National Folklife Festival (Washington, D.C.), the opening of the National Museum of the American Indian (Washington, D.C.), the Winnepeg International Storytelling Festival (Canada), festivals, schools, universities, pow-wows, theaters, and other venues throughout the United States. He has also told stories on the Discovery Channel. His CD Can You Hear the Smoke? features stories and legends adapted by Arneach. In 1992, Children’s Press published his book, The Animal’s Ballgame, based on one of Lloyd’s favorite Cherokee animal stories. During the summer of 2006 and 2008, Arneach performed in the Cherokee outdoor drama “Unto These Hills - A Retelling.” Lloyd finished a book of Cherokee stories, Long-Ago Stories of the Eastern Cherokee, that was released in early 2008. Lloyd now resides in Cherokee.

The Sunday Concert Series is co-sponsored by the Friends of the Haywood County Library. The concert is free and the public is cordially invited to attend.

For more information about the Sunday Concert Series, as well as other programs or events, visit the Haywood County Arts Council website at or call 828.452.0593.


Who: Haywood County Arts Council’s Sunday Concert Series

What: Native American Storyteller Lloyd Arneach

When: Sunday, January 16, 2011 @ 3pm

Where: Haywood County Public Library, 678 S. Haywood Street, Waynesville

Coming across words to remember

Editor’s note: George Ellison is snowed in without an Internet connection. This column first appeared in The Smoky Mountain News in January 2003.

Tuckaseigee, Oconaluftee, Heintooga, Wayah, Cullasaja, Hiwassee, Coweeta, Stecoah, Steestachee, Skeenah, Nantahala, Aquone, Katuwah, and on and on. Our place names here in the Smokies region are graced throughout with evidence of the Cherokee culture that prevailed for over 700 years. Wouldn’t it be nice if Clingmans Dome was correctly designated as Mount Yonah (high place of the bears)?

Still, we’re fortunate that all of the original place names weren’t obliterated. The same can be said for the Native American words that persist in what we now know as the American language. They add a poetic, almost musical touch to our everyday lives that would otherwise be sorely missed.

It’s interesting to keep track of the ways we find books that we enjoy via reviews, blurbs, word of mouth, etc. Before Christmas my friend Lee Knight, the folklorist and musician, came by for a visit and presented me with a little book titled Tracks That Speak: The Legacy of Native American Words in North American Culture (Houghton Mifflin Company, 2002) by Charles L. Cutler.

“There,” he said, “You’ll be able to get several columns out of that one.”

Lee knows me pretty well, so I just nodded agreement. And he was, of course, quite right. It’s my kind of book and touched upon the sort of material that I like to share via this column. I’m going to provide some of Cutler’s research to whet your appetite. Many will then no doubt want to obtain their own copies.

The author’s wife, Katherine, indicates that her husband passed away before the book’s publication. An Internet search indicates that he wrote various titles related to American history and Native American language. Tracks That Talk bears evidence to the obvious fact that he knew what he was writing about and enjoyed doing so.

The book is divided into various sections having to do with topics like shelter, clothing, plants, animals, and artifacts. Other sections are dedicated to miscellaneous words and, lastly, words having to do with “Spirit.”

In his introduction Cutler tells us that “This bountiful harvest of words springs from the more than one thousand native languages currently and formerly spoken in the Western Hemisphere ... many as different from one another as English is from Japanese. At the dawn of European settlement, probably sixty separate [word] families graced North America alone. Sadly only about half of the continent’s original stock of indigenous languages that existed [then] are still alive today, many of them spoken by no more than a handful of elderly tribes people ... This book examines the most prominent of English words that were borrowed from North American Indian languages and explains their background and the significance of the things they refer to, both in Native American and in general American cultural practices, each with its own tradition, extending into and influencing the present. When we follow their trail, we are reminded of words a storyteller of the Slavery tribe in Canada once used to describe the wolverine: ‘His tracks go on and on.’”

Here are some very brief excerpts from various entries within Tracks That Speak. These are misleading in that entries for individual words often go on for a page or more, creating mini-essays.

MOCCASIN: “The first appearance of the word in English occurs in 1609 [as] ‘mekezin’ ... A Crow warrior flaunted wolf tails at the heels of his moccasins after he accomplished that most daring of plains Indian feats — scoring a ‘coup,’ or touching and enemy’s body without injuring him.”

SUCCOTASH: “Combining the two main vegetables [corn and beans] was natural, since they were grown together (often with squash). According to the Iroquois, the spirits of the two ‘sisters’ wanted to remain together even when cooked and served.”

POKEWEED: “Settlers learned [from Indians] that pokeweed yielded still another bonus [other than as a cooked green] — a long-lasting red or purple ink [made by] boiling together pokeberries, vinegar, and sugar ... The great Sequoya would use pokeberry juice and a quill pen to transcribe the Cherokee language for the first time ... In the twentieth century rural people sometimes used the concoction for special writing purposes.”  

PERSIMMON: “The Indians customarily dried persimmons on mats spread over frames. This led to the Algonquian term ‘pasemenan,’ meaning ‘fruit dried artificially.’”

TERRAPIN: Indians respected the turtle as deliberate, calm, steadfast, and long-lived. Many revered it. A widespread belief in the Northeast ... was that Earth is Turtle Island — an island resting on the back of a giant turtle.”

CHIPMONK: “The outsized power of the small chipmonk is described in Iroquois legend. In early days, an animal council debated whether Earth should always remain in day or in night. Bear argued for perpetual night, but Chipmonk kept chattering for alternate night and day until dawn broke and resolved the argument. Bear angrily raked Chipmonk’s back with his claws, leaving indelible stripes on the animal ... [The Cherokee disagreed] saying that the animals once held a council in which it was proposed that each wish a disease on men for hunting them. Chipmonk refused to join in because it wasn’t among the hunted. The other animals attacked the little SQUAW: “some Indians claimed that ‘squaw’ arose from a Mohawk word meaning vagina. The word was worse than demeaning, they said — it was obscene. But Ives Goddard, the authority on American languages at the Smithsonian Institution, explains that this interpretation is not correct: ‘It is certain as any historical fact can be that the word squaw that the English settlers in Massachusetts used for Indian woman in the early 1600s was adopted by them from the word ‘squa’ that their Massachusett-speaking neighbors used in their own language to mean ‘female, younger woman’ and not from Mohawk.’”


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..

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