Eastern Band of Cherokee observe history in Elizabethton

By Megan R. Harrell

Star Staff
mharrell@starhq.com

   Members of Tribal Counsel for the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians came to Sycamore Shoals State Park yesterday afternoon for a review of their heritage. The Principal and Vice Chiefs were among those that came to observe the location where there loss of land began.
   On March 18, 1775 Colonialist Richard Henderson purchased the land from the Cherokee Indians as part of a treaty. The transfer of land is one that is debated by the Cherokee because of Colonial Rule at the time. "It was an illegal sale of land because the colonists could not own land under British Rule and King George owned land if it were to be sold," Cherokee Historian, William Martin said. "Sycamore Shoals was the first of all of our land losses, and once this property was sold and the whites started moving in it began the loss of all of our property. And we are coming back and looking here because that land treaty was made here in 1775."
   The Counsel's visit to Elizabethton was the last leg of a historical tour around the region. They visited former Cherokee villages along the Little Tennessee River. Towns such as Chota, the former "Over Hill" capital of the Cherokee nation, Tuskgege, Toqua, and Tanasi, from which Tennessee was derived, offered valuable historical information to the tribal counsel. "We are to here to study and see some of the properties that have historical value to us," Principal Chief Leon Jones said. " We own property in Kingsport and there is some historical value for us here at this site and several other places and we are just touring around as part of our education."
   Albert Crowe is a Councilman from the Bird Town district and had never seen the historical sites before. "It was a little eerie in Chota because a couple hundred years ago that is where those people were taking care of their tribe on those same grounds," Crowe said.
   There is still an outline of the old Capital house in Chota where former tribe leaders similar to Crowe made decisions for their people. "It has been interesting and something I will never forget," Crowe said.
   Chief Jones spoke of the tribe's efforts to attain a parcel of land in the mountain park area adjacent to the Cherokee Indian Reservation in North Carolina, and across from Gatlinburg. "There is a small parcel of land 168 acres adjacent to the reservation and we are trying to get the park to release that piece of property because it is flat land and we live in the mountains with a very small valley," Chief Jones said.
   Chief Jones is counting on a stipulation set forth by Congress that allows the state to release up to 200 acres of land with out an act of law. "We are asking them to return 168 acres to us, but not just to give it to us we have a piece of land to give to them that is over 200 acres," Chief Jones said.
   The Cherokee plan to build an elementary, middle and high school on the parcel of land with amenities including parking lots and sports fields. The schools are part of a concentrated effort to preserve the Cherokee heritage and culture. "Naturally the more you know about your history the more you study it the more you know what to preserve and how to preserve it. There has been so much of our culture that has been lost so we are very active in teaching our children all the way from day care up about our history, our language, and our culture," Chief Jones said.
   Cherokee children learn the Sequoyah Syllabary, which is the equivalent to the English alphabet. The Cherokee language consists of 85 sounds with six vowels, and one constant that stands alone. The language has been retained over the years by passing it down from generation to generation, and now Cherokee children are able to be educated in their native tongue. "We are trying to get our culture back because we are a dying race of people and once the 12,600 of us in the Eastern Band of Cherokee are gone there will be nothing left and all we have will revert back to the government," Martin said.
   Martin is actively involved with Charlie Rhodarmer, Director of the Sequoyah Birthplace Museum, in educating Cherokee on how to trace their bloodlines. In order to be part of the Eastern Band of Cherokee a person has to have 1/16th Cherokee blood. Martin and Rhodarmer lead genealogy seminars that educate the public on how to track their backgrounds. Martin stated that it is vital for the Cherokee to discover their true lineage in order for his people to survive. For information on Cherokee genealogy seminars call 423-884-6246.