Eastern Band Cherokee History

Graphic symbolizes the forced division of the Tsalagi (Cherokee) people. The majority were rounded up by the U.S. Army, imprisoned in concentration camps, then herded to Oklahoma on the death march known as the Trail of Tears, 1838-39. About 1000 hid out and eventually gained the small Eastern Band Qualla Boundary reservation in North Carolina.

Searching for good Cherokee history websites for the history links pages here, I found only those that summarize post-1838 events in Oklahoma. These provide good historical summaries up to the point of the 1838-39 death marches, but neglect the Eastern Band, which now flourishes in North Carolina, so I finally decided to prepare a brief history of that group here, in default of someone doing a better job.

Presently the Eastern Band has about 57,000 acres in 5 counties of western North Carolina (map shaded area), This is comprised of some 52 tracts in 32 separate parcels of land, mostly wooded.
Possessory title to about 80% of this is held by individuals, but it is all in federal trust, and may not be sold except to other tribal members. The tribe has also in recent years been given back a few small land parcels in Tennessee -- Long Island of Kingsport City (because of its sacred character) and several easements from th Tennessee Valley (electrical power and dam) Authority for 3 tracts where the Sequoyah Birthplace Museum was built and an interpretive cultural center is planned, at the site of the original Cherokee Nation capital, Echota.

Currently, there are almost 10,000 enrolled members of the Eastern Band, about 6400 of whom live on the Qualla Boundary reservation (1990 census). Enrollment requires at least 1/32nd degree blood quantum descent from an enrollee on the 1924 Baker roll conducted when the tribe -- which had successfully resisted an attempted allotment under the Dawes Act -- succeeded in putting their remaining (Qualla Boundary) lands into federal trust so it cannot be sold, it is hoped.

Eastern Band members are descendants of those -- probably around 1,000 or so -- who were able to hide out in the hills, which were swarming with army and U.S. government agents, informers, and the like, seeking to round them up and ship them to Oklahoma. The method was to try to get them to sign an enrollment, and the best strategy was never to sign anything. (The purpose of this attempted 19th-century enrollment was always to ship them to Oklahoma.) (Put Tsali story here if can get permish and time to type)

In 1848, the U.S. Congress said it would recognize the rights of the North Carolina Cherokees provided the state government did so first. And after the Civil War, the reconstruction government (which included a lot of Indians and newly-freed slaves) did do so. Money that had been promised (but never delivered) in old treaties, was used to "buy" those lands from white ripoff artists. In 1876, the first land survey was conducted -- the Temple Survey, which essentially determined what is still the reservation boundaries (Qualla Boundary).

In 1889, the Eastern Band incorporated itself under the laws of North Carolina, something most tribes only found out how to do with the 1934 Indian Reorganization Act, or the 1960's establishment of Reservation Business Committee enterprises. They were thus able to transact business under legal existence as "Eastern Band." and that way obtained collective (tribal) title to their lands. But by 1890, the timber industry began clear-cutting, with much abuse of the people's rights, though some small amounts of money came in. Also people who were in hiding gradually came and began to live on the Qualla Boundary land. At the end of th 19th and beginning of the 20th century.

In 1924, the Band placed its lands in federal trust. During the post-World War I economic depression, Eastern Cherokees probably suffered as much or more than others. But they began to benefit in the 1930's from early tourists to the newly-established Great Smokies National Park, especially after greatly increased tourism after World War II.

At this time there was also a determined attempt to preserve the culture. The Qualla Mutual Arts and Crafts co-op -- the first and oldest such for any tribe -- was started, and helped to preserve knowledge and quality of Cheroke traditional work, especially basketry, as well as offering a marketing outlet and management experience to members. In 1950, the famed outdoor drama "Unto these Hills" was first performed, and the Oconaluftee Indian Village was soon opened. Both developments served the tourist income function, but also helped keep awareness and importance of the culture alive. Today, tourism is the principal economic resource on the Qualla Boundary reservation, entirely replacing subsistence farming, that was the main means of life until the 1940's. Tourism provides about 65% of the jobs now.

Over 200 businesses are located on the reservation, more than 2/3 owned by Indian people. There are 56 motels, 28 RV parks, 45 restaurants, 20 museum-cultural centers, 117 retail shops, and 91 other businesses. There are several bingos and lotto machine parlors. A large casino that is expected to provide 2,000 jobs is scheduled to open soon this year (November, 1996). The tribe maintains 2 industrial parks, with the Barclay textile company leasing space in one and employing about 400 people. Approximately 42,000 acres of the Qualla Boundary are forested, and harvested on a sustained-yield basis (tribal members own 2 logging companies). Tribal Fish and Game operates a trout hatchery which realizes about $200,000 annual income. Cherokee Heritage Garment Manufacturing presently employs about 70 people, and is currently focussed mainly on quilts and curtains, with future expansion potentials being examined. Qualla Arts and Crafts Mutual -- discussed on another page represnts more than 400 highly talented traditional artists -- with baskets remaining their best-selling item.

In 1984, the Eastern Band and the Cherokee Nation of Oklahoma met together in a historic council -- the first to unite the forcibly separated peoples in 150 years. They resolved to hold this joint council every other year, to deal with issues which affect both Cherokee groups.

Those interested in more than this very brief and superficial summary may find a good introduction in Cherokee Americans: The Eastern Band of Cherokee in the 20th Century, John Finger, University of Nebraska Press, 1991. Of course there are also hundreds of books -- maybe more -- about Cherokee people and the Trail of Tears, and the hardships and history of the people who survived in Oklahoma. Hopfully, tribal historians of the Eastern Band will begin posting history and current events on websites, too, soon.

See Eastern Chrokee Page which has (as yet) little content; some rsrvation school teachers are developing a lesson on local water conservation practices. Fire Run desxcribes an event running the Trail of Tears that was planned for the June, 1996 Atlanta Indian Olympics. Don't know whether it happened. The tribal newspaper One Feather has an article saying some Indian people felt snubbed by the Olympics organizers. Eastern Band traditional singer elder Walker Calhoun explains the meanings of some traditional songs and dances, with translations of 2 of his songs. North Carolina University students have a minimal astern Band page where you can get the address (but not name) of the band chairperson which they apparently didn't know.

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CREDITS: Divided Tsalagi people was a map symbol for a 1976 Awkesasne Notes poster, Indian Americas. I computer-traced it and colored it as a large 1993 poster for AIM's 25th reunion powwow.

Webmistress -- Paula Giese Explanatory text and graphics copyright 1995.

Last Updated: Tuesday, October 08, 1996 - 3:50:54 AM