November is Native American Heritage Month, and The Qualla Boundary or Cherokee as it’s more commonly known, in the Great Smoky mountains of Western North Carolina offers several authentic ways to learn about the culture of the Eastern Band of the Cherokee Indians. Check out these three ways to celebrate Native American Heritage Month in Cherokee below:
1. Explore the Museum of the Cherokee Indian
Located in the Cherokee Cultural District, the Museum of the Cherokee Indian is one of the best ways to understand authentic Native American culture. Originally opened in 1948, it features a wide variety of interactive displays, including arrowheads, traditional beadworks, pottery, baskets, and more. The museum frequently receives new artifacts that are reviewed, vetted, and voted upon by the Collections Committee.
The current display titled “Disruption” pays homage to the proper preservation of ceremonial artifacts, and features works by 36 contemporary Cherokee artists.
“I’m pleased that we can care for objects in our collections that may not have been properly cared for when they were first collected,” said Shana Bushyhead Condill, Executive Director of the Museum of the Cherokee Indian. “I’m honored to bring objects home through repatriations, and I’m always excited when we can add contemporary Cherokee art to our collections. Together, they tell our story, and it’s our responsibility to care for and respect them.”
In addition to paying a visit to the Museum of the Cherokee Indian, Condill highlights several additional ways to get deepen one’s knowledge of Native American culture by reading:
- Local author Annett Saunooke Clapsaddle’s (Eastern Band of the Cherokee Indians) Even as we Breathe book
- Chief Wilma Mankiller’s (Cherokee Nation) Mankiller Poems: The lost poetry of the Principal Chief of the Cherokee Nation
- Jo Harjo’s (Muskogee Creek Nation) An American Sunrise
For those who prefer TV over books, Condill recommends watching Reservation Dogs on Hulu. This is one of the first shows created and produced primarily by Indigenous creatives.
Visiting your local Native American museum or online exhibition is another way to celebrate. Condill recommends the National Museum of the American Indian’s online feature called Ancestors Know Who We Are, curated by Anya Montiel (Mexican and Tohono O’odham descent).
2. Support Indigenous Artisans at Qualla Arts & Crafts
Directly across the road from the Museum of the Cherokee Indian is Qualla Arts & Crafts. This famous cooperative contains over 3,000 handmade authentic Cherokee items for purchase, including baskets, knives, pottery, and more. Qualla Arts & Crafts opened its doors in 1946 and is the nation’s oldest and foremost Native American Co-op. The vision was rooted in leaders who saw that Cherokee crafts – if preserved and promoted – could strengthen tribal values and provide livelihoods while offering unique beauty to the wider world.
3. Witness Living History at Judaculla Rock
Nestled in an expansive valley beneath the Blue Ridge Mountains is a collection of Native American petroglyphs known as Judaculla Rock. Just 15 minutes from Cullowhee, the boulder has been preserved in partnership with Jackson County, the Eastern Band of the Cherokee Indians, and landowners and is believed to be thousands of years old. The petroglyphs on it tell the legend of Tsul’ Kalu or Judaculla while placards along the way tell the details of the site as well as highlight the preservation efforts. Accessing this piece of vivid history is completely free, and you can learn more here.
Celebrating Native American Heritage Year-Round
Cherokee offers several opportunities to celebrate Native American Heritage every year. From April – October, the Oconaluftee Indian Village transports visitors to the 18th century. Along the way, you’ll see how the Cherokee once lived with traditional weapons demonstrations, basket weaving, canoe building, and more. During the same timeframe, the Unto These Hills outdoor drama portrays the unique story of the Cherokee from their historical beginnings up to the modern era.
Leading up to July 4th weekend is the annual Cherokee Powwow at the Cherokee Indian Fairgrounds. This event draws spectators and participants from across the country to witness authentic music, dancing, cuisine, and festivities.
Lastly, Mountain Heritage Day occurs in Cullowhee, NC, annually in September. Witness artisans making traditional pieces, watch Stick Ball tournaments, and indulge in a favorite dish – Indian Fry Bread.
Cherokee is full of natural wonders, including two of America’s Favorite National Park Sites – the Blue Ridge Parkway and the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. Take a scenic cruise through these stunning preserved lands and witness miles of sweeping scenic vistas, wildlife, and hiking trails along the way. Discover the grandeur of waterfalls such as Mingo and Soco Falls, or hit the links at Sequoyah National Golf Club. Harrah’s Cherokee Casino Resort is full of rotating events and has over 150,000 square feet of gaming space for gamers to try their luck. Cherokee is a special place where living history thrives. Plan your trip to the NC Mountains by using our Trip Planner to witness it for yourself.