The choice for location ten of my This is America Too project revolved around a few factors. It was the fourth consecutively in the Southeast, and I had already done two coastal towns and one slightly further inland. I had not yet visited the Appalachians and I felt like the mountains were calling me. I was also going to be in Asheville visiting some close friends, which solidified my choice to find something in that region. I began researching and it did not take long to settle on Cherokee. I wanted to know more about the Eastern Cherokee Band and thought it would make an important addition to the project.
The day I drove to Cherokee I woke up at the Mortimer Campground in the Pishga National Forest. I started there because I wanted to make the Blue Ridge Parkway a part of my drive but I didn’t realize it was going to be a lesson in mountain driving. The trip began with a ten mile, 1,500 foot climb, along a dirt road out of the valley the campground was located in. The journey down the night before was equally brutal. By the time I reached the Blue Ridge Parkway, I was feeling bad for my poor Bessie. The parkway is one of the most stunning drives I have taken, but from where I started it was 170 miles of consistent ascent and descent through the Appalachians. The weather ran the full gamut from clear skies, to dense fog, and heavy rain. The last sixty miles were grueling, but I was determined to reach the end. Then I began to smell the brakes, pulled off when I could, and noticed they were smoking. I let them cool and was especially careful as I finished the trip into Cherokee. Later that night I did some research and learned it is best to utilize second gear when going down steep mountains, something you don’t learn when you grow up driving in the flat Midwest.
Passing through Cherokee the first time, I got the feeling I was in the ultimate family vacation destination of the 1950s/60s. There was an antiquated gaudiness that almost seemed exploitative, a throwback to a time when it wasn’t politically incorrect to use the term Indian. I drove along the main roads through town, passing aged motel signs of cartoonish Native American chiefs and souvenir shops selling moccasins and miniature teepees as I searched for the Cherokee Campground where I was staying.
Finally, I located it, pulled in, and stopped at the office. The woman working was friendly, checked me in, and let me know it was cash only but I could pay later. There were a few spots for tents, which offered zero privacy, and the rest of the grounds were filled with RVs and cabins. I did have electricity and water though, and the grounds were right in the center of town making it worth the stay.
After setting up, I went in search of an ATM. Driving into Cherokee I didn’t notice the blocks of homes you would typically find in a U.S. town. I decided to go to a bank in a different neighborhood to see if it was more traditional, but I still found it foreign. I thought to myself that Cherokee was going to be very different from other places I had visited. I imagined I would have a difficult time capturing it in the short time I was there. After procuring my funds, I returned to the campground, paid, and set out to explore on foot with my camera.
First I wandered southeast along highway 19, cutting down side roads to explore. Mobile homes are popular in Cherokee, and even the fixed homes are very modest. I didn’t feel totally comfortable taking photos, almost like I was being invasive, a voyeur, something I hadn’t really felt before. Nobody or anything caused my discomfort and I assumed it was just some type of guilt caused by my knowledge of the Cherokee’s turbulent past and my own privileged existence in the country. At one point, it got to me as I walked up a road that looked like it was taking me into an impoverished neighborhood and I turned around.
On the main drag, I passed abandoned hotels and others that were barely surviving. I noticed a little gang graffiti on a decaying building that had a full-grown tree piercing its center, and I wondered what type of gangs might be there. That made me think about the class system among the Cherokee people, if there was a large disparity in wealth, or if I was seeing the norm. Even though I recognized Cherokee was one of the poorer places I had made a part of the project, I felt that for a reservation it was relatively well off, at least compared to those I experienced in the West. Later I learned the Qualla Boundary, the tribal land Cherokee was located on, was very different from the state sanctioned reservations I had visited before. The sovereign lands were purchased in the 19th century and the Eastern Cherokee Band was there by choice.
Once I walked as far as I wanted, I doubled back and stopped in the casino. It’s a large garish structure, the likes of what you might find in Vegas, and extremely out of place among the beautiful surroundings. Inside, I walked around thinking to myself, yep it’s a casino. I then did what I usually do in casinos, I found a bar, had a beer, and people watched. It was busy and clearly a popular destination for those from the region. I guessed it pulled in gamblers from both Tennessee and North Carolina, in addition to tourists in the area visiting the Great Smoky Mountains. I couldn’t take it for long and moved on after my beer.
Before returning to the campground, I wanted some supplies and thought I would just walk to the nearest grocery store. It was a little further than I calculated but it was nice to be out of van. At the store I grabbed some food and walked around looking for beer. I eventually talked to an employee and found out the sale of alcohol was forbidden on the reservation, except for the casino. She told me that if I go just outside the Boundary limits, a short walk away, I could get what I was looking for. I did just that and made my way back to my home. That night I did some work in the van and turned in early, exhausted from the long drive and day’s walking.
The next morning I woke and tooled around a bit. I went over to pay for another night and met Barry. He ran the campground with his sister whom I dealt with at check-in. We talked about the project and Barry said he might know people to talk to. I mentioned any help would be much appreciated. Eventually, I showered and got ready to do some exploring. The forecast called for rain nearly the entire time I was in town and I knew that I should see what I could while it was dry.
I first headed out to the Great Smokey National Park. I didn’t plan to spend a lot of time there but thought I’d check out the welcome center and grounds surrounding it. There is a small museum in the center that explores the creation of the park and other history in the region. Outside, some homes and other buildings were displayed that had been removed from the park when the people living there were forced out. I found it all informative and a good base of knowledge for getting to know the area. The most important thing I took away however, was a new perspective on the country’s national parks. I had always seen them in the most positive light, not recognizing the more dubious consequences of the park’s creation, like the relocation of human lives. I spent more time there than I thought I would but left content with the visit. From the park I headed to the Cherokee Museum.
I was in contact with a woman from the museum earlier in the week and was told that Jerry Wolfe would be volunteering at the museum from nine to three, and story-telling that day at one. Jerry Wolfe was the first member of the Eastern Cherokee Band to receive the esteemed Beloved Man title in two hundred years. He was in his nineties and still volunteered his time for his people (Sadly, Mr. Wolfe passed away in March of 2018). When I arrived he was at lunch but I was told he would be back soon. With time, I bought a ticket and went in to check out the museum.
My first thought was that it is very well curated and modern. It begins with a story-telling session, an important part of Cherokee tradition. After leaving the story-telling room, the displays cover the extensive history of the Cherokees before and after the arrival of the Europeans, and into the horrific Trail of Tears. The detail is incredible, one of the finer museums I have been in, and I felt it was more than worth the eleven dollar entrance fee. One of my favorite exhibits was on Sequoyah and his creation of the Cherokee alphabet. As a lover of language I found the story enthralling but I was especially enamored with the syllabary itself. The letters are a mix of the Greek, Latin, and Cyrillic alphabets, with gorgeous curves and shapes. At one point I found I was getting lost in all the information but remembered I had a time limit. I ended up rushing though the last part to make sure I was able meet Mr. Wolfe before his story-telling session.
Back at the front desk I got a chance to chat with the legend, but for only a short moment before a group of kids arrived and wanted to meet him. Before ending the conversation, I got permission from the Beloved Man to record his story-telling session and then walked over to where he told me he would be speaking. I waited outside the educational wing of museum with a woman named Regina who was a regular at Wolfe’s sessions. We talked a little until eventually the doors opened for us to go in and sit down. It was very intimate, just the three of us at first, and a couple joined a little late. We sat with him for an hour-and-a-half while he told us about his life and shared some of the traditional stories he grew up listening to.
One amazing memory he shared about his own life dealt with World War II. He talked about the day Pearl Harbor was attacked. He was in eighth grade and “the teacher come into our classroom, she said, a terrible thing happened, over the weekend, she said, Pearl Harbor was bombed”. He explained that when she told them, “I began to think, and I thought well, what in the world is Pearl Harbor?” Soon, “all the big boys” that went to the school “emptied out…we didn’t have any big boys after that,” and those that were left “were whishing that we were eighteen years old so we could go and join [the war]”. Mr. Wolfe eventually joined the Navy to “be a little different” and his choice took him to Illinois and then Virginia for training. He said after training they “shipped me to New York, from there over to Scotland, and down to southern England…and then come the big day of D-day…and we went in…and it was, it was quite an experience”. His choice also took him to the Pacific where he was stationed in San Diego and then deployed to Hawaii to join the fight. Yet, “half way over they dropped the first A-bomb” but “the enemy didn’t give up on that one, three days later…they dropped the second one”. It was fascinating to listen to him telling the story. To think, here was a man who received one of the Cherokee Nation’s most prestigious honors, survived D-day, and was in the pacific when the bombs were dropped and the war ended. His story was also a tribute to the often overlooked contributions Natives made to the war effort.
I left the session appreciative, stepped outside, and noticed storm clouds moving in fast. I thought it might be a good idea to go have lunch and avoid the rain indoors. I stopped at a place called Paul’s, got seated, but then I started to doubt if it was a good idea to leave the tent out in the storm. It was very exposed to the elements and it looked like the storm might hit hard. I snuck out of the restaurant a bit embarrassed and drove back to the campground as the rain started really coming down. Of course it passed quickly, I felt foolish, and headed back out in search of lunch.
Cherokee doesn’t have a large variety of quality dining choices, Paul’s looked like one of the best but I wasn’t returning that day. I stopped at a place called Little Princess and something told me not to eat there. Finally I picked Newfound Lodge Restaurant, determined have lunch there no matter what they were serving. The waitress was super friendly and I decided to go with their buffet. The spread was very southern, okra, hushpuppies, fried chicken, catfish, greens, etc. but I was late and everything seemed as if it was sitting out for a while. I made a big plate and devoured it imagining how amazing it was two hours earlier. I left feeling like there was a load of bricks in my tummy, but it did the job.
With my hunger alleviated, I walked more trying to get as many photos as possible between the bouts of rain. I strolled over to the welcome center to see if anyone there could help in finding me an interview. The woman working was gracious and I explained what I was doing. Her name was Joletta and after talking a little I asked her if she might want to sit down with me. She seemed interested and said she was free Monday. I got her card, thanked her, and told her I would give her a call that Sunday to set something up. I moved on, excited I had a lead.
More rain was coming and it seemed best to just return to the grounds for the night. When I arrived I saw Barry doing some work and offered my assistance. He politely passed explaining he was nearly done but it started a conversation. We talked about what the day had brought me and I told him about the museum, Mr. Wolfe, and the possible meeting with Joletta whom he knew. I found his energy pleasant, and enjoyed chatting with him. Other guests came and went as we sat talking until finally the rain began. I excused myself and crawled into the van where I spent the night writing and doing other work before eventually sleeping in it.
The next morning looked like more rain was expected so I hung around drinking coffee and working in the van, but it never came. I eventually decided to get out and explore starting at the Oconaluftee Island Park that sits on the river it shares its name with, in the center of town. It’s a gorgeous park that seemed popular for families and fishing. The bamboo forest in its center is a nice touch. After the park, I walked along Highway 19, the main drag that the campground and casino are on, covering what I hadn’t the first day. I got hungry and stopped at a pizza buffet. I couldn’t remember the last time I ate at so many buffets but was reminded why I normally didn’t.
When I finished lunch the rain was still holding off so I drove to a different part of the reservation called Big Cove to see what it was like. Deeper into the Boundary limits I passed campgrounds, a school, some homes, but I didn’t see anything that resembled a town. I was almost ready to turn back when I passed the trailhead to Mingo Falls and decided to pull off and check it out. It was a great little surprise with an easy hike to some lovely falls. I didn’t stay long and made my way back towards town with the intention of catching one of the tours at the Oconaluftee Indian Village.
On the way to the village I stopped quickly at the Qualla Arts and Crafts Mutual. It’s the oldest Native American co-op in the U.S., started in 1946. The shop features work of the Eastern Cherokee Band from over 250 regional artists. Inside were displays with information that focused on some of the most important artists of the Cherokee nation. There were also a large amount of gorgeous and diverse crafts for sale. Due to limited space I refrain from shopping on the road, but this would have been the place to do it. I wanted to talk to someone about meeting one of the artists or someone affiliated with the co-op, but I decided I would return after my tour since the village wasn’t open much longer.
I drove over and caught one of the last of the tours that afternoon. It was opening day for the season but not as busy as I thought it would be. There were two younger Cherokee guys at the ticket booth and I paid the fifteen dollar entrance fee. I was told to sit and wait for the next tour with about ten other people, all families. Soon, a younger guy dressed in what appeared to be traditional garb, joined us to begin our journey. He was all tatted up with a combination of various pop culture symbols from the Vans shoes to the UNC Tarheels logos. I found the tats and garb to be an interesting but ironic combination. The tour took us from one location to the next, where people dressed in tribal clothing were preforming traditional tasks that ranged from metalsmithing to weapon production and use. At each stop the guide explained the work being done, its history, and role in tribal society. It took him a bit to warm up but as the tour progressed he got into it and by the end was doing a great job. In total it was an hour long and worth the money spent. I wondered how it changed throughout the season; would it improve as tour guides got more comfortable or get worse as the guides grew tired of giving tours every day?
To finish we were passed on to another guy who gave us a lecture on the different clans that made up the Eastern Cherokee Nation and the Qualla Boundary. He seemed more gregarious than our first guide so when it was over I explained my project to him and asked if he would sit down with me outside of work for an interview. Oddly, he seemed really nervous and told me I had to check with his manager. I got the sense he might get in trouble if he talked with me. I told him I would talk with his manager but didn’t pursue it.
When I left the village, I returned to Qualla Arts and Crafts and spoke with a woman working the counter. I told her why I was in town and what I was looking for. She said it would be best to talk to the manager who would be in Monday. She took my number and said she would pass it on, but mentioned again I should check back myself. Before arriving to Cherokee I thought the town might be one of the more difficult places to find interviews, but it was proving even harder than I imagined. I thanked the woman and left.
There was still a lot of day left and the weather was decent so I drove into to the national park to get a hike in. I parked at the Mingus Mill and Mingus Creek trailhead. The mill has a little museum inside with artifacts and info on its past. After exploring it, I took a short hike along the creek that once powered the mill. The trail was mostly deserted, and I basked in the solitude and nature on a lovely day. When I was satisfied with my walk, I returned to the van and then the welcome center in hopes of seeing the elk that can occasionally be caught grazing in the fields. It wasn’t the right occasion but I did see some wild turkeys stopping traffic on the highway.
Knowing rain was a certainty the next day, I wanted to continue taking advantage of the sunshine. My next destination was Bryson City. It’s a town of 1,400 people just outside the western edge of the Qualla Boundary. As I drove the ten miles southwest along highway 19, I noticed much more poverty, represented by many abandoned buildings, and thought it reminded me more of a western reservation.
Bryson City is quaint, seemed to have a well preserved history, and I thought it could easily be a town I visited for the project. The main street is picturesque, dotted with old buildings, leading to a very large train yard that gives a sense the railroad was an important part of the town’s history. After walking a bit, I decided I would stop and grab a beer from the small brew pub called Mountain Layers since I couldn’t do it in Cherokee. I had their IPA and sat on the large upstairs patio to take in the nice weather and stunning landscape that surrounded me. I sat reflecting on the day when I noticed in the distance that the rain was finally rolling in. I finished my beer and rushed to the van, determined to beat the storm to Cherokee.
Before returning to the campground, I stopped to pick up food to cook that night. At the grounds I watched a fellow camper rushing to breakdown his tent, checked the radar, and realized the storm was bigger than I estimated, and coming quick. I knew I wouldn’t have time to cook so I shot to Wendy’s and before I finished the ten minute excursion the rain started. It poured all night and I hunkered down in the van, grateful I had Bessie to keep me dry, power for my computer, and the internet to keep me occupied.
When I woke the next morning, the rain was sill pounding and I resigned myself to a long day in the van. At the first break in the storm, I headed to Paul’s for food. It was one of the only restaurants in town that appeared to have somewhat authentic Cherokee food. The inside was clean and modern and the prices were reasonable. It was filled with a few others that decided to also brave the weather. I ordered an elk burger, fry bread with honey, and an ice tea. It was my first time eating elk and it tasted a little gamey as I expected, but not that different from beef. The fry bread was good and something I had wanted to try since learning about its history years back. I knew it was a concoction of ingredients given to natives in government rations and not a truly traditional dish. I wondered how long it had been eaten by the Eastern Cherokee Band and if it was something brought over from the Oklahoma Cherokees. I decided not to ask.
After lunch the weather was still holding out as I returned to the campground. I checked the radar and saw we were surrounded by a huge storm that was going to hit again at any time. I walked by the office and Barry asked me if I had time to help him with a grill he needed to move. I said sure and we jumped into his truck and drove west out of town fifteen minutes. He took me to his home, also where he grew up, and explained it was once a hotel and country store. It sat right between the river, now raging from the rains, and the highway. I assumed it must have not been the safest place to grow up and he told me his mother hated it. He gave me the nickel tour showing me the house, his man cave, tool shop, and the garage with his motorcycles. Then we crossed the highway to an even larger woodworking shed. The whole place was very rustic and a bit cluttered, but I loved it and could feel its history. We grabbed the grill which was still in the box and quite heavy. I understood why he needed a hand. We got it into the back of the truck and returned to the campground.
On the way he told me that since I had been so helpful I could move into one of the bunkhouses for the same price as a tent site. I was delighted, especially because of the rain. When we got back I packed up my tent and joined him at the RV he stayed in while on the grounds. A longtime friend of his, Tony, was assisting with assembling the grill and I joined in the project as it began to sprinkle. While we worked, some guests came to check in and Barry left Tony and me. When he returned we were offered shots of Tullamore Dew Irish whisky and a Guinness. Then the rain really began to come down, ending our work, and the grill sat half-assembled as we moved into the RV to begin a night of drinking.
I felt like I was at home with old friends and that evening became the highlight of my time in Cherokee. The two of them shared stories of growing up white on the Qualla Boundary, and it sounded like they had it rough. Tony was even paler than Barry and had blue eyes. He told me about being picked on as a child and how it was very difficult to find jobs there later in life. They were both technically Cherokee but you never would have guessed it. I came to a realization that I was listening to stories from white men who were actual victims of racism in the United States. That thought alone fascinated me, but I also wondered how they were a part of the Eastern Cherokee Band. Of course I asked.
In brief, their story really dated back to the 1920s. At that time the U.S. congress was working to decide if the Eastern Cherokee Band was to be a federally recognized tribal government, actually hoping to terminate it. From what they explained, the Band needed a certain number of members to be considered eligible for federal recognition. A U.S. agent named Fred Baker was given the job of determining membership, and using past records and current applications, eventually came up with what became known as the Baker Roll. Since the 1920s, the Baker Roll has been considered the final determiner on who is Eastern Cherokee, and even if you are as light-skinned as Tony, you are a part of the Band if your family is on that roll.
Eventually a guitar got brought out and both Tony and Barry took their turn playing. Later in the night, Tyson, a friend of Barry’s daughter, called and asked to come by to pick mushrooms on the property. He arrived with a friend and they went straight out and found four very large morels that looked delicious. After bringing them back to show us, the two decided to stay and hangout a bit. Both looked more like what I imagined was Cherokee. Tyson was very open to talk and I was feeling really chatty. He told me about life on the Boundary, Cherokee cuisine, and what foods were foraged in the area. Before they left I hinted at him meeting with me for an interview and he seemed open to it.
By the time the night was over, the three of us finished the bottle of whisky and the beer. I ended up crawling into the bed at the bunkhouse, half-drunk and happy to have a solid shelter for the night that wasn’t my van. As I lay there, I thought how amazing it was that the day ended up the way it did. That morning I couldn’t have imagined I would be sleeping in one of the cabins after a night of drinking with new friends. I still had no interviews scheduled but was content with the experience to that point. I was hopeful about sitting down with Tony and Tyson but no matter how it turned out, I felt like I had learned a ton about the area and the Eastern Cherokee Nation.
The next morning I woke up feeling like I spent the night before indulging in libations. I had no plans except to find an interview, so I drank coffee and waited to call Joletta. I tried her the day before and left a message, but I knew she was working and didn’t expect a response. Eventually around eleven I gave a call and got her voicemail again. I had a feeling I wasn’t getting an interview with her and I was right. I still had hopes of trying to meet with Tony and Tyson but I had to wait for Barry to wake so I could get their info. Suddenly, I wanted a big breakfast so I headed into town.
Over my time in Cherokee I had passed a place called Peter’s Pancakes and Waffles several times. It advertises the best breakfast in Cherokee so it seemed like the logical choice. I was lucky it was after noon and although it was still pretty happening, I was able get a seat at the counter. It was the archetypal small town diner imbued with the smell of cooking grease, the quintessential diner counter, full of locals, and exactly what one would expect on the menu. I went with a classic breakfast of fried eggs, bacon, potatoes, and a biscuit. It was exactly what I needed, without a doubt the best meal I had in Cherokee yet, and I scarfed it down with pleasure.
When I finished I went back to the campground to do some more waiting for Barry. At one point I got a new neighbor, a guy named Alex who lived in Charlottesville, Virginia and was biking from Gatlinburg, Tennessee to West Palm Beach, Florida, 772 miles. He was my age and like me had no job, just living a dream. We ended up talking quite a bit: about my project, his adventure, experiencing and living life, and the bridge tournaments he took part in. In fact he had started his trip in Tennessee just after finishing one of the tournaments. I didn’t know they were a thing, and wouldn’t have imagined Alex as a participant, but few things were surprising after traveling the South for months.
Finally Barry showed up to the office and I stopped over to ask him about Tony and Tyson. He pointed out Tony’s RV, and said he would give Tyson a call. I walked over to Tony’s place and caught him just before he and his fiancé were going out to dinner. He told me he would stop over when he was done. Later, Barry told me Tyson would be glad to meet with me and gave me his number. I shot Tyson a text but he was in Asheville and agreed to meet the next morning. My waiting paid off and it seemed I was going to get an interview or two after all.
I spent the rest of the day at the cabin. I made dinner, did some writing, and chatted more with Alex. I didn’t stay up too long waiting for Tony who never showed up, and eventually went to bed hoping I might still meet with him for an interview the next morning. I at least had faith that Tyson would come through but at that point it was minimal. As I lay in bed I found myself thinking that if I left Cherokee with it being the first town that nobody would sit down with me, I was content since it was bound to happen sooner or later, maybe it would add a nice twist to the story.
My last morning in Cherokee was gorgeous and I sat sipping my coffee thinking how lovely the mountains were, and how lucky I was to be there at that moment. Alex returned from a bike ride and I said goodbye before he peddled out for Florida. I called Tyson around nine when he mentioned I should but he didn’t answer. I thought, not again. However, he quickly replied with a text telling me he would call me soon. I prepared myself for my departure and was planning on heading back to Asheville for the night. Before going, I ran into Barry who was lounging with his nephew on the grounds. I thanked him for everything and mentioned we should stay in touch hoping we would cross paths again. Tony came by while I was with Barry and apologized for the night before explaining he and his lady went to bed really early and slept late. He was on the way to work so I knew that there was no chance there. I eventually got a call from Tyson and we agreed to try and meet in Asheville later that day since it would be easier. With nothing left for me in Cherokee, I packed everything up and was off.
I began thinking of my breakfast the prior morning at Peter’s and had a craving to return. I got the same breakfast and enjoyed it just a much. I took my time driving back to Ashville, taking a less direct route, and passing through small towns like Sylvia and Waynesville. At one point I passed Alex on his bike and gave a honk. In Asheville, I returned to my friend’s house to spend the night. That evening I got in touch with Tyson and we agreed to meet at a spot called The Bywater.
I drove over as it neared time for us to meet. I parked and we met outside. The establishment is really nice, a bar and grill right on the French Broad River with a large outdoor area along the water. I grabbed a beer and we headed to a table on the river, (which Tyson told me was called “the long man” in Cherokee). Our conversation was comfortable and Tyson shared a lot about his family and growing up in Cherokee. He was raised in a “very traditionally matriarchal family” which he explained was historically common of the Cherokee nation and “well documented through archology, [and] anthropology”. His mother and grandmother raised him, and his father was never a part of the picture. He had an exceptionally close relationship with his grandmother who died when he was nineteen. He explained “and to this day, that impression she left on me, is so rich, that’s why I go into to the woods, I go into the woods almost every day”. For Tyson, foraging in the woods is a way to keep that bond alive, tie him to that time when he “was lucky as a child to go with [his grandma and her sisters] and forage for our spring time food”.
But the collecting of food was more than just about memories, it’s a way of life. “We foraged heavily in the springtime cause that’s where we got all our greens that detoxified us, but the flavors of these foods are something that we are addicted to. And that’s another thing the makes a Cherokee a Cherokee.” We talked about some of the food that was foraged, ramps and sochan being among the favorites. At one point he even took a little walk along the river to find some wild sochan but was unsuccessful. Tyson dedicated his education to studying the foods of the Eastern Cherokee Band and talked about some of the work he had done on the subject with the forest service and tribal environmental resources.
We spoke for nearly an hour on record and I also heard about his experience of moving away from and returning to the Qualla Boundary, views on tribal leadership, and his opinions on the future of the Eastern Cherokee Band. By the time we were done, I felt we built a bond and I was happy I got the chance to sit down with him. We talked a little more as I walked him to his vehicle and we said our goodbyes. I jumped in the van and sat for a moment thinking about all I had just heard. Not only was I happy that I was able to get at least one interview from Cherokee, I was joyed that it was with such an interesting person, so willing to share such personal thoughts and experiences.
That night at my friend’s house I lay on their couch trying to sleep, dwelling on all I had experienced in Cherokee. It was a town unlike any I had visited to that point and I knew it from moment I entered. Still it was undoubtedly the United States even if it had its own laws and government. I felt as if my time there brought me a little closer to understanding how the original inhabitants of this land were continuing to carry on and keep their identity alive, yet I knew there was a world of knowledge to learn and I had only gotten a small taste. I was disappointed I didn’t get a chance to meet and talk with more Cherokees who could enlighten me on tribal traditions, but I felt fortunate I was at least able to sit down with Tyson. I also couldn’t shake the notion that there were parts of this country where a white male actually understood and suffered from true racism, it was something I felt could be unpacked and explored on its own. I wondered if I might end up again on tribal lands during my project and if so how it would compare. I fell asleep with these thoughts floating in my mind, content I had another town finished and another experience to share.