On a recent trip to Blue Rigde Parkway and the Smokey Mountains, we entered the Cherokee Indians Reservation. I had planned the trip relying solely on the NPS website for planning our visit and did not put much thought into it until we arrived and it became evident that Cherokee was a different cultural territory than the rest of North Carolina. When you enter you see a gigantic Casino and lots of shops selling Indian crafts and souvenirs. We saw signs to visit the Museum of the Cherokee Indian in Cherokee, NC and decided to go (*).
The museum is well conceived, I liked that it present the history of the Cherokee in their own words and rely on family oral history to tell their history, from the creation of the universe to the tribe discussions on how to deal with European invasion and the separation of the Cherokee in different reservation as a result of the Indian removal act of 1830 and the trail of tears that followed. Sometimes the visit felt a bit messy because my rational western self is not used to fables and myth but I loved that it forced me to adopt a different perspective.
My favorite part of the museum was reading from the trip of 7 Cherokee chiefs to meet the king of England in 1730 and how each party viewed this chock of culture. When exposed to a different culture, one always compare it to one’s own which can easily leads to assigning a value to different cultural norms before understanding it or even reflecting on it. The temptation is to place them on a scale of inferior and superior cultures.
Reading the travel notes of those men in 2018 knowing how the concept of inferior culture (and backward people) has been the leading argument to justify all the evils from slavery to colonization and genocide was truly enlightening for me.
Here are a few of my favorite quotes! I leave the takeaway message to your interpretation.
* On a (not so) side note, I have been in a reservation before in Arizona and I have become acutely aware that my interest for native Americans cultures is based on both a genuine interest in discovering a new culture and a feeling that it would ease the feeling of guilt that the civilization to which I belonged forced them to become the prey of cultural safaris. I was not born when most of those things happened and I know that I am not individually responsible but I still haven’t sorted out the question of our collective responsibility as a society.