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The Tsalagi (Cherokee)


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The Cherokee ( Tsalagi is the word this is likely derived from) were the primary group of Native American’s living in the Western North Carolina, Upstate South Carolina, East Tennessee and North Georgia area at the time of European settlement in this area. Their influence extended well beyond that area though. The word Tsalagi is likely from the Creek language from what I’ve read, as the Cherokee word for themselves is aniyunwiya which means “The Real People” or “the original people”. Although over the years tsalagi has been used and accepted as well.


There are many sources online for more information on the Cherokee or Tsalagi and their language. Their language is usually well known for the syllabary that was developed by Sequoya. It really is a remarkable achievement and if I understand correctly the only (active/real) written language that we know who originated it. There are 85 symbols and each stands for a syllable, because of this the literacy rate among Cherokee rose very quickly as the syllabary was introduced. Here are some links to audio in Cherokee and there is a podcast here. For many years, there were efforts to teach Cherokee children english only and the language was at risk of dying out, but recently there are more efforts underway to foster bilingual education among the Cherokee. More information on the language can be found here as well.

Currently there are two main recognized divisions of the Cherokee, the Western band in Oklahoma, and the Eastern band in Western NC. This split came, of course due to the Trail of Tears in 1836, when the government forcably removed the Cherokee (and other Indians) to the west. There were some however, that hid and remained in the mountains and their descendants are the Eastern Band of the Cherokee.

Some interesting stories and pictures (and more language information) can be found atculterev.com, but you can find further information on the people at Cherokee.org, Cherokee-nc.com which is run by the Eastern Band. Also you might be interested in the Cherokee Museum in NC.

You can find some great traditional Cherokee stories here (written in English…) There is a good collection of Cherokee links at Raven’s directory.

The history that I’ve been reading is called “The Cherokee Nation A History” (By Robert J. Conley), although I did pick up the small booklet “Cherokee Words With Pictures” by Mary Ulmer Chiltoskey.

It’s somewhat interesting that society’s picture of “indians” really has developed out of the depictions we have of the Western Plains Indians, teepee’s, large head-dresses, etc. This was not the lifestyle of the Cherokee, they had villages, lodges, towns and quite a different society than our “picture” from popular culture would have you expect. The “tourist trap” style shops though still market the image of the western plains indian with gaudy hot pink head-dresses (never seen a bird with that color feathers…) Cherokee in NC is gradually starting to lay claim to THEIR unique identity though. There are several newer craft shops that show authentic Cherokee arts and crafts (not made in China stuff…) and of course there is the museum as well and Unto These Hills and the Occonoluftee Indian Village which is a re-enactment/recreation of a 1600′s Cherokee village.

These days of course, one of the big attractions at Cherokee in NC is the Harrah’s Casino, my hope is that the money from that will continue the development of shops and venues that take an authentic look at the Cherokee heritage.

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