May 16th, 12:04pm

Enter the Great Smoky Mountains through the North Carolina side, and you’ll pass through Cherokee nation - not a reservation, but land owned outright by the Eastern Band of Cherokees. Although the Cherokee were removed from this land through the Indian Removal Act of 1838, well before the formation of the national park, they were able to purchase back some of their land through a variety of legal means, to establish this Qualla boundary.

We visited the Museum of the Cherokee Indian many times to learn about this unique culture. We spoke with Dr. Barbara Duncan, Education Director (and former UPenn grad!), and attended a storytelling event with Jeremiah Wolfe, who was named a “Beloved Man” on April 13, 2001. This designation means that Jerry will fill whatever role is needed by the Cherokee community. Jerry is a member of the Cherokee Friends, a group of Cherokee community leaders that the museum keeps on staff to advise on the museum’s programs, and engage with visitors.

Jerry told us stories about his time in the Navy during World War II, about the game of stickball (think lacrosse, but more violent), as well as old Cherokee stories such as ‘The Ballgame of the Birds and Animals,’ and ‘The Place of the Leech.’ His stories embodied an ideal that Dr. Duncan taught us - that in Cherokee cultures, differences are respected, unlike in European cultures, where differences are ranked hierarchically. In Jerry’s stories, the tiny mouse, and the lowly leech, are larger than life. The stories, and the work of the museum, all emphasize that the Cherokee, the first peoples, are still here, maintaining the traditions & culture of their people, today.