Monday, June 19, 2017

Monday, June 5, 2017

Cherokee

I visited the Cherokee Indian Reservation near Asheville, North Carolina this fall. I was in the area.  I intended to drive the Blue Ridge Parkway.  It starts in Cherokee, North Carolina.

The lady at the info center there told me it was closed due to forest fires, which turned out not to be true, but I ended up loitering around in Cherokee, doing some Christmas shopping for the better part of the day.

I was also curious, because I know that at least in the past some very distant cousins were Cherokee.  While I was there I actually found a register of Cherokee people in the gift shop of the Museum of the Cherokee Indian, and I discovered that my relatives were in the western reservation in Oklahoma, at least back in the 1920's.  They weren't in North Carolina.  

There are a lot of touristy shops there, and a gambling casino.  A lot of the shops are not run by Cherokees and a lot of the merchandise is not local, though you can find a bit of local craft work.

I did learn to recognize the local people.  They seemed to be predominantly of mixed race, part white, often obese -- but, mostly, they seemed weighed down with great sadness.

It makes a lot of sense that they should be sad.  Their history is tragic.  If you go to the museum of the Cherokee Indian you see that.  The museum really emphasizes the huge loss of life, territory, and culture that these people suffered.

Yet, I saw men, very gently, and sensitively teaching white tourist children to do Cherokee dances.

Coincidentally, in my social activities here in NY, I met a fellow who turned out to be Cherokee -- and related to people on that reservation in North Carolina.  When I first met him, I was puzzled, because I thought, by his coloring, that he looked Italian.  Yet, his name didn't sound at all Italian, and his mannerisms seemed very different from those of typical Italian Americans I have met.  He was more reserved, hesitant.

And, there was a sense of sadness about him.   He was very nice -- gentle, chivalrous -- and very muscular and handsome. I didn't learn he was Cherokee until about six months later.  Then it all made sense.  He wasn't Italian American at all.

I'm still thinking about his eyes -- haunting, deep eyes.

Researchers have found that we inherit epigenetic trauma memories from our forebears. Those sad eyes might actually be watching loved ones drop dead in forced marches -- enormous territories stolen and occupied -- the memories still as fresh as if they had happened yesterday in stead of over a hundred years ago.

It's a lot for a young man to be carrying.