Monday, June 19, 2017

Monday, June 5, 2017

Cherokee

I accidentally found myself visiting the Cherokee Indian Reservation near Asheville, North Carolina this past fall (2016). I was in the area.  I intended to drive the Blue Ridge Parkway.  I found out that it starts in Cherokee, North Carolina, so I went there.

The lady at the info center there told me the Parkway 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 remembered that -- at least in the past -- some very distant cousins were Cherokee.  While I was at the reservation I managed to find a register of Cherokee people in the gift shop of the Museum of the Cherokee Indian.  That book helped me I discover 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 in Cherokee, North Carolina, and a gambling casino.  Many of the shops are not run by Cherokees and much 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 -- just outside the museum -- I saw Cherokee 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 I later found out is Cherokee -- and related to people on that reservation in North Carolina.  He was very nice -- gentle, chivalrous -- and very muscular and handsome.

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.  

I didn't learn he was Cherokee until about six months after my return from my trip.  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 instead of over a hundred years ago.

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

I shall have to write a poem about his eyes.