photograph by Jerry Wolford & Scott Muthersbaugh

Sunlight streams through the windows of the adjacent museum store, illuminating handmade Cherokee jewelry and pottery. But the Museum of the Cherokee Indian itself is interior and enclosed, an intimate immersion into the Cherokee experience.

Tours are self-guided, or led by one of the Cherokee Friends. Mike Crowe Jr., 35, heads up the Cherokee Friends, and is a member of the Warriors of the AniKituwah, who perform traditional Cherokee dances. “Kituwah” is the name of the Cherokee “mothertown,” Crowe says, important because, while other Native American communities have been displaced, “we still live in the ancestral homeland of our people.” That’s one reason why the Qualla Boundary isn’t a reservation. And while it is located in North Carolina, it’s not governed by the state.

A visit begins with a video explaining the Cherokee creation story in our own Appalachians. Move on to a timeline of Cherokee history, beginning 13,000 years ago and including priceless artifacts dating back to the Ice Age.

A “stone” tablet portrays the Cherokee syllabary; push a button to hear a particular symbol pronounced. Life-size figures struggle along the Trail of Tears. Statues of “beloved” — or highly esteemed — men and women; tools; and weapons; along with farming, hunting, and domestic implements, create an interactive space that combines nature, history, art, and crafts in a single museum.

Museum of the Cherokee Indian
589 Tsali Boulevard
Cherokee, NC 28719
(828) 497-3481

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Susan Stafford Kelly was raised in Rutherfordton. She attended UNC-Chapel Hill and earned a Master of Fine Arts from Warren Wilson College. She is the author of Carolina Classics, a collection of essays that have appeared in Our State, and five novels: How Close We Come, Even Now, The Last of Something, Now You Know, and By Accident. Susan has three grown children and lives in Greensboro with her husband, Sterling.