Long before they were homesteaded, long before they became the heart of a national park, the Great Smoky Mountains that straddle the North Carolina-Tennessee border were home to the Cherokee Nation. Even today the tribe remains an integral component of the national park, with its tribal headquarters nestled up against the park.
On April 21, the National Park Service will take some time to honor and reflect upon the Eastern Band of the Cherokee Nation when it unveils a new exhibit that help track the tribe's history in the region.
The exhibit will center around a series of seven porcelain enamel exhibits erected along the 1.5-mile-long Oconaluftee River Trail stretching from the tribe's reservation in Cherokee, North Carolina, to the Mountain Farm Museum at Oconaluftee inside Great Smoky Mountains National Park.
The panels, illustrated with Cherokee artwork, retell traditional Cherokee stories in both the English and Cherokee languages.
"The more projects we have of this nature, the more confident we can be that our authentic Cherokee culture is appropriately represented and that our visitors enjoy the essence of the Cherokee way of life," said Eastern Band Principal Chief Michell Hicks.
During a ceremony between 10 a.m. and 1 p.m. on April 21, there will be a performance by the Cherokee Warrior Dancers as well as an exchange of gifts.
After the ceremony, which will be held next to the Oconaluftee Visitor Center in the park, visitors will have a chance to walk along the Oconaluftee River Trail and view the porcelain enamel exhibits. Stationed next to the panels will be members of the Cherokee Royalty Program and traditional Cherokee storytellers who will tell stories in the Cherokee and English languages.
“This is indeed a special project for the park, for our interpreters and educators, and our visitors. It’s the first of its kind in the park that so eloquently portrays the Cherokee heritage," said Great Smoky Superintendent Dale Ditmanson. "These exhibits are very visible reminders of the spirit of cooperation that exists between the park and the Eastern Band, and will serve the thousands of people who use this trail annually."