Indian for a day

Cherokee cultural partner

11/19/2010  | 
cultural field trip

At some point, every child dreams of running away and becoming an Indian.


Today, kids — and their parents — can see that dream come true in one of North Carolina’s most unique travel destinations offering an adventurous shift from a routine beach vacation.

Legendary Cherokee, nestled in the Great Smoky Mountains in the town of Cherokee, NC, gives families a hands-on, authentic and unforgettable experience of Cherokee culture on the tribe’s protected lands. The destination is the center of the ancestral lands of the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians — those who in the 1800s refused to be relocated west and determinedly fought and won their right to remain. Easily accessible from the major cities of five contiguous states, Legendary Cherokee is truly a national treasure. It sweeps visitors into an 11,000 year-old story.


Cherokee is one of a very few towns lucky enough to have a pristine river running right through the middle of it.

Legendary Cherokee is comprised of four cultural venues. Like an interwoven basket, each gives a glimpse into the history, culture, art, society, and the daily life of Cherokee Indians. Legendary Cherokee has preserved one of America’s oldest recorded society — which pre-dates the Egyptians, Romans and Aztecs by thousands of years. It’s a destination that can offer a week of fun, an action-packed day, or a perfect two-day jaunt — and it’s friendly to the family budget.

Start with a guided tour of Oconalfutee Indian Village, where visitors stroll through mountain arbors shading a true-to-life Cherokee village. Artisans, warriors, dancers and craftspeople demonstrate the daily experience of the historic Cherokee Indian each year, May through October. Kids will be fascinated to see skilled knappers create arrowhead points before their eyes. Beading, finger weaving and pottery demonstrations satisfy the craft lovers. Parents and kids alike will be enthralled by the blow-gun demonstration. The Cherokee were the only North American natives to use blow-guns for hunting small prey. Canoe building, river cane basket making and traditional dancing are but a few of the demonstrations to be found within the village. A separate shady hike through streams and tumbling falls, and gardens with botanical inscriptions — including the traditional Cherokee medicinal uses of many of the native plants — is not to be missed.

The next stop is the Museum of the Cherokee which illustrates the peoples’ 11,000 year history and the tribe’s unique role in the birth of the United States, including events such the French and Indian Wars and the Revolutionary War. Ancient artifacts are skillfully blended with modern technology to tell the amazing story of this sophisticated culture. Anyone partial to sports will be transported by the discovery that the forerunner to lacrosse was an ancient game of stickball played by the Cherokee, sometimes continuously for days, and sometimes to the death.

One of the most successful Native American cooperatives in the country, Qualla Arts and Crafts, showcases world renowned collections of pottery, woven baskets, soap-stone carvings, wood work, blow-guns and bows and arrows. Not to be forgotten are the tomahawks, dolls and beadwork sure to please the young and young at heart. The Mutual, founded in 1946, is a showcase of Cherokee artists and is a leader in sustaining the vitality, cultural reach, heritage and arts and crafts of the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians. These works of art are avidly collected and prized by Native American art lovers the world over.

Both the museum and Qualla Arts and Crafts are open year round with the exception of Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Years Day.

Around midday, everyone might be ready for a break. It’s easy to pick up sandwiches from one of the town cafés or restaurants and wander down to the Oconaluftee Islands Park. With picnic tables, grills, and perfect swimming in the crystal clear Oconaluftee River, it’s a relaxing break that can easily turn into an entire lazy afternoon. Cherokee is one of a very few towns lucky enough to have a pristine river running right through the middle of it. Anglers can easily get a license for trout fishing in tribal waters, and fish abound. Kayaks and float tubes can be rented for a brisk, long or short float from points upstream. Golfers can sneak away and get a round of 18 in at the nearby new Sequoyah National golf course designed by Robert Trent Jones II.

A perfect day is topped off with the exciting “Unto These Hills” outdoor drama. The story of the tribe is told through the hearts and minds of the Cherokee people. Rich and authentic costumes, music and dance enhance the story. The recently renovated Mountainside Theater is lit by the stars and bathed in the cool night air. The drama runs June through August.

In addition to all that the cultural venues have to offer, Legendary Cherokee hosts festivals and events throughout the summer. For information on all the adventure Legendary Cherokee offers, check out or call 866-554-4557.

For more information about Cherokee, visit or call 800-438-1601.

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