"I don't want to depress them," said Appalachian State Univ. Professor Allen Bryant at Chieftains Saturday. "I hope to inspire them. This house was built by a Cherokee leader."
Bryant said one of the easiest ways to stir up a dispute on the Eastern Band of the Cherokee land in western North Carolina would be to bring up Major Ridge's name.
Ridge, of course, led the group that advocated giving up tribal lands that led to the infamous Trail of Tears.
"He knew that he had signed his life away," Bryant told a crowd at the museum in Rome Saturday. "I think he's much too easy of a scapegoat. If you're looking for a villain, the villain was Andrew Jackson."
Bryant nonetheless surmised that Ridge "earned his execution."
The professor introduced five students from the Cherokee High School to a room full of people interested in a cultural exchange. Darius Lambert said that after a visit to new Echota and Chieftains that he really wanted to rededicate efforts to learn and master the Cherokee native language.
Bryant told the crowd that Sequoyah, creator of the Cherokee alphabet, had never gotten proper recognition for accomplishing over twelve years what normally evolved naturally over thousands of years.
Niobie Redus, one of the students, said they actually start learning a little about their native language in kindergarten but are not fully immersed into their native tongue. On the other hand, Lambert explained that several of his younger cousins attended a special K-6 school where they speak nothing but the Cherokee language.
In response to a question from the crowd, Redus said she believes that understanding the language better helps the students get a better grasp on their own culture. Professor Bryant, who teaches a class at the high school for which the students can also earn college credit, explained that in Cherokee the word for “father" has nothing to do with biology. It is a reference to the male figure who is there for the child.
"I love that," Bryant said. He also said there was no word for good-bye in the Cherokee language. Redus explained that what an American might interpret for good-bye actually would be translated more like, "until I see you again."
During a discussion of foods, Redus said the Cherokee didn't really use cookbooks, but depended on recipes that had been handed down orally from one generation to the next.
Bryant said that history teachers don't do a good job of telling the real story of the Cherokee and that it generally ends with the Trail of Tears. Redus explained that much of what she had been taught occurred during visits to museums while she was in elementary school on field trips.
Referring to the visit to the Major Ridge home, Redus said, she had never really learned about Ridge's side of the course of history.
"It's been a real eye-opener."
Asked how the Eastern Band landed in North Carolina, student Maya Cruz responded simply, " The Creator." Bryant also pointed out that the Eastern Band do not live on reservation in Cherokee.
"It's a boundary," he explained, adding that the Cherokee have title to the land, but, "owning is not a Cherokee concept."
He said that Cruz’s response perfectly reflected the Cherokee cultural belief that the Creator is still the owner of the land.