Taran Swimmer does not speak her native Cherokee tongue fluently. She sings it beautifully. Swimmer sang the Cherokee anthem as part of ceremonies at the Chieftains Museum/Major Ridge Home in Rome Saturday to plant corn on native grounds for the first time since 1837.
Swimmer, who has returned from college to teach graphic design at Cherokee High, said the Cherokee anthem, roughly translated, “Talks about how this land is still ours, talking about the freedom of the mountains and how, despite all, we still consider this home.”
Swimmer said the ability to reach anyone with the message of the Cherokee culture means a lot to her.
The program was put together by Professor Allen Bryant of Appalachian State University in response to a letter he found which was authored by Gen. John E. Wool in March 1837. The letter, read to a crowd at the museum by Cherokee (N.C.) High School senior Shirley Peebles stated, “Your fate is decided. The President, as well as Congress have decreed that you should remove from this country ... Remember that you have but one summer more to plant corn in this country.”
Bryant said he’s not quite sure why Gen. Wool’s letter hit him so hard. “But it did, and I would very much like to prove the general wrong. I’d like to bring some young people down here to plant some corn on an important piece of the home land.”
Bryant brought four high school seniors who are dual-enrolled at APSU — Derek Torres, Tay Lambert, Peebles and Emma Stamper — for an overnight visit to Rome. He explained the Cherokee students know about removal and they know that it was bad.
“But walking down that stairwell (inside the Major Ridge Home) and seeing one of the homes that was lost and abandoned, it become so much more than a historical moment. It becomes a real experience. They’re responding in ways that just blow me away,” Bryant said.
It was the first visit to the native Cherokee land that is now Rome for Emma Stamper who said,
“We don’t hear much about our history other than the Trail of Tears, so coming here is a real learning experience.”
Derek Torres said it was particularly moving for him to see a lot of folks come out Saturday to learn more about Cherokee culture. He said the students got to Chieftains a couple of hours before the ceremony took place Saturday, and that it was an amazing experience to walk around the former home of the Cherokee leader who is still looked upon with great disdain by many of the Cherokee.
“It means a lot to me that we were able to come down to the land that was once ours and plant corn without having to worry about anything,” said Tay Lambert.
The corn itself comes from seed from the most hallowed of grounds near Cherokee, and Bryant said it was his hope that he could replicate the ceremony on an annual basis, to help more Cherokee students learn more about their ancestral homes.