|Grounds of Sequoyah Birthplace Museum|
Overlooking Burial Mound
On a quiet shore of the Little Tennessee River lies a trail, amphitheater and museum in memory of the Cherokee Nation's most famous member. The Sequoyah Birthplace Museum invites all people to meet the creator of the Cherokee writing system.
Sequoyah was born in a village just a half-mile from the museum, near Vonore, Tennessee. He was illiterate in the English language, and this veteran of the War of 1812 was a silversmith by trade. When he returned home after the war, he found work in a blacksmith shop and began to create his own written way to use the Cherokee language.
|Sequoyah by artist James V. Hall|
He based the system on the sounds of the Cherokee language, creating a syllabary. This led to the publication of the Cherokee Phoenix, a bilingual newspaper, as well as making religious and legal documents more accessible to native people.
"He's just an incredible human being," explains Museum Director Charles Rhodarmer, "he had so many challenges as a Cherokee and as a human being and he creates a formal writing system without having anything."
|Artwork from Cherokee, NC Schoolchildren|
Today children from the Cherokee Nation's elementary school in North Carolina share their artwork that's often on display. The cultural center not only offers curricula for school children, but classes for adults who want to learn the Cherokee language.
|Storytelling in Leaded Glass Displays|
The Cherokee Memorial on the grounds is a common burial site for remains of 192 ancestors. These were discovered during archaeological digs at former 18th century Cherokee river towns before the federal government filled the Tellico Reservoir. Rhodarmer explains that this set a precedent for returning Native American remains back to their extended families. The memorial illustrates the seven official clans that were integral to Cherokee society in the 1700s. When I asked the director what the clans mean to people today, he answered, "Some Cherokee know their clan, remember their clan, some have lost it."
The Museum shares an island with Fort Loudoun historic site, offering a wealth of discovery for tourists and school groups. With the tragedy of the Trail of Tears that started along the Tennessee/North Carolina border, Rhodarmer says, "A lot of people have this impression that natives are gone." Indeed, the Cherokee and their history are carrying on.