This is what the Elders told me.

Cherokees begin a story the way their people have for generations. It’s only fitting to start the story of the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians the same way.

Chapter I: A Long Time Ago

The Cherokees were hunters and gatherers, foraging the Great Smoky Mountains and the lowlands of the Southern Appalachians for food while hunting, fishing, and trapping game.

By 2000 BC, Cherokee culture had spread over hundreds of miles of mountains, governed by their clan system and town leaders. They passed on their history and religious beliefs through storytelling, ceremonies, and dances. Their agriculture, families, traditions, and way of life sustained them.

The Cherokees formed one of the largest tribes in the southeastern United States and controlled a vast land base.

Chapter II: Strangers

In 1540 AD, Spanish explorer and conquistador Hernando de Soto came through looking for gold, demanding food, fighting, enslaving–despite what you may have heard, he wasn’t a great guy.

Worse were the diseases that came with him. Lacking the immunity to combat these afflictions, indigenous peoples were nearly eradicated, victims of plagues such as smallpox, measles, and influenza.

Nevertheless, the Cherokees continued to work through diplomacy with the newcomers for the next 200 years.

By the late eighteenth century, seventy-five percent of Cherokee land had been lost through treaties with England and America. Encroachment by settlers forced the Cherokees to fight for their territory through statesmanship with both the new American government and colonial powers.

Chapter III: Nineteenth Century Brings Tears

Gold was discovered in Georgia in 1828, leading to America’s first gold rush while shifting the entire perception of the region. Peace made alliances irrelevant and mounting pressure from land speculators made the Cherokees an inconvenience.

In 1830, US President Andrew Jackson signed the Indian Removal Act offering the Cherokees territory out west in exchange for their homeland. Five years later came the Treaty of New Echota, ceding to the federal government most of the Cherokee Lands east of the Mississippi, resulting in what is now referred to as the “Trail of Tears.”

Sixteen thousand Cherokees were gathered, removed, and made to walk six months and 1,200 miles west. Roughly 4,000 Cherokees died of hunger, disease, exposure, or exhaustion. The North Carolina Cherokees worked against removal. Along with other Cherokees who escaped removal or who came back, the group established the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians.

Chapter IV: The Renaissance

Today’s Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians stands strong and healthy. The success of Harrah’s® Cherokee Casino Resort has provided important income for the Western North Carolina region and draws millions of visitors to Cherokee annually. Cherokee’s economic vitality can be seen across the Qualla Boundary. As the Tribe looks out into the twenty-first century, its bright future emanates a light for other tribes to follow.