Thank you, Yona. We should have given you a shorter bio there. I think that was one for the Cherokee Nation, and I’m really honored to be with you all here tonight to address the Trail of Tears Conference and the Eastern Band Community, which is a real treat for me because I always like to see what we do brought back into the community. I want to start first by remembering my good friend and colleague TJ Holland, who has walked on since the last time we were able to get together here.

TJ held everything together. I can’t just recite everything that TJ did. Some of you might know him as the manager of the Museum of the Cherokee Indian and the cultural resources manager for the tribe, but he was much, much more to the Eastern Band, his family, and the people who knew him well. Losing TJ is an immeasurable loss to the tribe and to me personally.

Tonight, I’m going to talk about some research that TJ worked on along with me and our good friend and colleague Lance Green. Lance’s book, if you don’t have it yet, you need to get it because it talks about many of these same stories but much more coherently than I will. TJ had a hand in all of this. For those who knew him, he was into far more than you could possibly imagine behind the scenes, working with museums and organizations across the country. We really miss TJ, and as I have there at the bottom, we will see him again. We will see TJ again.

Our title for tonight is “Whatever Risk They Might Run: Cherokee Responses to Removal in North Carolina,” because in North Carolina, the removal played out quite differently than in other areas of the Cherokee Nation. I want to look at why that is and the fact that it played out differently is why the Eastern Band is here today. The Eastern Band has a different arc during removal. I’ve heard people say, “I don’t know why the Eastern Band would be interested in the Trail of Tears because they didn’t take the walk,” but in fact, the very genesis of the Eastern Band is associated with removal and the Trail of Tears. It is their story, the Eastern Band’s story, as well.

There are very specific reasons that people did not go to the West when everything came down, and I want us to look at those. This is a huge story and a very complicated story, and I’m going to try not to tell it in real time and recite all that. But I want to hit some of the high points and give you a structure for what went on. Then there will be other talks during the conference by Lance Green and Bill Jelski and others that will expand on these. I’ll just try to set the stage for them and what they do.

The title comes from George Fanshaw’s journal. Fanshaw was a British geologist touring around in the Cherokee Nation. He went into the Valley River Valley, starting in past Andrews, in August of 1837. He ran into a Cherokee named John Welch. Welch didn’t want to talk to Fanshaw, and with good reason. Fanshaw was actually a spy for the US government; he was taking names. But Welch did tell him that the Cherokees were determined not to abandon their country “whatever risk they might run.” That’s more than prophetic.

Despite the scope and scale of this forced deportation in 1838 and 1839, in 1840, there were over a thousand Cherokee people who remained in the Cherokee homelands, and most of those were in North Carolina. That persistence of Cherokee people in their homelands was not coincidental. It wasn’t ad hoc. In fact, it was intentional and strategic. It was part of a long-term process that people didn’t see going on at the time, but it was planning. It was the same principal characters all the way through who executed this plan. That plan originated within traditional town structures, in town councils, because these towns wanted to create and maintain their autonomy as traditional communities.

That resistance was organized within particular families and clans, extended family networks, and those families had developed, I think strategically, ties with certain white people who were closely affiliated with those families, spoke Cherokee, and were dedicated to their cause. They used those people as proxies in their plans. Sometimes people think these plans originated with the white allies, but that’s not the case. They were operatives who were sent out to do things. There’s this long narrative, this dominant narrative, that the folks in North Carolina were just the runaways who hid in the mountains until finally the whole episode was over. But that masks what happened. It masks the very purposeful plan and coordination that the people applied to remain in their mountain homelands.

Sometimes, in talking with Eastern Band groups, particularly young people, the question is posed, “Why didn’t we fight back? Why didn’t we push back? Why didn’t we fight them?” My answer is: you did. You fought in the smartest, most intelligent way possible, and you won. People don’t tell you that. You didn’t allow yourselves to be pushed out. There’s no accident about that.

A little bit of backstory: this story begins, as many Cherokee stories do, at Gadua, where in 1816 a council met in October. That council included some pretty famous Eastern Band progenitors, people like Yona Ausa and well-noted names you would recognize. Konat was there. They were giving the federal agent down the road a piece of their mind. This is a very strongly worded memorial that comes from that meeting. They said, “Do not take us for any part of the nation. You’re ignoring us.” Then they said, “We must from that conclude that we are left to do the best we can for ourselves and act accordingly.” This is a declaration issued from Gadua because they could see what was coming. In 1816, Gadua was close to the boundary of the Cherokee Nation. It had once been in the center, but because of various land cessions, it was now on the edge. In 1819, they felt like they’d been thrown under the bus. The people around Gadua and the Tuckasegee River Valley and the Little Tennessee River Valley lost their lands to this land cession, an enormous land cession that took half of the Cherokee lands in North Carolina and much in Tennessee and Alabama as well. They were faced with the loss of their homes and their beloved town.

From 1820 right up through 1838, Gadua and the communities that were up here on the Tuckasegee and Oconaluftee Rivers were outside the nation. But that treaty had a specific clause, Article Two, in which the United States allowed a reserve, a reservation of 640 acres for each head of family that registered their name with the agent and chose to become citizens of the United States in the manner stipulated. People went to register their names. In fact, far more than the federal government ever anticipated, hundreds of people registered their names for reserves across the ceded areas, 75 in North Carolina. Seventy-five, including our friend John Welch. He was in on this, as were others. Here is his plat from Deep Creek. We have a list of 75 reserves in North Carolina. If you look at those highlighted names, those are all people who signed that memorial at Gadua. They are doing exactly what they said they would do: for themselves.

Then, those highlighted in blue are names I want you to note: there’s John Welch, our friend Gideon Morris, who was his neighbor, and Yona Ausa. They are all reserves; they are all in on this program. Forty-nine of these reserves were platted out and surveyed. You can see it’s a huge area in Western North Carolina. If all 75 had been platted out, that would be 48,000 acres, almost as big as the Qualla Boundary. That’s how much land they were reserving. These reserves were clustered. What we can tell from the limited documentation is that while the United States intended this land to be held as private farms and plantations, that’s not really what they were doing. They were putting this land together for their communities.

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