T he Eastern band of Cherokee are descendants from the Cherokee Nation, once the largest native American association in the Southeastern United States. After Andrew Jackson's Indian Removal Act of 1830, most members of the Cherokee Nation were forced to move to Oklahoma on the "Trail of Tears". But some remained in the North Carolina mountains and were formally recognized as the Eastern Cherokee band in 1848 by Congress. Today, most of the 10,000 members of the Eastern band live on the Qualla Boundary, a land area of 56,572 near Great Smoky Mountains National Park. They are the only federally recognized tribe in North Carolina as well as the only NC tribe that lives on a reservation .

 

Cherokee storyteller Eagle Woman weaves a tale.

Under old traditional law, the tales or stories were only told to fellow Cherokee or other Indian People. Even if an individual was a Cherokee or other type of Indian, they would have to be invited by the myth keeper or tale teller to hear the stories. They would first have to go the medicine man for preparation. The Medicine man would then perform a scratching ceremony on them. He would scratch their arms from shoulder to elbow and elbow to wrist from a comb, usually made from the teeth of a rattle snake. A healing red powder was blown over the red marks that the comb made on their arms. Finally, they were able to hear the stories of the myth keeper, in a small dome shaped earthen covered hut. The stories would last all night and into the morning, until Grandmother Sun appeared in the East. Then they would go to the water. Each person would dip themselves seven times under the water while a priest would recite prayers from the bank of the water.

The stories were passed down from generation to generation. It is said that the true myth keeper can become the animal about whom they speak. It is also said that myth keepers have to be actors, mimes, singers, dancers.There are are many, many parts to being a myth keeper

There are two groups of stories told by the Cherokee. First, there are the sacred stories. These stories are the serious type of stories which tell about why the Cherokee came to have certain healings, songs and that sort of thing. The second type of stories are the small animal stories. These stories tell why a certain animal looks the way they do, or act they way they do. In the stories, the animals are much larger than they are now and they could speak. It is taught to the Cherokee that in the beginning, man had the ability to speak with the animals. We spoke the same language. But, man abused their privilege by taking too much and becoming greedy. Therefore, man lost their ability to speak with the animals.

- Eagle Woman, Cherokee Storyteller

View a Real Video Version of The Rattlesnake Story by Eagle Woman
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Additional Resources:

Official Page of the Cherokee Nation
Official Page of the Eastern Band of the Cherokee Indians