Appalachia's Native American history: how much do you know?

The Appalachia region has a compelling story regarding the history of the land and the indigenous people who called it home. Many Native Americans resided in Appalachia before settlers arrived, but few Cherokee settlements of the past remain today. The love and care the Cherokee had for their home has not been erased, despite the nature in which settlers took over Native American land.

Graphic provided by Chandler Bradley.

Many traditions that Native Americans cherished are still practiced today, and they exist as an example of cultural pride. The strength and importance of these practices are shown through their ability to withstand challenges such as the intrusion of settlers. Today, there are three tribes that are federally recognized in the United States. The Eastern Band Cherokee Tribe (located in Western North Carolina), the Cherokee Nation of Oklahoma and the United Ketoowah Band (also located in Oklahoma). The populations of these tribes can be considered fairly large with the Cherokee Nation of Oklahoma topping at 200,000. The Ketoowah Band is second at 15,000, and the Eastern Band is the least populated tribe at 12,500. Despite the diverse history of the Appalachia region, not many people outside of Native American culture understand the significance of the land they live on.


“I know next to nothing about the history of Appalachia," said Keon Helm, an East Tennessee State University student. “All I know is that Cherokee people have been living in Appalachia for a long time.”


It takes some effort to inform oneself on local history and its significance. The Appalachia region contains sites that provide information preserving Native American footprints. Many museums and national parks take on this responsibility and are open to the general public. These sites encourage people to educate themselves on the significance of Native American history in Appalachia.


“I think the benefit of places like these is that they teach people to respect the land and it's history, opposed to someone who doesn't know its importance,” said Makya Davis, a college student at East Tennessee State University. “I think it's important to know the history because history is important to know in general.”


One notable museum that represents Appalachia and its history is the Museum of Appalachia, located in Clinton, Tennessee. Their website states that their overall mission is to preserve important physical artifacts from the Cherokee's most prosperous era. There are over 250,000 artifacts in total. They also stress the importance to “instill the community—regionally, nationally, and internationally.” The Museum of Appalachia also offers other collections such as folk art, musical instruments, baskets and quilts. These exhibitions allow the public to gain a greater appreciation for Appalachia and the diversity it was built upon.


“I'd say the positives to having places that inform people on their region is that they can feel more like part of the place they live in by knowing more about it and it's past,” said Helm. “I'm sure it could bring more appreciation of Appalachia.”


Helm expressed his agreement that others should take the time to immerse themselves in Appalachian history, while also mentioning his own interest in learning more about Cherokee tribes and their culture.


“Museums usually make learning more fun and interactive,” said Helm.


For more information on the Museum of Appalachia, contact them at 865-494-7680 or visit their website at https://www.museumofappalachia.org. Other Appalachian history museums and historical sites can be found through a simple google search.