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Ten thousand years of Cherokee history

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The morning sun rises over the highest mountains east of the Mississippi, filters through limbs of evergreen and deciduous forest trees, and shimmers on rushing mountain streams. With deep beliefs rooted in the earth and nature, the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians look upon this area as a sacred place.

For visitors, Cherokee, N.C., is a window into another time and culture. It offers an opportunity to see the world through the eyes of this tribe, which can trace its presence back to 10,000 BC. Small groups camping in the Southern Appalachians left behind stone tools and artifacts that have been dated from that period.

Time and history feel different here. When Cleopatra sat on Egypt's throne, the Cherokees had settled in villages. When Vikings discovered Greenland, numerous Cherokee towns existed in western North Carolina and beyond. Their territory extended into parts of what is now Virginia, West Virginia, South Carolina, Georgia, Alabama, Tennessee, and Kentucky.

Today the 12,000-member Eastern Band of Cherokee owns 57,000 acres of tribal land in western North Carolina. Known as the Qualla Boundary, it's near the town of Cherokee, bordering the Great Smoky Mountains National Park.

While signs in the area refer to the "Cherokee Indian Reservation," it technically is not one, since the Cherokee people own the land, and the federal government holds it in trust for them.

The Qualla Boundary provides opportunities for visitors to experience Cherokee traditions, culture, and language. Travelers will enjoy watching crafts created by techniques handed down for thousands of years, listening to storytelling, hearing the Cherokee language spoken, and learning of the tribe's traditions.

The Museum of the Cherokee Indian sets the stage for a visit. Here artifacts, art, crafts, and hands-on exhibits detail the Cherokee experience from 11,000 years ago to today.

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