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Wednesday, 07 December 2005 00:00

Kudos for Cantrell’s new book on fish in Cherokee country

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When I read the notice about a new book — The Fishes Gathered in Cherokee Country — in the Nov. 16 edition of the Smoky Mountain News, it piqued my curiosity. I contacted the book’s author, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service biologist Mark Cantrell, who graciously mailed me a copy.

The Fishes Gathered in Cherokee Country is a small spiral bound book of about 40 pages with a DVD inside the back cover. It is the product of a report prepared for the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians by Cantrell. The book is divided into five section and, like a fish trap at the end of a Cherokee fishing weir, it is wriggling with information. Did you know that Cherokee Indian-ball players would rub themselves with tivdegwa (eel) skins to make themselves slippery?

According to the foreword, the book “... is intended to provide an introduction and a working guide to the diversity of fishes in Cherokee Country. It interprets the uses of these fishes by the ani-tsalaki, the Principle People. The intended audience for this document is primarily the Eastern Band of Cherokee. However, we recognize that interest in fishes, as well as Cherokee culture extends to many others in the fields of anthropology, ichthyology and American history.” They should have included “and anyone interested in the ecology, biology, history and culture of the Cherokee and Cherokee country.”

The Fishes Gathered in Cherokee Country introduces the reader to the Cherokee name for 13 different fishes, two crayfish and freshwater mussels. The word “dagvna” applies to any freshwater mussel. Similarly, “agola” is the Cherokee name for any of at least 10 species of sunfish such as bluegill, redear and/or warmouth. All seven of the common catfish of Cherokee country are called by the name “usgwohli egwa.”

In the section “Fish Habitats,” one gets a good dose of Cherokee culture while at the same time learning about the ecology of fish habitats. It explains the Cherokee name for most of the rivers in Cherokee country. Tsiks’tsi is the Cherokee name for the Tuckasegee River; it means “big turtle.” Hiwassee is the Anglicized version of ayuhwasi and means “meadow or savannah.”

In this section the reader also learns the Cherokee name for other riparian critters like the duweka (salamander), gatsedali (great blue heron), unega kawonu (common (white) egret), ulanawa (spiny softshell turtle) and others.

The Fish Habitats section also instructs the reader regarding the biological importance of good water quality and points to some of the major sources of pollution in the region.

While the early Cherokee were not “sport” fishermen, they did use hooks and line.

The section, “Cherokee Fishing Techniques” also describes how the ani-tsalaki used poisons from native plants, nets and weirs to catch fish.

The book has a few proofing errors, but these minor blips are a small price to pay for the wealth of information packed into this little volume. It gives you a glimpse of a people and a place and shows the historical and cultural connection of one of the natural resources that nourished, and continues to nourish, physically and spiritually, those people.

The main attraction for me in regards to the DVD was that it allowed me to hear the Cherokee pronunciation of the names in the book.

The book was a collaboration among the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians, U.S. Fish and Wildlife, Duke Power, Southern Appalachian Man and the Biosphere, and the U.S. Department of the Interior.

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