By Natalie Smith • Guest Columnist
One of the most commonly asked questions in life is “Where are you from?” Nowadays when we ask this question to a stranger we get exotic and interesting answers. Home is a relationship. It gives back to you. As you put into it your labors of love, self-expression, and protection, it in turn gives you freedom, shelter and peace of mind. These things are essential to all people everywhere.
These things are what the first European settlers of our homeland killed, deceived, and robbed some of us over — for a place to create their homes and their well being. This is what people throughout the world are still fighting other people over even as you read this article.
I am always curious to find out just how far people are from their homes when they come here to visit. In the reverse, I also find it satisfying to tell strangers where I am from, that I live among the oldest mountains in the world, where water never stops, where there are unidentified species of life, where magic lives, and where my people have always been. Then, it usually leads into slightly more detail when they remark that they “thought all Cherokees were in Oklahoma now because of the Trail of Tears.” I very simply say that some of us managed to stay behind in the Motherland where I was born and where the Eastern Band of Cherokee is still living to this day, and that it is where all Cherokee people call home.
Then I enthusiastically top it off with a description of how members of each of the Cherokee groups come home each year to the Mother-town of Kituwah to remember home and remember each other. Most often I run out of time to explain to them the answer of where I am from just the way I want to, or I opt to keep it simple as for not wanting to outdo them because chances are, their answer is not going to be as elaborate.
Whatever the answer I choose to give the moment that someone asks me where I am from, I often receive their sincere interest or awe. If they are really comfortable with me, sometimes they say, “Man, I wish I was part of a tribe. I can ‘t say WHERE my ancestors are from. I just know that I’m XYZ, PDQ, and ABC.” And that’s when I follow up with “Well, it’s kind of like having a huge family. You get little to no privacy, and you get a big responsibility to make sure your people are OK and that you are OK with your people, and that’s hard to live with sometimes … no, all the time.”
Nevertheless, I KNOW and appreciate the fact that I am a member of the Eastern Band of Cherokee, the fact that I HAVE a huge family therefore and therein, I KNOW where my ancestors are from, in fact I know the very piece of land that we started from. For a brief 150 years or so it was used by various farmers and was not for us to freely walk upon or to gather together upon, but it was made just for us by us so it was never truly taken from us.
Now today we farm there again, we pray there again, we learn there again, and at least once a year, our Oklahoma family comes back home again so we can pick on each other, joke, pray, eat, laugh, flirt, gossip, pinch each other, tell secrets, let our kids run around and get dirty, eat more, laugh more, reminisce, clean up together, laugh even more, and we do this in a way that only we can do. The most amazing part of it is that we do it exactly where our entire tribe started thousands of years ago. The very soil at Kituwah literally has our ancestor’s blood, sweat and tears in it. Our DNA is down there!
And when I go there among you (my people), or among my ancestor’s spirits there, I am home. I am as home as any human being can ever be, and home is everything.
I wish to give a sincere thanks to all (Cherokee and “non”) who support the ongoing efforts of the EBCI governing body, the United Keetoowah Band governing body, and the Citizens to Protect Kituwah Valley and Swain County in our responsibility to secure our home at Kituwah, and see that it is loved, protected and respected for generations more of our people to come. Please visit savekituwahvalley.com for updates, information and to make donations.