Courtyard of the Cherokee

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Celebrating the Cherokees of Graham County

All of western North Carolina was once within the Cherokee homeland, including Stecoah or little place. Today, the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians is a sovereign nation. Its people live on the Qualla Boundary, a small portion of their original homeland. While most of their 57,000 acres is located in and around the town of Cherokee, tribal lands also include the Snowbird Community in Graham County.

Since Stecoah Valley Center’s mission is to preserve and promote Southern Appalachian mountain culture, it’s only natural that we begin with the region’s first people – the Cherokee.

When you visit Stecoah Valley Center, don’t miss:

Courtyard exhibits – Five educational panels describing the Snowbird Indians’ history and culture including the seven clans and masks.

Cherokee clan masks – Seven hand-carved masks by acclaimed Snowbird Cherokee artist Billy Welch. Auditorium wall. (inside)

Cherokee in Stecoah exhibit – Learn more about Cherokee history in Stecoah Valley and the legend of Tsali. Back hallway. (inside)

The Courtyard of the Cherokee

The Courtyard of the Cherokee was created to educate and bring awareness to the public about the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians, especially the Snowbird Community in Graham County.

The courtyard’s focal point is an Eternal Flame sculpture created by Nathan Bush, JR Wolfe and William Rogers of Rogers Metals. The sculpture features pounded copper elements that depict the seven clans and the Cherokee legend of the spider attached to a steel flame base.

Exhibit panels designed by Anna Fariello of Curatorial Insights bring awareness of the Cherokee syllabary and the headers are translated into the Snowbird dialect, which is different from the Cherokee dialect.

The project was made possible with grants from the Joy W. Pope Memorial Grant in the Arts from The John William Pope Foundation and the Cherokee Preservation Foundation. The Site Design Studio of Asheville, NC designed the courtyard and the landscaping was done by Taylor’s Greenhouse of Robbinsville, NC.

Billy Welch Masks

Graham County Artisan

On display in the Stecoah Valley Center auditorium is a prized set of Cherokee clan masks by Billy J. Welch, a renowned wood carver from nearby Robbinsville. Billy and other members of the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians continue to preserve the history and traditions of his Native American ancestors.

In the short video below, Billy tells his story of growing up in Robbinsville, NC. The segregation, the history, and the stories passed on through generations through mask making. The film was produced for Billy’s 2018 popup gallery show at the Out of the Shadows Gallery in New York

Watch Billy Welch’s Story

Billy Welch Masks

The Seven Clans

The Cherokee Seven Clans are a traditional social organization of Cherokee society. Customs of the clans have evolved since ancient times; however, traditionalists still observe clan customs regarding marriage and certain social events.

The masks (pictured l-r) symbolize the historical origin of each clan.

Wolf Clan

Known throughout time to be the largest clan. During the time of the Peace Chief and War Chief government setting, the War Chief would come from this clan.

Blue Clan

Historically, this clan produced many people who were able to make special medicines for the children. The medicine was made from a blue plant which is where the clan gained its name.

Deer Clan

The Deer clan were guardians of the forest. Their members were known as hunters, trackers, and
fast runners. Members of the Deer Clan were messengers, delivering news from village to village. They ensured that when deer were killed for food or skins that they were given respect. Mooney translated the name of Cowee, an important town in Macon County, to mean “place of the Deer clan.”

Long Hair Clan

Regarded as peacemakers. In the times of the Peace Chief and War Chief government, the Peace Chief would come from this clan. Prisoners of war, orphans of other tribes, and others with no Cherokee tribe were often adopted into this clan.

Paint Clan

Historically known as a prominent medicine people. Medicine is often painted on a patient after harvesting, mixing and performing other aspects of the ceremony.

Bird Clan

Members of the Bird Clan were historically known as messengers. The belief that birds are messengers between earth and heaven, or the People and Creator, gave the members of this clan the responsibility of caring for the birds.

Wild Potato Clan

Historically, members of this clan were known to be keepers of the land, and gatherers. The wild potato was a main staple of the traditional Cherokee life in the Southeast