By Liz Capobianco
As part of Suffolk Community College’s author series, students and faculty at the Ammerman campus had a chance to attend a lecture and meet and greet with Dr. Christina Beard-Moose Wednesday, April 1.
An Assistant Professor of Anthropology and Sociology at Suffolk, Professor Beard-Moose brings her recently published book titled, “Public Indians, Private Cherokees: Tourism and Tradition on Tribal Ground” to the Huntington Library on campus. The book, which was published by the University of Alabama Press and was published on January 13, examines the impact of tourism on the Cherokee Indian’s cultural identity. J. Anthony Paredes, Professor of Anthropology at Florida State University, states that Public Indians, “Private Cherokees” “makes and outstanding contribution to Cherokee studies and the anthropology of tourism.”
The lecture begins when Dr. Beard-Moose invites those in attendance to view the various different Cherokee Indian artifacts that she has gathered over her years of exploration within the tribe. In 1996, Beard-Moose began her fieldwork in preparation for her PhD and her work continued for 10 years until she was granted her doctorate in 2006. Her concentration was in the area of Western North Carolina, which is home to the Eastern Band of the Cherokee Nation. The homeland for these Cherokee Indians in the Eastern Band is, more specifically, the Qualla Boundary of North Carolina.
Through the reading of excerpts from her book, Dr. Beard-Moose explains the many ways in which the tourist industry has impacted the Eastern Band. Beard-Moose presents the two faces of the Cherokee people. One is the public face that populates the powwows, dramatic presentations, museums, and myriad roadside craft locations. The other is the private face whose homecoming, Indian fairs, traditions, belief system, community strength, and cultural heritage are threatened by the very activities that put food on their tables. Through extensive formal and informal interviews with members of the tribe who ranged from age 15-90, she came away with stories and anecdotes from many different members of the tribe. Some members of the tribe were reluctant to give permission to use the stories in her book because many are distrustful of people outside of their tribe.
Dr. Gertrude Postl, a Professor in the Women’s Studies Department at the Ammerman campus, asks about the land grant to better understand why this particular Cherokee tribe chooses to run this way. For the Eastern Band, they are maintaining their land through a grant. They choose to maintain their land through a land grant so that no one else can buy a piece of the boundary. Cherokee is owned by specific families and can sell within tribe members. Families and decide who to tell their land to,” Dr. Beard-Moose explains. The families who own pieces of the land can later decide whom to sell the land to.
On the topic of casinos within the boundary, Prof. Beard-Moose explains the overall feeling within the tribe in regards to the rise in the number of casinos being built. “It’s not a bad thing. Now they have running water. They have electricity for every house. They have ambulance service. Their infrastructure is amazing and that’s all because of the casinos.”
There is also a problem with segregation within the tribe. Many tribal members want nothing to do with the modern aspects of the tribe and are unhappy with the land being sold for the casinos. There are even a few members within the tribe who live like they did 150 years earlier and choose to keep away from any modernization that is taking place elsewhere.
Perhaps the biggest topic of discussion during the lecture was the issue of racism within the Eastern Band. There are no blacks and no homosexuals within the boundary. Prof. Beard-Moose wishes that people outside of the Indian tribes were a bit more aware and more understanding of the lives that Native Americans choose to live. When attending a play that the tribal members were putting on for members of the community, Professor Beard-Moose heard many questions from other audience members, which lead her to believe that fiction truly does determine reality for many people. Some examples of questions she over heard were, “Where are the teepees you live in? When do young Cherokee men grow their feathers? Where are all the Indians?” It’s clear that there are many misconceptions and stereotypes from outside of the tribe and one of the goals for Beard-Moose is to help heal the institutional racism that is taking place.
Everyone who attended the book signing received a free book from Prof. Beard-Moose and also a chance to meet her and ask any questions about her time within the Eastern Band and her extensive field experience. “Public Indians, Private Cherokees: Tourism and Tradition on Tribal Ground” is available online at Amazon.com.