Native Village Youth and Education News
October, 2009


North Carolina.: Moravian documents describing the Cherokee's tribal life in their original homeland are being translated from an archaic German script thanks to funding from the tribe.

Hundreds of diaries, letters and other papers offer insights into nearly 100 years of history between the Moravian missionaries and their Cherokee hosts.  These records are the only known account of daily life in the Indian nation before the U.S. government uprooted the tribe in 1838 from today's North Carolina, Tennessee and Georgia.

"They're telling the story from within the Cherokee mission," said Jack Baker, a Cherokee Nation tribal council member. "It's their viewpoint, but it's an eyewitness account to what's happening within the Nation."

These documents had been stored for over 200 years at the Moravian Archives in Winston-Salem. Translation work started in 1992 but stalled for lack of funds. Early in 2009, the Cherokee Nation of Oklahoma offered $125,000 over five years to translate and transcribe the documents. Two archivists are working on the project

The Cherokee Nation is made up of the descendants of Trail of Tears survivors. The Trail of Tears refers to the Cherokee's forced removal from their original homelands to what is now Oklahoma.

The Eastern Band of Cherokee also offered to help pay for the translation project. The Eastern Band is composed of tribal members who hid from soldiers in the Smoky Mountains and refused to leave their land. Today they have a tribal reservation in North Carolina.

The Moravian records hold details about what the Cherokee ate, how they built their villages, their dress and their celebrations. In one document written May 22, 1801, Moravian missionary Abraham Steiner described a tribal meeting at a Cherokee village at Springplace, Ga., near Dalton.

"In front of the house stands a long, open shed covered with clapboards adequately provided with benches and other seats, as well as a raised plank for writing on. The Talk was held under this shed. At a short distance from this stands a tall pole. A designated Indian took his position at this pole with a drum, and beat the drum as a sign of the beginning of the meeting. He kept drumming until Indians were seen coming in lines. In the heat, the Indians used turkey wings instead of fans to make a breeze for themselves," Steiner wrote.

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