KNOXVILLE, Tenn. — Eastern Cherokee Indians, for centuries expected to assimilate into white culture, will prosper in the 21st century by reaffirming their tribal identity, a University of Tennessee-Knoxville history professor said Friday.
Dr. John Finger said a reaffirmation of traditional Cherokee culture as well as the Cherokee identity as a federally recognized Indian tribe are critical to the tribe’s economy.
“The emphasis of the federal government in the past has been on assimilating Indians into the a larger society and getting them to the point where they no longer had a discernible Indian tribe or identity,” Finger said.
The federal government today accords federally recognized tribes a “surprising degree” of autonomy, including the right, in some instances, to operate gambling casinos on reservations.
Federal funds are also available to them, he said.
As a consequence, the Cherokee can “see the utility” in maintaining their status as a federally recognized tribe “even as they head into the 21st century,” he said.
Tourism dollars are important to the tribe’s economy. Tourists are attracted to the reservation for glimpses of traditional Cherokee culture and to gamble, the reservation being the only location in North Carolina where gambling is legal.
“The reason they are making so much money from tourism, most recently from gaming casinos, is because of their identity and their legal status as Indians living on a federally recognized and protected reservation,” he said.
Finger will discuss economic issues relating to the Cherokees at 7:30 p.m., Feb. 11, in the University Center Shiloh Room. The presentation is the February installment of the Tuesday Topics lecture series sponsored by UT’s College of Arts and Sciences.
Contact: Dr. John Finger (423-974-7086)