The Cherokee Nation once occupied approximately 135,000 square miles in what became Alabama, Georgia, Kentucky, North and South Carolina, Tennessee, Virginia and West Virginia. However, in 1838 and 1839, the U.S. government forcibly removed the Cherokee from their lands to Indian Territory in present-day Oklahoma.

If you go

What: “Unto These Hills” and the Oconaluftee Indian Village

Where:Cherokee, N.C. (approximately three hours from Chattanooga)

When: “Unto These Hills” is performed nightly (except Sundays) from June 1 through Aug. 17,Oconaluftee Indian Village is open May 1 to Oct. 19

For more information:866-554-4557 or

Today, 56,000 acres of the Cherokee’s original homeland make up the Qualla Boundary, commonly called the Cherokee Indian Reservation, in western North Carolina. Many of the Cherokee there are descendants of Cherokee people who were able to hold on to land they owned, hide out in the hills or return to the land they loved.

Cherokee, N.C., is the center of the Eastern Band of the Cherokee and a thriving tourist area offering firsthand encounters with Cherokee history and culture. Topping the list of authentic experiences is the open-air drama “Unto These Hills” and the Oconaluftee Indian Village, both of which are operated by the Cherokee Historical Association.

In its 64th season, “Unto These Hills” tells the story of how the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians came to reside in the Qualla Boundary in western North Carolina.

Originally written by Kermit Hunter in 1950, the play was updated in 2005 to address a number of issues with the previous script, including historical inaccuracies and a lack of Cherokee tribal participation in the cast, said John Tissue, executive director of the Cherokee Historical Association.

“We updated the original play to make it more culturally appropriate and historically accurate,” Tissue said. “This is the story that the Eastern Band of the Cherokee wants to tell about its history.”

Nestled in the heart of Cherokee’s historic district, the 2,100-seat amphitheater-the Cherokee Mountainside Theater-was remodeled three years ago, as well.

“Unto These Hills” opens for the season June 1 and continues through Aug. 17. The show is performed each night, except Sundays, at 8 p.m. The cast, drawn primarily from Cherokee people, features 54 actors and 24 technicians.

The Cherokee Historical Association also operates the Oconaluftee Cherokee Village, a living history village where visitors can step back in time to Cherokee life as it was in the mid-1700s. The village is open Monday through Saturday from May 1 through Oct. 19.

The interactive historic journey into Cherokee history begins with a guided tour featuring master craftspeople as they create traditional beadwork, arrowheads, weavings, woodcarvings, baskets, canoes and more. Visitors also tour a working Cherokee village and interact with villagers as they participate in their daily activities.

“The village is the public face of Cherokee culture,” Tissue said. “It is where traditional culture comes to life and where the keepers of the old craft pass along their skills and craft. It’s not an exhibit-it is the real thing.”

To learn more about “Unto These Hills” performances and the Oconaluftee Cherokee Village, visit

Jenni Frankenberg Veal is a freelance writer and naturalist whose writing interests include conservation, outdoor travel and living history in the southeastern United States. Visit her blog at