Unto These Hills Regales a Dramatic True Story - TribPapers

Unto These Hills Regales a Dramatic True Story

Soaring through the air is this eagle at Unto These Hills drama in Cherokee.

Cherokee – The Cherokee Mountainside Theater, located at 688 Drama Road in Cherokee, has a full outdoor production of the tale of Cherokee Indians from 1780 to the 21st century: Unto These Hills. Due to COVID, the play was not able to be performed in 2020, but the company is “thrilled to be back telling this powerful story in 2021,” says Marina Hunley-Graham, Artistic Director. The town of Cherokee is a short drive west from Asheville, just over 50 miles. Kermit Hunter is the playwright who wrote Unto These Hills as his graduate school project. The drama opened on July 1, 1950, to boost the economy in Western North Carolina after WWII and was an immediate success. Marina Hunley-Graham brought together a large team to produce such a powerful, moving play, including choreographers, music directors, lighting designers, costume managers, set designers, not to mention many talented actors and actresses.

This remarkable production is performed with pageantry— incredible dancing, battle scenes and sound effects in this large open-air theater seated under the stars. (Thus, it might be wise to bring a blanket and an umbrella, just in case of inclement weather.) Unto These Hills is the tragic and triumphant story of the Cherokee who trace back to the years before the heartbreak of the Trail of Tears to the present day. The play highlights the story of Tsali who died so that the Cherokee remaining in North Carolina could stay in their homeland. It opens with the arrival of the Spanish Conquistador, Hernando DeSoto in 1540. The appearance of DeSoto and his army establishes an ominous portent of what will befall the Cherokee Nation during the next three hundred years. 

Ticket prices range from $28.00 to $39.00 for adults and $18.00 to $36.00 for children under 12. Ages 0 to 5 are free. There are group rates and packages available. Unto These Hills runs nightly except Sundays until the middle of August. This year Unto These Hills closes on August 14. Pre-show begins at 7:25 PM and showtime at 8:00 PM. Masks are required to be worn when not seated.

Oconaluftee Indian Village

At Oconaluftee Indian Village, another fascinating attraction in Cherokee, one can learn of the daily life of the Cherokees as seen in the mid-18th century. Guided tours take you through winding paths in the woods, where one can see and learn about the many crafts needed to survive in these mountains. One can see canoes being hulled, pottery shaped, arrowheads hammered out, baskets and cloth being woven by hand, the traditional clothing worn at the time, as well as a blowgun demonstration, battle scenes and Indian dance re-enactments. No, the Cherokees did not live in teepees. You will come across authentic reconstructions of Cherokee homes, which are framed with tree logs and then covered with mud and grass to fill in the walls. The roofs were made of thatch or bark. The Cherokees were primarily hunters and gatherers, who were responsible stewards of the land of their ancestors. Oconaluftee Indian Village carves out a piece of living history for all ages to enjoy and appreciate.

The Park is open from 9: 30 – 4:30, Tuesday – Saturday until October 30th. Tickets for adults are $16; children ages 6 – 11 are $10; infants ages 5 and under, free. Masks are required in the Village at all times.

A Cherokee on the warpath. Photo curtesy of Cherokee Historical Association.

Cherokee Today

Most current residents of Cherokee—with more than 13,000 enrolled members— are descendants of the original Cherokee Indians— who managed to survive the devastating effects of their ancestors’ removal from the Eastern United States under the provisions of the Indian Removal Act of 1830—but were later then allowed to return. Today the Eastern Band of the Cherokee Indians is a sovereign nation of 100 square miles. As a sovereign nation, gambling which is highly restricted in North Carolina has been allowed to operate there. As a result, Harrah’s Cherokee Casino Resort on the Qualla Boundary territory in the Great Smoky Mountains is permitted to operate legally.  The Eastern Band of Cherokee Nation is one of the only three federally recognized Cherokee tribes.

Center for Craft in Asheville

The Center for Craft in downtown Asheville is working in collaboration with members of the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians (ECBI) to create a public art parklet “to preserve and advance the important craft legacy of western North Carolina.”  “Through research we discovered that Biltmore/Broadway was built along a Cherokee trading path, meaning this path would have passed directly in front of the Center for Craft,” says Moore. “At that point, we reached out to members of the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians (EBCI) to see if they were interested in collaborating on the project.”

The parklet, affectionately known as “The Basket,” is a structure that will extend into the street in front of 67 Broadway where the Craft Center is located. Not only is it intended as an outdoor meeting place for all ages, but it will also celebrate indigenous craft traditions and serve as a welcoming gateway to a burgeoning downtown art district. Plans for this parklet hope to be completed this fall. Donations to the Center for Craft Museum for this project are welcome. More information can be found at https://www.centerforcraft.org/community-initiatives/the-basket.

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