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WCU Cherokee Studies Scholarship Will Honor T.J. Holland

TJHolland_WCU.jpg
Courtesy of Western Carolina University
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T.J. Holland was a Western Carolina University alum and a Cherokee Studies scholar.

Western Carolina University has established a Cherokee Studies Scholarship in honor of an Eastern Band leader and scholar.

One death this year that had nothing to do with the COVID-19 pandemic hit the cultural community of the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians hard. (There have been 6 COVID-19 related deaths reported by the Cherokee Indian Hospital Authority.) 

T.J. Holland passed away in September at the age of 44.  He was the cultural resources manager for the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians. 

“It was a tragedy. There is no other simple way to put it.”

That’s Adam Wachacha. He’s the chairman of the Eastern Band’s Tribal Council. He grew up with Holland and describes him as a keeper of Cherokee history. Wachacha recalls a day working on a historical sign together:

“I grew up there and I didn’t know half of the stuff that T.J. carried about the area where we lived in Graham County alone, not to mention less everything else,” said Wachacha, who represents the Snowbird Community in Graham County as well as Cherokee County.

Holland was also director of the Junaluska Memorial Museum in Robbinsville. The museum was damaged in a storm in 2015. Since then, Holland had been working to rebuild and expand the museum.

“That will be done probably in the next 5 years and I would love to see some portion of it in memory of T.J. Holland,” said Wachacha. 

Brett Riggs, Western Carolina University’s Sequoyah Distinguished Professor of Cherokee Studies, says he worked with Holland for almost 20 years researching the ancient history of the Cherokee. 

“As much he did with the home team, he also kind of led the road team. He was a principal in achieving agreements with outside organizations, archives about the treatment of culturally sensitive materials,” said Riggs.

Holland worked with many groups including the North Carolina Trail of Tears Association, Snowbird Fading Voices Committee and the Smithsonian Institute. He was also a Western Carolina Alum. For Riggs, the personal nature of history is an important part of Holland’s legacy:

“T.J. always tried to make it very personal because, you know, as he said, the past is right here beside us, this is not something remote in time,” said Riggs.

The Cherokee Studies Department at Western Carolina is still fundraising for the scholarship named for Holland, and is hoping to give out the first one next fall.  The Cherokee Indian Museum has also announced that it will be naming a room in honor of Holland.

Lilly Knoepp serves as BPR’s first fulltime reporter covering Western North Carolina. She is a native of Franklin, NC who returns to WNC after serving as the assistant editor of Women@Forbes and digital producer of the Forbes podcast network. She holds a master’s degree in international journalism from the City University of New York and earned a double major from UNC-Chapel Hill in religious studies and political science.
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