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WCU Acknowledges Cherokee Land For The First Time

Courtesy of Western Carolina University
During the ceremony, Bo Taylor sang a traditional song as the land acknowledgement was presented.

During Western Carolina University’s commencement ceremony, the university recognized the history of the Cherokee with an official land acknowledgement for the first time.

The university is on the ancestral homelands of the Cherokee people just twenty miles away from the Qualla Boundary.Two-Sparrows Town, an ancient principal town with a mound and council house was where the Killian Building now stands, explained Chancellor Kelli R. Brown. She also outlined the ancient story of Judaculla.

Credit Courtesy of Western Carolina University
Chancellor Kelli R. Brown and Principal Chief Richard Sneed both signed the official acknowledgement. Click to enlarge.

“We at Western Carolina inherit these stories so that we can better understand this place and our role here. Western Carolina University seeks to embrace our place, connect with tribal communities and enable the success of indigenous students,” said Brown.

Eastern Band of Cherokee Principal Chief Richard Sneed also spoke during the ceremony. He thanked WCU leadership for performing the first official land acknowledgement at the university.

“For decades after the Indian Removal Act and the ensuing Trail of Tears, the Cherokee and other tribes that were removed from their homelands were ignored in the history books of this nation. The stories of genocide and assimilation have for too long been the silent secret of America. It is only now in our time that tribal nations are being recognized for their rich culture, heritage, language and contribution to the fabric of American society,” said Sneed.    

During the ceremony, Bo Taylor sang a traditional song as the land acknowledgement was presented to the Eastern Band of Cherokee who in turn gave Chancellor Brown a welcome medal. The silver medal was engraved with the shape of the Cherokee syllabary for the sound 'wee' along with other symbols. 

The acknowledgement is just one piece of the partnership between the tribe and the university. The Cherokee Studies, the WCU Cherokee Center and other programs show the commitment, said Sneed. 

“Being very diligent and deliberate about making Cherokee students feel welcome and feel at home, like this is your place and you belong here. This is significant,” said Sneed.

During the commencement, Tom Belt was also honored. Belt retired from his role as the WCU Cherokee Language program coordinator in 2018. He received an honorary doctorate for his work as part of the ceremony. Belt is a scholar and a member of the Cherokee Nation.

The acknowledgement will be used at university events and activities from now on, according to the WCU Cherokee Center. 

Lilly Knoepp is Senior Regional Reporter for Blue Ridge Public Radio. She has served as BPR’s first fulltime reporter covering Western North Carolina since 2018. She is from Franklin, NC. She 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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