From the Vault

The previous entry on the Cherokee Nation made me think of our visit to the Sequoyah Birthplace Museum in Vonore, Tennessee, which my wife and I saw once. Seqoyah (c. 1770-1840) was a Cherokee silversmith who, impressed by the ability of white people to communicate with each other by means of “talking leaves,” invented from scratch a syllabary of eighty characters for representing the Cherokee language, which continues to be used.

Via Wikipedia, this is the most common portrait of Sequoyah, an engraving after an oil painting he sat for in Washington DC on a visit there once.

Unfortunately, the museum didn’t do justice to its namesake. The exhibits were not about him so much as they were about the Cherokee themselves, with the film they show you (an hour long, as it turns out) focusing heavily on Cherokee removal and mentioning only briefly such things as the tradition of “inter-clan violence.” The rest of the museum consisted of a meager collection of artifacts, rather poorly displayed. We both thought that if it’s being billed as a Sequoyah museum they should focus on him and then branch out into other issues that he represents: the historic identity of the Cherokee, their contact with Europeans, the whole question of what literacy does to people (including the history of the Cherokee Phoenix), and the question of acculturation: how do we deal with Europeans, by resisting them, or imitating them? Of course you then could still talk about how even the latter didn’t save the Cherokee, due to the stunning bad faith of Andrew Jackson, et al., but you could then follow Sequoyah out to Oklahoma and tell about how the band survives out there to this day.