Indian Jack - Heartbreak In Cherokee, North Carolina
I have spent time in the areas mentioned herein but never met a person named Indian Jack.
I tried to find a perfect opening photograph but could not. I finally settled upon the map showing Cherokee's location within the United States.
The following is largely a piece of fictional, creative writing. Indian Jack's story however has been all too real for many Native Americans.
I wrote this many years ago:
Indian Jack was a middle‑aged Cherokee Indian I met three Summers ago while visiting Cherokee, North Carolina with Andy, a good friend of mine. We vacationed in Cherokee for three days and had a great time. We marveled at the beauty of the Blue Ridge Mountains, went swimming, browsed the shops, etc. The thing I remember most however was my encounter with Indian Jack.
During our first night in Cherokee, Andy and I went out to walk around and ended up watching a four man entertainment group called Indian Jack and the Cherokee Tribesmen. Three of the Native Americans were jumping around shaking gourds to a frenzied rhythm while Indian Jack danced and chanted in front of the audience.
The show seemed fake to me because I'm sure Indians of long ago were much different than were being depicted here. These Native Americans probably did this because it was their only way of earning money. After the group finished their routine, most everyone in the audience clapped, smiled and threw money onto the stage. Everyone seemed to be enjoying the fun, yet in the intermittent flashes from camera bulbs, I thought I saw a glimmer of emotional pain radiate from Indian Jack's eyes even though he was smiling.
Later that night back in the motel, Andy quickly fell asleep but I was restless and decided to go out and walk around the streets of Cherokee. As I walked along, with the Blue Ridge Mountains and the open sky as my backdrop, I couldn't help but feel sorrow for the Indians who had once proudly lived within these beautiful surroundings.
Suddenly, in the distance, my eye caught the glimmer of a light shining beyond some trees and I decided to investigate. Drawing closer, I saw a silhouetted figure sitting on a tree stump in front of a dilapidated shack. The person suddenly turned around and persuaded me to come and talk. It was Indian Jack. I asked him what he was doing out here and he replied, "I live here."
It was then that I noticed the beer cans littered on the ground at Jack's feet. By the flushed look on his weathered face and the slur in his speech, I could tell he had been drinking. Before I could say anything else Jack began to quickly blurt out what was on his mind. He said, "My wife and kids are back on the reservation with hardly any food. I haven't seen 'em for five months. I have no job except degrading myself in front of them damn, rich tourists." His voice was full of despair and helplessness. "Everyone thinks all Indians are dumb" he said.
Being only a few feet from Jack, I noticed how old and tired he looked. His dark brown eyes were large with huge purple bags beneath them. His hair was greasy, his skin dirty and, he was overweight. Jack was nothing like Indians I had seen in movies, on billboards, or in magazines. Although I couldn't identify with his troubles, I felt sorry for him.
Jack told me his grandfather had told him the "white man" had beaten and tortured Jack's great‑grandparents, seized their beautiful land, destroyed it, and forced all the Indians off. He expressed his hatred of the government to me because they had forced his people onto ugly, non‑productive reservations. Jack wanted to be free to hunt and fish like his ancestors.
Shocked at what he had told me, I just silently looked down at the ground. He continued by cursing the white people for taking the Indians' lands and destroying their spirit to live by cheating, discriminating, and even killing many of them.
He said, "They cheat us by taking the beautiful wilderness with trees, fish and animals from us and then force us to live on ugly, empty reservations." Jack, beer can in hand, cursed all his friends back home by calling them damn lazy drunks. He then started to cry. I felt more awkward than I ever had previously. Patting him on the back, I said "I'm really sorry" and left. It was all I could manage to say.
On my way back to the motel, I grew angry at society for teaching young people that Indians are dumb, mean, brutes. I'd be bitter too if someone took my land, burnt my home, raped my wife, broke promises, and then assumed ownership over my land. Even as a very young child, while playing cowboys and Indians, I was taught the Indian was the villain. No wonder Jack and most Indians like him are poor, uneducated, alcoholics. They're forced to live at the bottom of American society, knowing that long ago they were the proud, sole inhabitants.
The next morning, while passing the Cherokee corporation limit on our way home, I saw a statue of a huge, proud, muscular Indian. He had a headdress on with bow and arrow positioned to shoot. Beside the statue was a sign telling the tourists "You are now exiting Blue Ridge Mountain National Park and Cherokee, North Carolina, home of the great Cherokee Indians." All I could think of at that moment was my brief time with Indian Jack.