Staging the drama: the continuing importance of cultural tourism in the gaming era Public Deposited

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  • March 21, 2019
  • Thompson, Matthew D.
    • Affiliation: College of Arts and Sciences, Department of Anthropology
  • Issues of indigenous self-representation are of major concern for U.S. tribal nations. For the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians (EBCI) self-representation has meant refashioning the way they are portrayed in a major theatrical production on their reservation. My dissertation investigates the reinvention of the outdoor drama Unto These Hills, produced 1950-2004 in Cherokee, North Carolina, by the White dominated Cherokee Historical Association (CHA) and the role of the EBCI in exerting tribal sovereignty over the formerly non-Indian controlled institutions which produce representations of their history and culture for tourists. In 2006, under Cherokee management, the fifty-seven year old drama was transformed into Unto These Hills... a Retelling. My research explores the social conflicts, negotiations, creative processes and performances surrounding this change as the tribe steered its most public representation of the past from a narrative of accommodation to one of Cherokee nationalism. This study makes a significant contribution to the history of the EBCI, focusing on the relationships between tribal government and the business of tourism within the broader context of social change on the reservation since the advent of Indian gaming. From the rise of the railroads and highways that laid the foundations for a tourism boom in the 1950s, to the drama's contemporary role within a reservation-wide program for tribal economic development, cultural tourism has been important in the construction of contemporary Cherokee subjectivities and part of a process of Cherokee nation building. As such, the drama is also a source of friction among its multiple audiences who contest each other's authority to authenticate its narratives of the past. Through ethnography my research will elucidate the agency of display as social process. From the ruin of the old CHA to the political maneuvers that sculpted the re-writing of the script and the tribal and federal policies that set the transformation in motion, it is this process of staging the drama, as much as the performance itself, that best illustrates what it means to be Cherokee in the twenty-first century.
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  • In Copyright
  • Lambert, Valerie
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  • University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill
  • Open access

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