Cleveland City Schools officials on Thursday led a group of Cherokee students on a tour of the new Candy's Creek Cherokee Elementary School, which was designed with Cherokee culture in mind. The …
Cleveland City Schools officials on Thursday led a group of Cherokee students on a tour of the new Candy's Creek Cherokee Elementary School, which was designed with Cherokee culture in mind.
The 10 students, ages 16 to 20, are members of the United Keetoowah Band of Cherokee Indians in Oklahoma. They are visiting Cleveland throughout June thanks to a grant funded by the National Parks Foundation and national retailer REI.
The students are staying on the Lee University campus and volunteering with the Cherokee National Forest, completing tasks such as hiking trail maintenance. They are also traveling throughout the area to learn about Cherokee culture, particularly this area’s role in the Trail of Tears.
"It's so much more hands-on when you get to see the sights and learn about your history where it actually happened," said student Haley Ummerteskee. “It has also been neat to see the conservation, how they preserve the history and leave things like native plants.”
While the Cherokee students certainly know about their culture already, they said they have been learning quite a bit more about what life was like for their ancestors prior to the Trail of Tears.
Students also noted the land itself is different than what they are used to seeing in Oklahoma, so it has also been fascinating from that standpoint.
“This program is good for everyone involved,” said Quentin Bass, forest archaeologist and heritage program manager for the Cherokee National Forest. “It’s good for them to come here and learn about their heritage, and it’s fundamental for people here to see them.”
The group is touring area sites such as the Sequoyah Birthplace Museum in Vonore, Red Clay State Historic Park in Cleveland and the Hiwassee River Heritage Center in Charleston. When Cleveland City Schools learned about the students, they were invited to tour the school.
School officials welcomed the group and explained how the the school was named after a historic Cherokee community which was located near where the school sits today. Around 1817, Henry Candy and his family settled in what was then Cherokee Territory, and in 1824 Christian missionaries established a church and school known as the Candy’s Creek Cherokee Indian Mission.
Dr. Murl Dirksen, a Lee University sociology professor who has served on the Cleveland Board of Education, also explained how things like traditional colors and patterns were incorporated into the building’s design.
Principal Lisa Earby explained how she and her team have been trying to honor Cherokee culture with things like the school mascot name, while also remaining respectful of it. She asked for the students’ feedback on a couple ideas for the names of “houses,” or groups of students within the school.
“I think it’s good that they’re trying to be respectful,” student Destinee Kingfisher-Wolfe said. “It’s awesome to get to share about my culture with someone who does not know as much about it.”
After touring the school, the students planted a tree on the school property. Earby said a special marker will likely be placed by that tree in the future.
The students will be staying in Cleveland through the end of the month, and they will return home with lots of stories from their time here.
"It is just really sentimental for us, because our ancestors came on the Trail of Tears and passed through this area," Kingfisher-Wolfe said. "It's been a good experience."
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