Thursday, April 19, 2012
After ruby mining, horseback riding, and waterfall sightseeing in the Appalachian Mountains of Carolina, my family boarded a brightly painted, open-air train. This was the pinnacle of excitement for three year old me. I didn’t know where it was going to take us, but I was in no need of a destination. The lanky engineer shouted, “All aboard Tweetsie Railroad!” I clapped my excitement as the wheels began to creek awake, giving way to the steam of the engine.
The sun was in my eyes when the brakes squeaked to a stop a short time later. The tribal drumbeats started slowly and then quicker, matching the beat in my chest. Several tall, pale, college boys topped with scarlet, auburn, and golden feathers snaked onto the small locomotive – its painted colors perfectly matching those of the crooked crown of the headdresses. Plastic tomahawks raised in the air, war paint smudged, and cries mocking those they had heard in movies with cowboys as the protagonists - the hired help made their way down the aisle, offering the tourists a truly inauthentic, native experience.
I have no memory of fear before that point, when one blonde boy bent down to come face-to-face with three year old me. The pace of the drumbeat became frantic and my heart became a hummingbird as he moved past me to haunt the next person in his path - disgracing everything the Cherokee heritage stands for.
It wasn’t until over twenty-five years later that I realized the effect this tourist trap had on me. From the parking lot, with the powwow still a tiny scene in the distance, I heard the drum circle and my heart fluttered with anxiety. This reaction – involuntary – puzzled me until I forced myself to question, “What’s going on here?”