In the Cherokee syllabary, the characters above spell "study".
In the Cherokee syllabary, the characters above spell "study".

Sequoyah Initiative

The Cherokee Studies Department at Western Carolina University recently applied for and received a two hundred thousand dollar grant from the Cherokee Preservation Foundation to begin a new endeavor called the Sequoyah Initiative. This program is designed to further solidify the connections between WCU and the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians. The three main objectives of this initiative are:

  1. Diversify Western's staff and programs toward the end of enhancing student recruitment, retention, and educational quality.
  2. Grow programs, Scholarship, and Quality collaborations in areas such as language and heritage development, and resource revitalization; plan and implement new programs and curriculum, including interdisciplinary graduate studies, certificate and executive education programs.
  3. Making Our Place and Past Visible: achieve a higher level of visibility and accessibility for Western's programs and services in Cherokee, Cullowhee, and nationally.


Western plans to diversify WCU's staff by bringing in eminence scholars to supplement the efforts of our faculty and staff. By "eminence scholar" we mean elders and other members of the Cherokee community who have a wealth of knowledge about Cherokee culture but who may not necessarily have traditional academic credentials. These individuals will bring an invaluable resource to the students and faculty of WCU by teaching or co-teaching Cherokee related courses and will help keep our Cherokee Studies program competitive at the national level. In addition to hiring eminence scholars, we also plan on hiring an elder-in-residence who will serve as a mentor to Native American students through their career at Western Carolina University . Similar programs have been started across the country with great success, and we hope to build upon these earlier efforts by working with the Student Affairs Office and the Cherokee Center to establish an elder-in-residence at WCU.

In addition, we have created a new permanent position within the Cherokee Studies Department, the Cherokee Studies Coordinator. This position, currently held by Carrie Mclachlan, is responsible for coordinating all of these various projects between the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians (ECBI), WCU, the Sequoyah Professor, eminence scholars, and elders-in-residence. She is also in charge of administering financial accounts, planning current and future projects, and marketing our programs and course offerings to the surrounding communities.

In order to help recruit promising students in Native American studies, the Cherokee Studies department is seeking to establish three Sequoyah Assistantships for students in Cherokee Studies that would double the current amount of the assistantships. This would greatly reduce the cost of attending, and make our program more appealing to Native American students. In addition to this, we are working with the government of the Eastern Band, the Museum of the Cherokee Indian, the Environmental Protection Agency, and others to establish paid internships for students in Cherokee Studies. This would give students "real-world" experience working for and with Native American governments and other organizations to further enhance their educational experience at WCU.

Art exhibit from the 2004 Fall Fair in Cherokee, Photo by Robert Gilmer

Art exhibit from the 2004 Fall Fair in Cherokee, Photo by Robert Gilmer

Another part of the Sequoyah Initiative that will help diversify the options available to Cherokee Studies students is the implementation of a certificate program. Currently Cherokee Studies is housed within the History Department, which requires Cherokee Studies students to get their graduate degree in History with a concentration in Cherokee Studies. With attention to the fact that there is more to the Cherokee people than just their history, we are attempting to establish a certificate program that would enable students to get their degree in any number of disciplines such as: history, art, anthropology, hospitality and tourism, business, health services, etc. while taking a core curriculum of Cherokee Studies courses. This would open our program up to many more students while still highlighting their educational efforts in Cherokee Studies. In addition to this we may soon be offering a non-thesis track for graduate level Cherokee Studies students who do not plan on attending a doctoral program.

We also plan on working together with other universities and native governments, such as Northeastern State University, Northern Arizona University, and the Cherokee Nation, on projects ranging from language preservation to natural resource management. This will benefit all parties involved by sharing expertise and experience in order to develop effective solutions for problems facing the Cherokee and other native peoples. We also plan on bringing in outside experts from these and other organizations who can aid in our development of new programs here at WCU. We are also working on offering several summer courses, such as the Cherokee Nation's History Course that would further complement WCU's course offerings.

While WCU already contains one of the largest collections of Cherokee documents and resources in the world, we are constantly seeking to build upon this foundation and branch out into other areas central to the study of Native Americans and their cultures. The two areas we have targeted to improve are our language and natural resource holdings. The Cherokee Preservation Foundation's grant has enabled us to begin expanding our collections in these areas, by the end of this semester alone we will have added approximately one hundred new titles to our Native Studies collection in WCU's Hunter Library.

In order to prepare our program for future expansion and development, we are currently working on building endowments and other funds to guarantee the continued success of WCU's Cherokee Studies program. In our first year of this, we will be holding numerous exploratory discussions as well as bringing in an outside consultant to help us develop a sustainable plan for future growth by identifying and securing funding sources. Part of this plan will involve renovating the 20 year old Cherokee Center in Cherokee. While our beautiful log cabin will continue to be used as the Cherokee Center, we plan on renegotiating our lease with the EBCI in order to expand the current building and add an additional building to the center to accommodate our expanding program.

A final improvement we wish to make using the generous grant from the Cherokee Preservation Foundation is the installation of interpretive signs on and around WCU's campus in Cullowhee, NC. Our campus is built on the site of an old Cherokee village along the banks of the Tuckasegee River. Numerous historic and archeological sites are located on the campus and in the surrounding valley that we would like to highlight with interpretive signs. These would not only give WCU students a fuller appreciation of the rich history of their campus, but could also serve as a tourist destination for visitors to this part of western North Carolina.


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