Silenced more than 175 years ago, the newspaper office at Georgia’s New Echota Historic Site rumbled to life last month thanks to the efforts of two Southwestern Community College instructors.
Heritage Arts department chair Jeff Marley, an enrolled member of the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians, teamed up with printmaking instructor Frank Brannon to print off roughly 60 copies of a poem written by Marley and translated into Cherokee syllabary by Tom Belt – a native speaker of the language. Belt is also a language instructor in the Cherokee Studies Program at WCU.
Officially recognized as starting point for the tragic “Trail of Tears” in 1838, New Echota was briefly home to the Cherokee National Legislature as well as the newspaper office. Syllabary type had not been used there since the Georgia Guard seized the original press in 1835.
“The gravity and impact of the moment didn’t really set in until several days later,” Marley said. “We did it, and when we were through, it was like: ‘Are we really done?’ It was such a big thing that the importance of it took a while to sink in.”
Photographs Marley and Brannon took on their visit to New Echota are on display in the Balsam Center lobby on SCC’s Jackson Campus through the end of November, which is National Native American Heritage Month.
The poem Marley wrote for the occasion is entitled, “New Echota” and describes the enduring legacy of the Cherokee language.
Brannon has been working to get the syllabary recast as metal type since 2010.
“My whole reason for writing the poem was to honor those people who were there before the removal,” Marley said. “I wanted to recognize that the culture and the language are gifts from our ancestors from the Creator. We need to protect that and make sure future generations have that.
“The act of printing at New Echota was very much like a ceremony or a ritual. So being able to do that over and over again was in a way like repetitively saying that poem to honor those people.”