The Qualla Boundary (or The Qualla) is territory held as a land trust for the Federally recognized Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians, who reside in western North Carolina. It is part of their historic territory in this area. The indigenous Cherokee, an Iroquoian-language people, have occupied the area for much longer than Europeans. They were here for centuries before European encounter, having migrated from the Great Lakes area. As a trust, the land is technically not a "reservation" per se, in that tribal members can buy and own the land, provided they are enrolled members of the Tribe of the Eastern Band of the Cherokee of North Carolina.
The tribal community functions like a municipality, with tribal schools, police fire, medical, governmental and rescue services. Unlike many other Indian Reservations, the Cherokee were careful to enact legalized gaming in a manner that precluded organized crime. Revenue returns to enrolled tribal members in quarterly dividends and other such revenue supports local schools and public services. In addition to the main casino near the Jackson-Swain County line on old US 19 on the grounds of the former Frontier Land Amusement Park, ground was broken for a second casino in Cherokee County near Andrews in 2013. Tribal police have exclusive police jurisdiction on Indian lands, though the FBI and other federal agencies also have jurisdiction to handle major federal offenses. NC State Troopers, motor vehicle inspectors, wildlife officers, state alcohol agents, SBI agents and other state peace officers assigned to counties that overlap with the reservation are commissioned as "special officers" of the Department of Interior and have limited federal police powers on Indian lands, mainly to enable them to enforce laws on Indian land in Indian court and to assist tribal officers, if called to do so. The Tribe runs a court system and tribal police since 1987 also have state powers to charge non-Indians in local county courts.
The main part of the Qualla Boundary lies in eastern Swain and northern Jackson counties (just south of Great Smoky Mountains National Park). The trust lands include many smaller non-contiguous sections to the southwest in Cherokee and Graham counties, also in North Carolina. A small part of the main reservation extends eastward into Haywood County. The total land area of these regions is 213.934 km² (82.6 sq mi), with a 2000 census resident population of 8,092 people.
The Qualla Boundary is located at Coordinates: .
The Cherokee have long occupied this area, having migrated here centuries before European encounter. During the colonial expansion west of European settlers, they sometimes came into conflict with the Cherokee, who had territory extending into present-day Tennessee, Georgia and Alabama. The Cherokee were forcibly removed from much of this area, especially the Black Belt in Georgia and Alabama, under authority of the 1830 Indian Removal Act, and were relocated to Indian Territory in present-day Oklahoma.
The Qualla Boundary was first surveyed in 1876 by M. S. Temple under the auspices of the United States Land Office. These pieces were embodied in a map published as the "Map of the Qualla Indian reserve".
The Qualla Boundary is not a reservation, but rather a "land trust" supervised by the United States Bureau of Indian Affairs. The land is a fragment of the extensive historical homeland of the Cherokee in the region. It was considered part of the Cherokee Nation during the nineteenth century prior to certain treaties and Indian Removal in the 1830s. William Thomas, adopted as a boy by the chief Yonaguska, bought much of the land for use by those Cherokee who remained in North Carolina after removal. Although he had assimilated as a Cherokee, he was white and able to buy land, which the Cherokee could not.
The Qualla Boundary was considered a reservation as recently as 1975. A United States Department of Interior sign, entitled "Qualla Indian Reservation", reads:
|“||The Cherokee domain once extended far beyond the distant mountains, but the white man, with broken treaties and fruitless promises, brought trouble to the Indians and caused their banishment to an Oklahoma reservation. A few escaped capture and fled into the Great Smokies, eventually forming the Eastern Band that now lives on the Qualla Reservation in the valley below.||”|
Representation in media
- Eastern Cherokee Reservation, North Carolina United States Census Bureau
- Indians, Eastern Band of Cherokees of North Carolina, by Thomas Donaldson, 1892, 11th Census of the United States, Robert P. Porter, Superintendent, US Printing Office, Washington, D.C. Published online at Eastern Band of Cherokees of North Carolina. Retrieved on 2009-01-08