Unto These Hills: More Than a Play8.5.2016
Since 1950, Unto These Hills has been dazzling audiences in Cherokee, NC, with a powerful retelling of the story of Cherokee people in the Eastern region, including the history of their removal to Oklahoma on the Trail of Tears in 1838. Unto These Hills draws from historical Cherokee figures in a narrative that is both heartbreaking and triumphant, with Cherokee songs, dance, and action sequences woven into the performance.
We’re Still Here
To Mike Crowe, (pictured above) a Cherokee native who has performed in the drama for the last ten seasons, acting in Unto These Hills is more than a performance; it's a calling.
"I feel it's a duty to our ancestors to bring these events to life and to allow the outside world to have a perspective on the events that transpired, and how they've shaped us as a people.”
“We're still here, we're still Cherokee. We speak our language, dance our songs, know our history, our culture, our arts. We are Cherokee."
The drama "is a testament to the trials and adversity that we've overcome as a people," says Crowe.
He has played different roles in the drama over the years, including the lead of Junaluska, a historical figure who saved Andrew Jackson’s life at the Battle of Horseshoe Bend. Later, Jackson would sign the Indian Removal Act, forcing Junaluska and the rest of the Cherokee off their ancestral homelands. Junaluska was later assigned to Reverend Bushyhead’s detachment to Oklahoma.
Connecting Our History
Matthew Tooni, (pictured above), is an accomplished flute player who grew up on the Qualla Boundary. He plays the role of Reverend Bushyhead, a Cherokee religious and political leader, as well as Major Ridge, who was a key person in the signing of the Treaty of the New Echota, leading up to the Trail of Tears.
In the role of Major Ridge, it’s Tooni’s first time playing a villain.
“I think the importance of people coming to see Unto These Hills is to gain an understanding about what happened in American history and in Cherokee history, because it’s connected,” he says.
“Telling the story in such a way that the audience understands--this really happened, I think that’s important. The way we tell it, incorporating more of the story into the show, it gives it an authentic feel that people can relate to,” he says.
“The message is so telling. We’re still here. We haven’t gone anywhere. Most folks come in with the mindset that Cherokee are a distant memory. We tell them: no, we’re here. That’s what the show is all about, telling people that this happened but it hasn’t changed us. It hasn’t gotten rid of us. We’re still here and we’re thriving,” says Tooni.
Family, Togetherness, and Unity
Lily Bartleson, 20, (pictured above), is originally from Burnsville, NC, and joined the cast of Unto These Hills this year, playing Nanhi, the wife of Tsali.
Tsali was a Cherokee leader who, during the roundup for Indian Removal, fought back against the soldiers, killing some of them in the process, and fleeing with his family. The Principal Chiefs condemned Tsali’s actions and set out to capture him and his sons; a pivotal moment in the play, taken from the pages of history.
“In this production, Nanhi is very strong and there for her husband,” says Lily, although she points out that they clash when it comes to goals. “His goal is to stay on the land, be proud, and resist the removal. With Nanhi, it’s not that complicated: all she wants is to be with her family and to love them and be loved,” she says.
“It is a beautiful story of family, togetherness, and unity, when it comes to Cherokee people,” she says.
For Lily, Unto These Hills is her first time performing in an outdoor drama.
“We have had our share of rain and humidity and lighting and thunder,” she says, but it all adds to the experience.
“Sometimes it will be 99 degrees outside or when it’s raining, yes, our costumes are a little damp, but it makes the fight scenes and dance scenes even brighter and more dynamic.
Her favorite scene? “During Act One there is a scene with everyone in the cast and there’s a hoedown. No matter how hot or cold it is, damp or raining, we always have fun with it,” she says.
Lily moved to Cherokee a month before Unto These Hills opened, for drama workshops and rehearsals, and lives in an apartment complex with other girls from the play, just up the road from the Mountainside Theater. Together, each night of the performance, they all walk down together.
“I’ve made so many incredible friends here,” she says. “Cherokee is an amazing place, and I can see why so many people see Unto These Hills every time they come visit.”
Season Ends August 13th
The final performance for Unto These Hills this season takes place on August 13th, but it’s not too late to catch the show. Purchase tickets online or call 828.497.2111 ext. 215 or 866.554.4557 for tickets over the phone.
General Admission Prices:
Children 6–12: $10.00
Children 5–under: FREE
Family Pack: Buy one adult ticket, get one child ticket free (general admission tickets only) ***Family pack is only available Monday through Wednesday.*** “
Unto These Hills Reserved Ticket Prices:
Children 6–12: $13.00
Children 5–under: FREE
Cherokee Mountainside Theatre Group Prices:
Discounts are available for groups of 15 or more. Custom itineraries can be made to include other cultural attractions and/or events.