[Marxism] Amanda Swimmer, Potter and Keeper of Cherokee Traditions, Dies at 97

Louis Proyect lnp3 at panix.com
Thu Dec 6 20:22:29 MST 2018


NY Times, Dec. 6, 2018
Amanda Swimmer, Potter and Keeper of Cherokee Traditions, Dies at 97
By Ana Fota

Amanda Sequoyah Swimmer was born in North Carolina at a time when Native 
American children were forced to attend boarding schools, as part of a 
national effort to assimilate them into mainstream culture.

But as a child in fourth grade she grew tired of being punished for 
speaking her native Cherokee and forced to use English, and one day she 
jumped her school’s courtyard fence and ran away. She never returned.

Instead she fashioned a life devoted to the preservation of Cherokee 
culture, keeping its language and pottery traditions alive. She was 
revered in the mountainous tribal lands of western North Carolina — 
honored there as a “Beloved Woman” — and renowned as one of her people’s 
most skilled potters.

Mrs. Swimmer’s work has been shown at the Smithsonian in Washington, the 
North Carolina State Museum and at local museums across North Carolina, 
Georgia and Tennessee. It was also featured in the 2011 book “Cherokee 
Pottery: From the Hands of Our Elders,” by M. Anna Fariello. And Mrs. 
Swimmer herself was profiled in a 2000 documentary film, “Women of These 
Hills — Three Cultures of Appalachia.”

In 2005, as an octogenarian, she was awarded an honorary doctor of 
humane letters degree by the University of North Carolina, Asheville, 
for her work in preserving Cherokee heritage and her role in founding 
the Cherokee Potters’ Guild.

“I know how to subtract, I know how to read,” her granddaughter Melvena 
Swimmer quoted her as saying. “Common sense will get me the rest of the 
way.”

Mrs. Swimmer died on Nov. 24 at her home in the Big Cove community in 
the federal land trust known as the Qualla Boundary of the Eastern Band 
of the Cherokee. She was 97 and was one of the last surviving fluent 
speakers of Cherokee. Her parents, RunningWolfe Sequoyah and Molly 
(Davis) Sequoyah, had grown crops in Big Cove.

Mrs. Swimmer in 2017. A renowned potter who preserved the techniques of 
the Cherokee, she was also one of last surviving members of the tribe 
who are fluent in the Cherokee language.CreditScott McKie Brings Plenty
In addition to her granddaughter Melvena, she is survived by three 
daughters, Marilyn Swimmer, Marina Swimmer and Flora Bradley; two sons, 
Don and Virgil; 30 other grandchildren; and a number of great-grandchildren.

Though born in North Carolina, Mrs. Swimmer was not considered a citizen 
under law at the time; it was only after passage of the Indian 
Citizenship Act of 1924, when she was almost 3 years old, that she 
became one.

“Native American tribes were treated as foreign nations,” said Dave 
Beck, a professor of Native American history at the University of 
Montana; Native Americans themselves, he said, were considered citizens 
of those nations, not of the United States.

Mrs. Swimmer took up pottery as a child, after discovering a clay 
deposit close to her home. Her mother suggested that she try making 
something with it.

Soon, mother and daughter were selling pots to tourists and park rangers 
who would pass by their home. After she married Luke Swimmer, who taught 
her how to build a fire pit, her skills expanded.

One reason that her pottery stands out was her technique. After 
collecting the clay from the mountainsides of the Great Smoky chain, she 
would mold it by hand, without using a potter’s wheel. Then she would 
fire the pots over different types of wood, to achieve different 
colorings: A hard wood burned hotter, resulting in red; a soft wood 
would lend itself to darker colors. Last, she would add traditional 
designs, often geometrical shapes, pressed upon the pottery using a 
paddle board.

Mrs. Swimmer started selling her pottery at the Oconaluftee Indian 
Village, a tourist attraction in the town of Cherokee, in the 1950s. As 
her reputation grew, many people would stop by her home to purchase her 
wares.

“She was known for her pottery, but she was also known for caring,” said 
Richard French, a Big Cove Tribal Council representative. “She voted in 
every tribal election. She’d come to our monthly community meetings. 
People wanted to hear what she had to say. If she would support you, 
she’d tell you and if she didn’t she’d tell you why.”

It was Mr. French who nominated her this year for the title of “Beloved 
Woman,” an honor given by the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians to highly 
respected elders. In his statement to the council, Mr. French said Mrs. 
Swimmer had “dedicated her life to the preservation of Cherokee culture 
and language by demonstrating and teaching countless children and 
adults.” The resolution passed unanimously.

Her other honors include the North Carolina Folk Heritage Award (1994) 
and the Mountain Heritage Award of the Western Carolina University (2009).

In her last years Mrs. Swimmer spent much of her time teaching — both 
pottery-making and the Cherokee language. For 10 years she was a 
volunteer at the Cherokee Elementary School, where she taught children 
pottery and told them stories about their culture and history.

The Cherokee had long lived across vast swaths of the Southeast before 
thousands were forced off their land in the 1830s during the 
administration of President Andrew Jackson. The mass eviction culminated 
in the forced march west to what is now northeast Oklahoma, remembered 
as “the Trail of Tears” because of the thousands who died along the way. 
But many Cherokee remained, producing generations of descendants, Mrs. 
Swimmer among them.

“She had an impact on the whole tribal nation,” her eldest grandson, 
Eddie Swimmer, said. “Everybody called her grandmother.”

He recalled the time in 1998 when he and Mrs. Swimmer watched on 
television as Senator John Glenn made his second trip into space, as the 
oldest astronaut ever to fly, aboard the space shuttle Discovery.

“They said something about his age,” Mr. Swimmer said. “She looked over 
and said, ‘You know, I’m that age. I could go to space, too.’ She 
figured she could do whatever she wanted to do.”

Mr. French remembers another saying of hers: “There’s no word for 
goodbye in Cherokee. We’re always going to see each other again.”




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