Water stories: deep histories of climate change, ecological resilience and the riverine world of the Cherokees

by Gregory D. Smithers

30 Sep 2021
Journal of the British Academy
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Number of pages
33 (pp. 27-59)

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Abstract: Cherokee people understand climate change. In their traditional homelands, located in the southern Appalachian Mountains, Cherokees have accumulated vast repositories of knowledge – known as traditional ecological knowledge (TEK) – about changes in geology, fluctuations in local ecosystems and the importance of biodiversity. This knowledge, collected and stored in oral traditions, sacred beliefs, and daily life, ensures the resilience of Cherokee communities. Water stories are key to this resilience. As this article reveals, water stories are sacred stories, part of a living body of knowledge that connects the Cherokees to the landscapes and waterscapes of southern Appalachia. Water stories flow through Cherokee scientific and spiritual knowledge. They are stories thousands of years in the making and provide vital insights that can inform the co-governance of rivers and clarify strategies for living in balance and harmony with local ecosystems. In the old stories of the Cherokee people are fresh insights that can guide climate resilience into the future.

Keywords: Cherokees, southern Appalachia, traditional ecological knowledge (TEK), deep time, climate change, water, rivers.

Article posted to the Journal of the British Academy, volume 9, supplementary issue 6 (Environmental History)

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