This audio was recorded on land formerly occupied by Cherokee people, in one studio that's part of a campus of buildings on a plot of land located in an unincorporated community known today as Rabun Gap. Rabun Gap is a part of Rabun County, Georgia, and just a few miles northwest down the road from the town of Dillard, a town named for a white man. The county itself is also named for a white man - William Rabun, a slaveholder and notoriously staunch defender of Georgia militia actions that, during the First Seminole War, mistakenly killed ten uninvolved Creek people. The nearest creek and the road on which the campus is located, though, are seemingly named for a "Cherokee Indian widow," according to a guidebook from 1975 I read a .PDF copy of - nobody I asked knew anything other than that.
Hundreds of years ago, long before 1760 - which is the date that currently begins the "History" section of the Wikipedia article on Rabun County, Georgia - the Cherokee thrived in flourishing and well-organized communities in the northeast-most corner of what we now call Georgia. There were multiple settlements in the area now, each their own social organization.
Almost immediately upon arrival of white people in the region there were disagreements and violent actions, skirmishes and burned villages, trade, encroachment, and collaboration. There were the Cherokee-American Wars and, following, the establishment of the Cherokee Nation. Some Cherokee learned English, some began settling land in a more traditionally European manner. The Cherokee syllabary - an ingenious system for writing and notating the verbal language of the Cherokee - was invented by Sequoyah in the first quarter of the 19th century and quickly spread: the first Cherokee newspaper - the Cherokee Phoenix - began publishing editions in Sequoyah's syllabary in 1828.
There is so much untold, so many individual lives and pertinent details not ever recorded or lost or possible to recall through a computer in America in 2021. Treaties signed and territories ceded and acre-for-acre swaps. This is not a complete history, by any means - it is simply an acknowledgment, a holding of space. Because I am a white man who also arrived in the county, driven in by partner in her big truck.
In 1830, following years of attempted legal collaboration on the part of the Cherokee Nation and Chief John Ross - and even the unsuccessful submission of a case to the Supreme Court - the United States authorized the use of military force in the coerced removal of the Cherokee: Andrew Jackson signed the hideously-named Indian Removal Act. What followed is the Trail of Tears, a genocidal march of various indigenous people off of their native lands and into the modern geometric government allotments of Oklahoma and Ohio. Later there was the Civil War which, to say the least, further complicated things. And then the 20th century.
One historic guide published by a group of volunteers from the area declined to give the exact location of a notable Cherokee burial site for fear that it would be violated and vandalized. From who, exactly, were these volunteer guides protecting the burial site? The families visiting the intriguingly-named Andy's Trout Farm, just over the North Carolina border (which I'd jog and pant across most days I was in town)? Or was it the shirtless youth who drove past me in a pickup truck with a fully loaded gun rack, stars 'n' bars license plate holder, running me into the soft shoulder of the mountain road, a snarl beneath his reflective camo sunglasses? Perhaps this is a small component of our American fascination with guns: having violently and capriciously driven people from most of the purple mountains in our midst, there's a deep fear that it could be done right back to us, better hold the rifle tight.
According to the 2010 census, Rabun County - which was presumably at some time in the past 0% white folks and 100% indigenous folks - is made up of 93% white people. Less than a half percent of all its 16,000 residents identify as American Indian. These are just the statistics. I didn't go into town but the once, and the only stranger I spoke to appeared to be a white Mennonite. He asked me questions about how I liked to prepare my cabbage while I entered my pin number - I was so baffled by his conversation I almost forgot the digits.
I was allowed access to the dance studio where this audio was recorded through a very generous artist residency program run by the Hambidge Program, a long-running not-for-profit organization originally founded in 1934 by Mary Hambidge, a vaudeville performer famous for whistling duets with a pet mockingbird. She later very seriously took up weaving and founded the Hambidge artist colony in part to honor the spirit of her late husband Jay Hambidge who, among other things, published influential theories on the connection between nature, the golden radio, design, and Greek architecture. True to the whole vibe of these recordings, they felt that artists worked best when they were in harmony with nature.
I applied to the program in December of 2019 and was initially waitlisted, but a couple of months later - just before COVID really got going - I was offered a slot in August. My life and pretty much everyone's life on Earth changed tremendously, but miraculously I was able to figure out a relatively risk-free way to get to Georgia (driving for two straight days, gloves at the gas station). All of this has to do with the tremendous privilege I enjoy, the wherewithal I derive from all my various non-marginalized identifiers. I was a white man arriving.
And more: this writing is being done in an apartment in the town of Troy, New York, just a couple of blocks from the Hudson River on land that was formerly occupied by the Mohican people. A rough translation of their word for the Hudson River goes as follows: "where the waters were never still" - this, to me, is a deeply beautiful description of the fact that the Hudson naturally flows both directions, changing four times a day. Just a short distance away upriver is the impressive waterfall site of the establishment of the Iroquois Confederacy, a cooperative government body that predates the United States by hundreds of years. It really is everywhere you care enough to look, and I'm trying to look more, to behold and to hold.
This is not a complete or graceful history, just an acknowledgment at a remove and, ultimately, never enough. This is a small fraction of the work and reading that should have been done long ago, despite the Troy Public Library's weathered copy of "American Indian Myths & Legends" I flipped through while drinking my coffee from the Piggly Wiggly each morning in Rabun Gap.
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good morning ~
more thoughts on CICADA WAVES - the making of which is, as I hope I communicated, thanks to my tremendous privilege.
I hope you are enjoying the second track from this record of piano and ecology.
I made the video for “8pm Crickets” through a painstaking but not all that precise process of stop motion animation, watercolors, and low-quality printer paper. I clicked my little shutter remote for days and days, moving around these paper cutouts. It felt a bit like building a dream from scratch. Appreciate you watching, streaming, sharing, buying a tape, reading - - all of it.
Links below or you can try right here.
By the way - tomorrow is Bandcamp Friday and I hope you’ll join me in going nuts buying music both physical and digital.
But what about you? Whose land are you on? What history are you holding space for?