Today, however, Natalie Smith serves a small stream of customers at Tribal Grounds coffee shop near the visitor’s center and council house, her espresso and turkey wraps a paradigm of sorts for a profound shift that is under way on the reservation.
Along with the financial empowerment the 10-year-old casino has brought to this once impoverished area, there is also a heightened sense of responsibility and political awareness among many Cherokee.
And Wal-Mart, Smith said, just doesn’t comfortably meld with this emerging new world.
“I don’t think Wal-Mart fits our profile,” she said, adding that tourists visiting the reservation also are trying to escape commercialism and experience Cherokee culture.
“This town has always relied upon tourism, and I think they’d be disappointed to find Wal-Mart,” Smith said.