May 17, 2007

Wal-Mart doesn't fit Cherokee profile

Cherokee contemplates Wal-Mart’s impactNot that long ago, Cherokee’s landscape was made up almost exclusively of kitschy tourist shops and the blinking lights of Harrah’s Cherokee Casino. Sitting down to a cup of coffee at a shop that exclusively features a free-trade product grown by indigenous people would have seemed incongruous in this tourist-driven town.

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.

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