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Are you looking for a mindful travel vacation that meets your need for depth, history, and culture? Would you like to look back on your trip and know you experienced something emotionally meaningful? Here is an understated and powerful place for you to get started. It’s known as the Qualla Boundary located along Great Smoky Mountain National Park, home of the Eastern Bank of the Cherokees. It is our starting point for sacred travel for healing.

Mingo Falls

Mingo Falls is the focal point for your time in the Qualla Boundary. It promises to leave a deep mark on your heart. The short trail to the falls are suited for every level of fitness, but climbing stairs is a must if you want to reach the top.

The Qualla Boundary, also known as the Cherokee Indian Reservation, borders the national park and is shown on park maps. Because I chose to enter the park three different ways and avoid Gatlinburg, I saw much of the surrounding are outside of the manicured parts of the park. In addition, an up close view of life that carries on outside the park boundaries. For a map of the area, click here.

Holding Space is an Act of Healing

So what does using nature to heal look like? Read the hows and whys to begin your healing journey.

To “hold space for someone” is an empathetic and compassionate act of providing emotional support and understanding without judgment. It involves creating a safe and accepting environment where an individual feels free to express themselves, share their thoughts, feelings, or experiences, and be vulnerable. Most times, a person holds space for a friend, family member, or stranger who is grieving. However, it is possible to hold space for the grief of an entire generation of people.

When you hold space for someone, you offer your full presence and attention. This means being fully engaged in the moment, actively listening, and allowing the person to express themselves without interruption or imposition of your own opinions. It’s about validating their emotions and experiences, acknowledging their perspective, and fostering an atmosphere of trust and acceptance. Holding space for the suffering or persecution of native people doesn’t mean judging or analyzing history. It means quietly acknowledging their loss in present and reverent ways. Doing so expands an individual’s capacity to love and therefore heal themselves.

Sacred Travel

If you have an inner calling to learn and honor Indigenous People and their lands, this destination is a must. Besides being abundant in nature and beauty, the Qualla Boundary in the Southeast United States is rich in history and resources for you to explore.

The Great Smoky Mountain Park is located on the border between North Carolina and Tennessee, not too far from Shenadoah National Park. It is a natural wonder that captivates with its biodiversity and stunning landscapes. Renowned for its mist-covered peaks, the park is home to dense forests, cascading waterfalls, and a rich diversity of plant and animal life.

An initial stop when entering the park is the Oconaluftee Visitor Center. Once outside the park, along an auto road route, you may notice some signs written in a language familiar to English, but distinctly its own. This area is known as the Qualla Boundary.

Many people throughout history have been relocated due to the creation of National Parks. One example is the Cherokee people.

The Cherokee and their ancestors had long occupied the area, having migrated there centuries before Europeans arrived. In late 1830, the Cherokees suffered removal with the Indian Removal Act. Then in 1838, eleven thousand Cherokees were part of the Trail of Tears. Some of the Southeast United States Cherokee were able to evade soldiers and hide in the Great Smoky Mountains. Some were free to stay on their lands due to earlier treaties, but the majority of the Cherokee people endured this injustice. Therefore, the few remaining struggled to maintain the land and live on what became the Qualla Boundary.

Cherokee Indian

A full-blooded Cherokee Indian Man proudly continues the traditions of his people. Like Native Americans in other parts of the country, the hoop dance is an expression of a prayer, a promise of renewal that the collective human spirit will join together. Also that one day humanity will all find a place in one great hoop made up of many hoops. The hoops symbolizes the never-ending cycle of life, having no beginning and no end.

Actually, it is a land trust of the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians—near the town of Cherokee. The boundary is part of the large historic Cherokee territory in the Southeast, which the tribe purchased in the 1870s. Placed under a federal protective trust, the Qualla Boundary represents independence and not a reservation created by the government.

In this land boundary lies the hidden gem, Mingo Falls. The falls are a majestic, 120 ft high waterfall located in the Qualla Boundary. Most (including myself) thought the falls were located in the town of Cherokee, NC. This is not true.

Mingo Falls are not far from the auto road. A trailhead with wooden steps built into the mountain provide an easy staircase climb.

You will reach the falls in no time. Be prepared to feel speechless. Water droplets uniformly fall from thousands of endless soggy, stringy grass. Countless tiny cascades trickle down the vertical banks. Brown and green algae mixed with gray rock carries millions of drops downward. Occasional rushes of larger bursts create a traditional waterfall. However, the ubiquitous, minuscule falls may entrance you.

mingo falls NC

This mountain is essentially crying infinite tears. Mingo Falls was mourning, perhaps it too was remembering the Trail of Tears. 

The word ‘Qualla’, comes from the Cherokee word kwalli (‘old woman’), because an old Cherokee woman, Polly, lived in the area.

It may be hard to leave this quiet, sacred place. I remained transfixed by the memory of it throughout the day. 

Today in the Southeast United States about 11,000 Cherokee descendants continue their traditions within the 56,000 acres. Like most native peoples, the Cherokee lived in harmony with nature, including land stewardship for religious purposes. When viewing the falls, consider pausing for a moment to acknowledge the land, the loss, and the resiliency of the Eastern Band of Cherokee People.

Healing For Others

Holding space for the Eastern Band of Cherokee and their ancestors emphasizes being a supportive presence, even if that presence is metaphorical. It’s a practice that requires empathy, patience, and an open heart, allowing the individual to feel seen, heard, and valued. In essence, holding space for someone is a profound way of showing compassion and humility. As a trauma survivor seeking healing through travel, this act of opening your heart for another brings healing back to you. While on the trail in this special place, here are some suggestions to practice your self healing.

Healing For Self

Here is a brief exercise to deepen your healing journey:

Momentarily pause, and take a few deep breaths.

Set an intention for healing…yours, the Cherokee people, the lands, and any other intention that you feel called to set. Using your five senses, tap into your surroundings:

Feel Wind and Breeze

Listen to the gentle rustling of leaves in the wind or the soothing sound of a breeze. Nature’s melodies offer a calming soundtrack, creating a peaceful ambiance that aids in relaxation and introspection.

   Hear Stream and Waterfalls

Allow the rhythmic flow of water to become a natural meditation. The gentle trickle of moving water or the babbling of a stream provides a tranquil auditory backdrop, promoting a sense of inner stillness.

   Embrace Sunshine Warmth

Breathe in the invigorating scent of the outdoors, especially when bathed in the warmth of sunlight. The crisp, fresh air carries with it a rejuvenating aroma, awakening the senses and promoting a feeling of vitality.

Seeking self healing starts with an intention. From there, your life will create unlimited opportunities for you to heal yourself. Mindful travel to the Qualla Boundary will not only provide that opportunity for you, but send ripples of healing intention to the land, people, and Mingo Falls in the process.

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