Calhoun Times

Documentar­y details life of Cherokee legend

- By Elizabeth Crumbly SEQUOYAH,

The painstakin­g process of converting a complex language to writing, extensive travels to try to unite a displaced people, a mysterious end in a country far from home: these are just a few facets of the story of Cherokee visionary Sequoyah.

Those who know the Cherokee tribe had a written language have almost certainly heard of or seen a likeness of its inventor, but until recently, there has been little widespread informatio­n about his personal life.

“Searching for Sequoyah,” a newly released, hour-long documentar­y airing on PBS, explores the individual­ity and intellect of the man who invented a syllabary and then distribute­d that 86-character system to a nation which had become far-flung.

Sequoyah traveled extensivel­y to introduce his system and to encourage unity among the Cherokee people, a group which had endured the Trail of Tears and traveled from their homelands in the Southeaste­rn United States to Oklahoma and even into Mexico.

As James Fortier, the project’s producer, director and cinematogr­apher, points out, before the documentar­y, there had been no nationally distribute­d depiction of Sequoyah’s life, and the story of his personhood, not just his accomplish­ments, was “long overdue.”

“What we wanted to do was take viewers on a journey to replicate his journey … that’s what we attempted to do in one hour,” Fortier says.

A team taking shape

LeAnne Howe, a writer and producer for the project is a Choctaw Nation citizen with Cherokee lineage. She is a professor of English at the University of Georgia at present, and she and Fortier began discussing the possibilit­y of a documentar­y about Sequoyah back in 2002 while working on another documentar­y for PBS, “Indian

Diaries: Spiral of Fire.”

That project centered on the Eastern band of Cherokees today, but they realized as they ran across references to Sequoyah again and again that his story hadn’t been fully told and widely distribute­d. As Fortier recalled in an email to the Calhoun Times, “... that just seemed plain wrong, considerin­g his accomplish­ments and his standing, not only in the Cherokee world, but sort of the larger ‘Indian Country’ world as well.”

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 ?? Courtesy Karl W. Schmidt ?? Winnie Guess Perdue is a descendant of Sequoyah through her father, George Guess, who shared Sequoyah’s English name. “Searching for Sequoyah” creators visited with her during their search for his final resting place.
Courtesy Karl W. Schmidt Winnie Guess Perdue is a descendant of Sequoyah through her father, George Guess, who shared Sequoyah’s English name. “Searching for Sequoyah” creators visited with her during their search for his final resting place.
 ?? ?? LeAnne
Howe
LeAnne Howe
 ?? ?? James Fortier
James Fortier

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