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Posted about 3 years ago by kathryn Coker

Of all the Cherokee origin narratives, the most famous is that which tells the tale of a time when everything was covered by water.” Gregory Smithers

Dr. Gregory Smithers

“Stories matter. Stories tell us about our ancestors, about ourselves, and about our communities.” (Native Southerners, 3)

The Richmond Public Law Library is honored to host a Lunch and Learn at noon on October 12th, with Dr. Gregory Smithers, VCU professor of history and British Academy Global Professor, based at the University of Hull in England.

Dr. Smithers, who is particularly interested in the history of Cherokee people and whose research and writing concentrates on the histories of Indigenous people and African Americans, will present a talk entitled “A Watershed People: The Cherokees & the Kinship of Rivers”.  

“In Cherokee culture, water is medicine. Water is spiritual. Water – ama – is sacred. Centuries before European invasion and the TVA’s damming of Southern Appalachia’s waterways, rivers nourished Cherokee crops, cleansed Cherokee bodies, and purified Cherokee souls.” (Dr. Smithers)

“You can’t separate the Cherokee from Their rivers. ‘Holistic’ is the word Dr. Barbara Duncan, education director for the Museum of the Cherokee Indian, uses to describe how, for the Cherokee, a river was at once a source of food, medicine, sport, celebration, cleansing, trade, and navigation. Protecting the river was vital to the health and well-being of the tribe.” (Susan Stafford Kelly, “Cherokee Stories Tell of Water’s Wisdom, The river knows best: It nourishes and guides, warns and welcomes. In Cherokee culture, river rituals and lore protect the mind, body, and spirit.

Dr. Smithers wrote in Native Southerners: “The most popular Cherokee creation stories focus in earth-driver narratives….Of all the Cherokee origin narratives, the most famous is that which tells the tale of a time when everything was covered by water.” (Native Southerners, 20) 


Dr. Smithers has published numerous books and articles including Native Southerners: Indigenous History from Origins to Removal. According to the University of Oklahoma Press:

Long before the indigenous people of southeastern North America first encountered Europeans and Africans, they established communities with clear social and political hierarchies and rich cultural traditions. Award-winning historian Gregory D. Smithers brings this world to life in Native Southerners, a sweeping narrative of American Indian history in the Southeast….[T]his book gives voice to the lived history of such well-known polities as the Cherokees, Creeks, Seminoles, Chickasaws, and Choctaws, as well as smaller Native communities like the Nottoway….What emerges is a complex picture of how Native Southerners understood themselves and their world—a portrayal linking community and politics, warfare and kinship, migration, adaptation, and ecological stewardship—and how this worldview shaped and was shaped by their experience both before and after the arrival of Europeans….


Native Southerners is available at the Richmond Public Library.

Lynette Allston, Chief of the Nottoway Indian Tribe of Virginia, wrote: “Native Southerners is a journey through centuries of southern Native American history. This thoughtful and sensitive narrative offers a compelling perspective on the clashes between Natives and Europeans, which forever changed the lives of the southern Native population.


Lynette Allston, Chief of the Nottoway Indian Tribe of Virginia

Dr. Smithers’ other recent books include:

The Cherokee Diaspora: An Indigenous History of Migration, Resettlement, and Identity (2015) 

Racism in American Popular Media: From Aunt Jemima to the Frito Bandito (with Brian D. Behnken 2015).

Slave Breeding: Sex, Violence, and Memory in African American History (2012)

Native Diasporas; Indigenous Identities and Settler Colonialism in the Americas, (edited with Brooke Newman, 2014).

Watch for Dr. Smithers’ forthcoming book in April 2022:

PLEASE JOIN THE LAW LIBRARY FOR THIS LUNCH AND LEARN WITH AWARD WINNING AUTHOR DR. GREGORY SMITHERS as he takes us on a journey back in time, and “through the whirlpools, rapids, and streams that helped Cherokees both navigate and give meaning to their world.” A Question and Answer session will follow.

River stories go back thousands of years, and in the telling and retelling, time has worn them smooth and mysterious.





  For In-Person

  For Virtual

See you there!

kathryn Coker

I am a retired Department of the Army civilian historian now working as a Library Associate in the Law Library.

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