History of the Cane Treaty

Of the Daniel Boone Festival

By Jeff Frederick

The Cane Treaty that is signed yearly by the Cherokee nation and the citizens of Kentucky is the longest-standing, unbroken treaty among the Cherokee nation.  The Cane Treaty was first signed in 1948 after a visit to North Carolina by Dr. Karl Bleyl.

Dr. Bleyl was a professor at Union College in Barbourville, Kentucky and was visiting Cherokee, North Carolina. He noticed while visiting many of the crafters that there were little to no basketry items available. He asked one of the citizens why there were no baskets or woven products for sale, and he was told that there was not cane available for them to use. They would need lots of it, and there just was not any available. At that time the little cane that was available was used to make wicker furniture.

Dr. Bleyl told them about where he lived in Kentucky. He told the Cherokee that he lived in a town that ran along the Cumberland River and that there the cane was in abundance.  He also told them about his idea for a town festival.

He was considering a festival in Barbourville to commemorate the exploration and travels of Daniel Boone through the Appalachians and the Cumberland Gap.  At that time, there was no such festival or event to honor Boone and other explorers.  He told the Cherokee nation that if they would come and be part of the celebration, they could have all of the cane that they could need or use.  To further solidify his agreement, Dr. Bleyl said that there would be a treaty drawn up between the citizens of Kentucky and the Cherokee nation that could be signed every year.  The signers of this treaty would include a representative from the Cherokee nation, a representative from the city of Barbourville, Kentucky, a representative of Knox County, Kentucky, a representative of the state of Kentucky, a representative of the Daniel Boone Festival committee.  Each year there is a feast to celebrate the treaty and several hundred citizens turn out to witness the signing.

For many years after the first signing of the treaty, the Cherokee harvested large amounts of can to be used by the basket makers.  As basket makers disappeared, demand for cane fell.  Less and less was taken to Cherokee.  But more recently Cherokee crafts have become more desirable again, and thus more cane is being harvested.

The signing of the Treaty in October of 2008 was especially noteworthy.  This was the first time since 1948 that the sitting Chief of the Eastern Band of the Cherokee nation signed the treaty himself.  Many of the other signers were Vice-Chiefs that later became Chief.  Chief Michelle Hicks made the trip to Barbourville and signed the document on behalf of his Nation.  The Cane Treaty has been signed and active since 1948.  It has always been signed on parchment or a parchment-like paper.  It has become a symbol of the friendship and cooperation between the state of Kentucky and the Cherokee nation.

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