This November, “Chief” Henry Lambert died after a long battle with lung cancer. For more than five decades, Lambert posed for photographs with tourists at his roadside teepee in Cherokee, NC. To broaden his appeal with tourists, Lambert modeled his dress according to Hollywood stereotypes of Native Americans, donning full headdress, which is uncharacteristic of traditional Cherokee attire. But the job allowed him to support his family and he says he loved it. In his interactions with patrons, he became aware of the misconceptions that tourists held about Cherokee life, and, in his own way, became an ambassador for the tribe.
“I believe anyone ought to learn the heritage and keep it alive,” Lambert told Carolina Photojournalism last year. “In fact, I encourage all my kids and grandkids to learn about it. I’m sorry I don’t know most of it. If I could go back, I would learn the language in a heartbeat.”
Even as his health began to deteriorate, Lambert said he looked forward to work and couldn’t imagine quitting.
“I am proud of what I am. I am proud of what I do.”
Photos and audio by Courtney Potter
From Smoky Mountain Stories, 2007