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  • Lani Hansen

“Searching for Sequoyah” interviews UKB Member

Updated: Aug 9, 2018

Filmmakers with the “Searching for Sequoyah” documentary prepare to film an interview with UKB member Sequoyah Guess, second from right, about his familial namesake. Director James Fortier, far left, films while Guess tells Tribal Consultant and narrator Josh Nelson that he often felt pressure to live up to his name and considered changing it. BRITTNEY BENNETT/GCN



TAHLEQUAH – On July 26 filmmakers with the documentary "Searching for Sequoyah" interviewed United Keetoowah Band of Cherokee Indians member Sequoyah Guess about his familial namesake to learn more about arguably one of the most famous Cherokees in history.

“Couple years ago, I got an email from Josh Nelson,” said Guess. “He and his film crew were doing a documentary about Sequoyah and trying to get some descendants to interview. I did the first interview, but a couple months ago I got another email asking me to do another.”

The purpose of the documentary is to examine the life and contributions of Sequoyah, creator of the Cherokee Syllabary.

The filmmakers are also attempting to answer the controversial question of where Sequoyah's final resting place is located.

Guess said he was hesitant about doing a second interview until filmmakers asked him if he could include his talent for storytelling.

“One of the reasons why I was hesitant about doing the second interview is because just having the name Sequoyah is some pretty big shoes to fill,” said Guess. “However, when they asked me if they could film me doing some storytelling, I was on board. I am always ready to tell some stories.”

Not only does Guess have such a unique name to set him apart, even the stories he tells are different than most.

“He is different from the other descendants that we interviewed because he has a very different perspective when he tells stories,” said James Fortier, producer and director of Searching for Sequoyah. “All the stories that he tells, you can’t find those in no story book that has been published about Sequoyah and that is just fascinating.”

Guess said the stories he tells are just stories that have been passed down in his family since he was little.

“One story that I was telling was how Sequoyah’s name was actually his second name,” said Guess. “He was born with the name 'Gi sqwa ya' which means 'there’s a bird inside.' Of course when he was working on the syllabary, he neglected the farm, his pigs, crops and everything else and so the neighbors and his wife all got fed up with it. They told him if you don’t straighten up, we are going to change your name to Sequoyah which means 'there’s a pig inside.' He said, 'yeah I’ll take this name and I’m going to make it famous,' and he did.”

The documentary is currently still in production under Turtle Island Productions and will cover four acts.

It has already visited several shooting locations to speak with descendants. Its Tribal Consultant and Narrator Joshua Nelson will also examine his own ties to Sequoyah throughout.

“We are hoping to complete and deliver for a PBS premiere before November 2019,” said Fortier. “However, there are these other possibilities that if they materialized, it would push it back to November 2020. It wouldn’t take us that long, but that’s the way they schedule premieres like this because of Native American Heritage Month in November.”

Guess, a 2014 UKB Tradition Keeper, followed the interview by storytelling in the John Hair museum.

For more on “Searching for Sequoyah,” visit



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