I am a Cherokee Nation tribal member. I grew up in Northeastern Oklahoma. My ancestors were on the Trail of Tears and many are not only listed on the Dawes Rolls but are in Dr. Emmett Starr's book of genealogy of Cherokee families. I know my ancestors by name from memory into the early 1700s but have their linage much further back. As I grew up, we lived in a log house with one cold water faucet inside and no bathrooms. My father worked two jobs and anything extra he could find to keep the seven of us fed. In school I hung with other Cherokee children. I didn't think of myself as "Indian", I just thought people treated us the way they did because we were poor. As I got older I understood that at that time (the 50's) television and movies were all about westerns and the Indians in them were almost all blood thirsty savages and very stupid. I didn't talk about being Indian when around people. If I did, they would ask questions like whether we lived in teepees (Cherokees didn't) or such.
In the early 70's things began to change. In 1971 we regained the right to elect our own leaders in a congressional act passed by President Nixon. Under successive Chiefs things improved greatly. Cherokee Nation businesses started to build industries in Cherokee communities so Cherokees don't have to leave for better jobs, and to preserve the language and culture. Now they own companies in the gaming, hospitality, personnel services, distribution, manufacturing, telecommunications and environmental services industries. In society it has become "cool" to be a Cherokee. Now it seems like every body wants to be one. There are over 200,000 applications waiting for enrollment into the Cherokee Nation. Cherokee "tribes" are popping up all over the country, and even in Mexico, though most are frauds.
So how do Cherokee's feel about the past? It appears to be buried in the corners of history books and there it is just a fragment. Today students study about the Civil war and slavery, but not that there was a trade in Cherokee slaves too. Students may learn about the Trail of Tears, but few know the suffering and terrible treatment they went through, or the roll their government played in the deaths of so many. People don't know how advanced the Cherokee way of life was and even their form of government. Once in Oklahoma, the U.S. government tried to systematically destroy the language by not allowing it to be spoken in schools and sending the children to schools designed to remove the "Indian ways" from them. The U.S. government set about breaking up the tribe by dividing the land the tribe had been put on into individual plots rather than traditional tribal ownership. However the government held what was given to each individual "in trust" meaning you didn't really own it. If the government sold your land, they held the money in trust too. When the U.S. government wanted a place to put a Japanese POW camp during the war, they chose Cherokee land in Oklahoma. They gave the families living there 45 days to move out of their homes. These people had to leave their land, homes, crops, animals, community schools, and cemeteries so the government could build a prison camp. (Camp Gruber). This isn't a two hundred years ago, this is recent! One question is always, "what will the government try to do to us next?"
How does one feel when their land, language, culture, sovereignty, and lives of their ancestors were taken away, yet even the Irish have more recognition in history books, monuments, and events throughout the country. (No offense meant to the Irish). We want the world to know the details of what happened, who we were and who we are. That being Cherokee isn't just a label non-tribal people like Cher, Tori Amos, or Billy Ray Cyrus can use as hype for their image, or that car and clothing makers can just take for their brand. Even though we can say that "Cherokee" is an English word, it is still about others taking whatever they want to from us and feeling like it's ok because there are so few left, who can do anything about it?
A Cherokee doesn't have had to have lived through the Trail of Tears to be able to offer insight. We have the stories that were passed down in our families. I know where my ancestors died, what things were left behind and what was saved. The log house where I once lived was built the same way the Cherokee houses were built in Georgia. Not because it came from a book or was trendy, but because it was passed down to my grandfather.
Today, so many people want to claim Cherokee. That's fine. People should be proud of their heritage whatever it is. But if you claim Cherokee, you should learn the history, culture, food, games, language, songs, and other aspects to keep it alive and pass it down.
So much has been destroyed, there are only embers left. Don't let them go out.
That's how I feel.
Answered By: cherokee_horizon - 1/23/2009