Tuesday, March 06, 2007

"Tribe slave descendants face uncertainty"

Authentically Cherokee?

Since I occasionally mention the fact that I'm part Cherokee, I suppose that I ought to acknowledge this recent vote by the Cherokee Nation as reported in Yahoo News (Sean Murphy, AP Writer):

The Cherokee Nation vote this weekend to revoke the citizenship of the descendants of people the Cherokee once owned as slaves was a blow to people who have relied on tribal benefits . . . . In Saturday's special election, more than 76 percent of voters decided to amend the Cherokee Nation's constitution to remove the estimated 2,800 freedmen descendants from the tribal rolls, according to results posted Sunday on the tribe's Web site.

I'm no expert on either Cherokee or U.S. law pertaining to this issue -- and the report goes on to note that the vote will be challenged and could be reversed -- but I would like to muse on a couple of points:

First, although I refer to myself as having some Cherokee 'blood,' the issue of blood wouldn't have meant much to a tribal society. American Indian tribes inducted whites as members, Sam Houston being a prime example. He ran away from home in 1809, joined the Cherokee, was adopted into the tribe as a member, and was given the name Colleneh, meaning "the Raven." Could his membership be retroactively revoked because he wasn't Cherokee by blood?

Second, if 'blood' is the issue, then some members of the Cherokee tribe would be more authentically Cherokee than other members. I use the convenience of blood to talk about my great-grandfather having been a half-blood Cherokee -- though I usually shorten this to half-Cherokee. What this really meant in his case is that his mother was Cherokee and his father not. However, a half-blood member of the Cherokee Nation is officially just as much Cherokee as a full-blood member.

Those are my vague musings on the problematic of 'blood' -- no resolution achieved. But if one wants to get really scientific and technical about this issue, then the Cherokee Nation could turn to genetic testing . . . except that a lot of Cherokee might not like the results, for some members might turn out to have no discernable Cherokee inheritance. Again, I'm no expert, but reports that I read in the newspapers imply that anyone who wishes can have ethnic origins traced. I'm actually curious about the details of my own genetic history and would like to undergo such a testing some day if it can be easily and cheaply done.

And a lot of those descendents of slaves once owned by Cherokee might very well turn out to be substantially Cherokee by genetics. When I was attending Baylor University, in Waco, Texas, I had an African-American friend who claimed to be part Cherokee, and I think that he knew what he was talking about. When I worked at a Wells Fargo Bank in Palo Alto, California, one of my colleagues was an African-American woman who claimed to be part Cherokee, and I again had no reason to doubt her. Both of these individuals even looked part Indian to me, though I might not have noticed it if they hadn't mentioned the point.

The African-American Country-and-Western musician Charlie Pride is obviously part American Indian (look at him in this video), and I believe that I've read that he is part Cherokee. His eyes in the photo above remind me of some photos of another part-Cherokee, Johnny Cash (and see this video). To me, Pride looks just as much Indian as Chad "Corntassel" Smith . . . though that's a subjective judgement of mine.

But if we really want to know, then bring on the genetic testing.

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6 Comments:

At 11:12 AM, Blogger usinkorea said...

I am not an expert, but I have a sister who is. She's work the past 15 years or so at the former capital of the Cherokee nation and currently at a state park for one of the former chiefs of the nation - who was only part Cherokee himself. Our mother's father's mother was also 1/4 Cherokee, 2/4 Creek, and 1/4 white (is how I believe it worked out)...which gave our grandfather and his sisters enough indian blood that - after they were orphaned as teens - the relatives that took them in made them eat on the porch while the rest of the family ate at the dinner table (in rural Miss.)...

Anyway --

Membership in the Cherokee nation, and the Creek nation, and I believe the 3 other "civilized tribes" that were relocated to Okla. is not based on amount of blood.

It is based on (as far as I know) being able to trace and verify descendants back to members of the tribe at the time of the forced removal.

If you can prove a line between yourself and someone who was given a plot of land on the Census rolls taken at the end of the relocation, you can apply for membership - regardless of how faint your blood has gotten in the meantime.

So far, we haven't been able to establish a link to a Census member, because our direct ancestor didn't make it to Okla - having married a white man and settled down in Miss. along the way.

 
At 1:11 PM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

You're correct that membership is not based on blood but upon that census or one of the other censuses, if I recall, for there were several removals from Cherokee land to Indian Territory, which is what is now Oklahoma and Arkansas.

My Cherokee ancestors may have come with one of the earlier removals. At any rate, I qualify for membership but haven't seen any pressing reason to push for it. I asked my mother to do it, but she never got around to doing so.

As for removing the descendents of freed slaves from membership, I don't know the entire story, but from a distance, it doesn't look good.

Jeffery Hodges

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At 12:16 PM, Blogger Hathor said...

Would it remove descendants of married blacks to Cherokee and would it apply to the part of the Cherokee Nation still in Tennessee. I would suspect that there are many more blacks that could trace their ancestry to the Cherokee. With the one drop rule for blacks it didn't really matter though.

 
At 12:28 PM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

Hathor, I don't know for sure, but I think that the Cherokee were voting on the Freedmen who were declared Cherokee by the U.S. federal government after the end of the Civil War, so it probably applies only to the African-American descendents of specifically those Freedmen. But I'll bet that a lot of them were genetically part Cherokee.

Jeffery Hodges

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At 2:48 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

it is my understanding that the "Blacks" weren't the "Only Slaves". Some of the slaves mentioned were "Native Americans" also.
I don't know the reasoning behind the change. But, it seems that no matter what, someone always wants a peice of the pie.
Get off your butt's and earn the moneies you recieve! Or, just give the country back to those who had it first.

 
At 3:31 PM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

Anonymous, I'm so far removed from it all that I don't really know any of the issues very clearly. I'm just surprised that the tribe could expel members whose families had belonged for generations.

Anyway, I agree that people out to work and earn their way in life. That includes everybody.

Thanks for visiting.

Jeffery Hodges

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