"Tribe slave descendants face uncertainty"
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.
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.