There is a long and tragic history involving subjugation of peoples and cultures around the world. One of the most heartbreaking examples was perpetrated against the Cherokee Nation - and all the other Native Americans - by white settlers and the US government. While many of the campaigns against North America’s first inhabitants were executed bit by bit, The Trail of Tears stands out for its inhumanity.
As I write my next novel, due out late this year, I’ve been researching the Trail of Tears. We all know it was the forced relocation of Cherokees and other Southeastern tribes to Indian Territory beyond the Mississippi River. But do we all know 4000 Cherokees died during the course of the removal? Do we all know the US Supreme Court barred the state of Georgia from taking Cherokee lands? And that President Andrew Jackson ignored the Supreme Court ruling, thus triggering the forced Indian removal? Do we know Jackson negotiated the so-called Treaty of New Echota with a handful of self-appointed Cherokees, giving up their ancestral lands? A huge irony is that the Cherokees, perhaps more than any other Indian tribe, actually tried to adapt to white civilization, including adopting European dress, creating the first newspaper published by Native Americans – The Cherokee Phoenix – and enacting a Constitution for the Cherokee Nation. All for naught.
My book is not about The Trail of Tears, but part of the story occurs as the Cherokees living in Georgia are rounded up and herded westward on that perilous journey. There’s a young Cherokee woman in my novel, so I did a some reading about Cherokee women, including the book pictured above. I highly recommend Cherokee Women, Gender and Culture Change, 1700 – 1835 by Theda Perdue.
Just a few of the fascinating insights in Perdue’s book: a Cherokee woman could divorce her husband by gathering his clothing and belongings and setting them outside; men did not carry water because it was women’s work; women did the farming, gardening and gathering; men provided meat and fish and fought tribal wars; children were not blood relatives of their father or grandfather. Of course, white settlers couldn’t tolerate a system that gave women as much power as men, a system where kinship was determined through the mother and her clan, not the father.
I’ve decided to undergo DNA testing this year. Want to see if I might possibly have some Native American blood in my family tree. My father used to say he thought he was one thirty-second Cherokee Indian. I always suspected it was wishful thinking. There’s even a name for that: “Cherokee Grandmother Syndrome,” whereby millions of Americans think - or hope - they might be part Native American, citing stories of a distant grandmother with coal black hair. The most common tribe mentioned in these family stories? The Cherokee - Ani-Yun Wiya, the Real People.
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