Like many Americans in the time, Phelps had a vague understanding of his Native American ancestry. On one point, but his memory seemed strangely unique: his Indian identity was a product of his “Cherokee blood.” The custom of asserting that a Cherokee ancestor continues into the present. Across the USA, Americans tell and retell stories of long-lost Cherokee ancestors. These stories of family genealogies become murkier with every passing generation, but such as Phelps, contemporary Americans profess their view despite not having the ability to point straight to a Cherokee in their family tree.
Recent demographic data shows the degree to which Americans believe they’re part Cherokee. By 2010, that number rose, together with the Census Bureau reporting that 819,105 Americans maintained at one Cherokee ancestor. Census data also indicates that the vast majority of people self-identifying as Cherokee almost 70% of respondents claim they are mixed-race Cherokees.
Why is it that so many Americans claim to possess “Cherokee blood”? When Europeans first encountered the Cherokees in the mid 16th century, Cherokee people had well-established societal and cultural customs. Cherokee girls enjoyed good political and social power from the Cherokee society. Not just did a kid inherit the clan identity of his or her mother, girls oversaw the adoption of captives and other outsiders to the duties of clan membership.To maintain Cherokee blood would be to authenticate your American-ness.
As European colonialism engulfed Cherokee Country during the 17th and 18th centuries, however, Cherokees started altering their cultural and social traditions to meet the challenges of their times. One important convention that adapted to new realities was marriage. The Cherokee tradition of exogamous marriage, or marrying out of one’s clan, evolved through the 17th and 18th centuries as Cherokees struck Europeans to a more frequent basis.
It’s not possible to know the specific number of Cherokees who married Europeans during this period. But we all know that Cherokees viewed intermarriage as both a diplomatic instrument and as a way of incorporating Europeans to the reciprocal bonds of kinship. Eighteenth-century British dealers often sought out Cherokee wives.
For the dealer, the union opened up new markets, together with his Cherokee wife providing both companionship and entry access to items like the deerskins coveted by Europeans.For Cherokees, intermarriage made it possible to secure dependable flows of European goods, such as iron and metal gear, firearms, and clothes.
The frequency by which the British reported interracial marriages one of the Cherokees testifies to the sexual autonomy and political influence that Cherokee women appreciated. Additionally, it gave rise to some mixed-race Cherokee population that appears to have been far bigger than the racially mixed populations of neighboring tribes.
Europeans weren’t the only set of outsiders with which 18th-century Cherokees intermingled. From the early 19th century, a small group of wealthy Cherokees embraced racial slavery, acquiring black slaves out of American slave markets. A little more than 7 percent of Cherokee families owned slaves from the mid-1830s; a small number, but enough to contribute to a currently pervasive idea in dark culture: Saved from a Cherokee ancestor.From the early 20th century, the descendants of Cherokee slaves related tales of their black forebears followed Cherokees about the forced removals of the 1830s.
They also recalled tales of how African American and Cherokee individuals made interracial families. These tales have persisted into the 21st century. Among black Americans, as among Americans as a whole, the belief in Cherokee ancestry is more common than real blood ties.Slaves owned by Cherokees failed join their owners when the national government forced some 17,000 Cherokees from their Southeastern homeland in the end of the 1830s.
Cherokee individuals and their slaves suffered that compelled journey into the West by riverboats and overland paths, joining tens of thousands of previously displaced Native peoples from the Eastern United States in Indian Territory (modern-day eastern Oklahoma). We now refer to this inglorious occasion as the Trail of Tears.
However, the Cherokee people didn’t remain confined to the lands that the federal government assigned to them in Indian Territory. During the late 19th and early 20th centuries, Cherokees traveled between Indian Territory and North Carolina to see family and friends, and Cherokee people migrated and resettled throughout North America in search of social and economic opportunities.
While many Native American groups traveled throughout the USA during this age in search of employment, the Cherokee people’s advanced levels of education and literacy a product of the Cherokee Nation’s public schooling system in Indian Territory along with the openness of diaspora Cherokees to register their children in formal academic institutionssupposed they traveled to a scale far larger than any other native group. In these travels it’s possible to glimpse Cherokees coming into contact, living next door to, or intermarrying with black and white Americans from all walks of life.
At precisely the exact same time that the Cherokee diaspora was growing across the nation, the national government began adopting a method of “blood quantum” to ascertain Native American individuality. Native Americans have to establish their Cherokee, or Navajo, or Sioux “blood” in order to be recognized. (The racially based system of identification also excluded individuals with “one drop” of “Negro blood.”) The national government’s “blood quantum” criteria varied over time, helping to explain why listed Cherokee “blood quantum” ranged from “full-blood” to one 2048th.
The system’s larger aim was to determine who was eligible for land allotments following the government’s decision to terminate Native American self-government at the end of the 19th century. By 1934, the year that Franklin Roosevelt’s administration embraced the Indian Reorganization Act, “blood quantum” became the official step by which the national authorities determined Native American identity.
In the ensuing decades, Cherokees, like other Native American groups, sought to establish “blood” in their own terms. From the mid 20th century, Cherokee and other American Indian activists began linking together to articulate their definitions of American Indian identity and to face those thousands of thousands of Americans who laid claim to become descendants of Native Americans.
Groups like the National Congress of American Indians worked toward the self-determination of American Indian countries and handled the problem of false claims to membership. According to the job of Vine Deloria, one of NCAI’s leading intellectuals, “Cherokee was the most popular tribe” in America.
More frequently than not, that ancestor was an “Indian princess,” in spite of the fact that the tribe had a social system with anything resembling an inherited name like princess.So why have so many Americans laid claim to a clearly literary identity?
Part of the answer is embedded in the tribe’s history: its willingness to incorporate outsiders into kinship systems and its extensive migrations throughout North America. But there’s another explanation, too.The Cherokees resisted state and national efforts to remove them from their Southeastern homelands throughout the 1820s and 1830s.
Throughout this time, most whites saw them as an inconvenient nuisance, an obstacle to colonial growth. But after their elimination, the tribe came to be viewed more romantically, especially in the antebellum South, in which their determination to maintain their rights of self-government against the national government took on fresh meaning.
Throughout the South in the 1840s and 1850s, large numbers of whites started claiming they were descended from a Cherokee great-grandmother.That great-grandmother was often a “princess,” a not-inconsequential detail in a region obsessed with social status and suspicious of outsiders.
By asserting a royal Cherokee ancestor, white Southerners were legitimating that the antiquity of their native-born standing as sons or brothers of the South, as well as establishing their decision to defend their faith against an aggressive federal authorities, as they imagined the Cherokees had completed.
These might have been self-serving historical delusions, but they have been shown to be enduring.The continuing popularity of asserting “Cherokee blood” and also the simplicity by which countless Americans inhabit a Cherokee identity speaks volumes about the enduring legacy of American colonialism.
Nevertheless, the visibility of Cherokee identity also owes much to the success of their three federally recognized Cherokee tribes. Now, the Cherokee Nation, the United Keetoowah Band of Cherokee Indians, along with the Eastern Band of Cherokees include a joint population of 344,700. Cherokee tribal governments provide community members with health services, education, and housing assistance; they’ve even teamed up with firms like Google and Apple to produce Cherokee-language apps.
Cherokee people are doctors and lawyers, schoolteachers and academics, tradespeople and minimum-wage employees. The cultural richness, political prominence, and socioeconomic diversity of the Cherokee people have played a substantial role in maintaining the tribe’s individuality in the historic consciousness of generation after generation of Americans, whether or not they have Cherokee blood.