Patrick G. Barkman

As you all know, I’m working on quite a big project about Native Americans. I sincerely believe that they still are mainly neglected: they have a rich culture, a rich – and sad – history and, today, many of them live in poverty. Their story is one worth telling.

I wrote a post a few days ago, asking Native Americans to contact me in order to share their story. I got a couple of e-mails, one of them was from Patrick G. Barkman. Patrick told me that his family is Cherokee and that he would be more than willing to work with me on this project. We decided to do an interview and a guest post. Today, I’ll publish the interview. The guest post, about the Indian Wars and the Trail of Tears will follow later.

Patrick is an attorney and nationally syndicated newspaper columnist with a general law practice in his hometown of Cleburne, Texas. In 2002, he was unusuccessful candidate for the Texas State House of Represenatives. He is married and has two sons. He is also a blogger: go check his blog out here.

Could you give a brief summary of your family’s history?
P.B.: My maternal great grandmother’s mother, Susan Wood, was born in Arkansas (or possibly Indian Territory) in 1855. It is possible that her family were Old Settlers, Cherokee who emigrated west before the Trail of Tears. In 1877, she married a white man from Texas who she likely met as he passed through Indian Territory on a cattle drive. They settled in Central Texas and had 11 children, the youngest of whom was my maternal great grandmother, Nellie Tippie (known to everyone as Granny). Susan Wood died in 1899 and the family more or less disentigrated, some of the adult children drifted to Indian Territory and likely settled in with relatives. Nellie was raised by a number of white families and spent the rest of her life here. She recently died just a few months short of her 106th birthday.

How does your family’s history, thus you being Cherokee, influence your every day life?
P.B.: Every day I give thanks that I was born Cherokee. Since most of my family has lost their culture, I try to set aside some time every day to study the language, history or culture of my people. My youngest son particulalry enjoys having me read traditional stories to him.

In what way did and does Cherokee culture differ from other tribes’ culture?
P.B.: For one thing, the Cherokee were matrillineal, tracing all descent and inheritence through the mother. Wives owned all property and always kept custody of the children in the event of divorce. Women also had a structural role in running the government, including during times of war. Even today, many Cherokee families have a matriarch who is seen as the “head” of the family.

Why is it that the Cherokee have historically been better assimilated than most other tribes?
P.B.: The Cherokee traditionally adapted well to changing circumstances, plus in the decades before the Trial of Tears they had leaders like Major Ridge who believed adapted white culture was the best way to ensure the survival of the tribe.


Flag of Cherokee Nation

What is Cherokee Nation exactly and what role does it play in the lives of Cherokee?
P.B.: There are three federall recognized Cherokee tribal governments–the Cherokee Nation, located in Tahlequah, Oklahoma, is the largest and traces its history to the first constitution ratified after the Trail of Tears in 1839. The Cherokee Nation has an executive government, headed by the principal chief, an elected tribal council, and a court system. It exercises jurisdiction over 14 counties in Northeastern Oklahoma. The United Keetoowah Band of Cherokee Indians is also located in Tahlequah. It is a smaller group, more traditional, and contains many native Cherokee speakers. The two governments frequently clash over sovereignty issues. The third Cherokee group is the Eastern Band, located in the mountains of North Carolina and comprised of Cherokee who managed to avoid the Trail of Tears.

Do you consider yourself to be Cherokee first, and American second, or American first and Cherokee second?
P.B.: That’s a hard question, but I would have to say American first.

Are there still a lot of hard feelings within the Cherokee community toward America / the American government?
P.B.: For some, yes. For example, since Andrew Jackson was the President during the Trail of Tears, you can sometimes find his portrait on $20 bills defaced in parts of Oklahoma. On the other hand, Cherokee have fought for the United States in every war since the War of 1812.

There is a lot of controversy within Cherokee Nation regarding the so-called “Freedmen”. Who are they and what’s the controversy all about?
P.B.: Before the Trial of Tears, many Cherokee had assimillated into white culture. Since they were in the South, this included plantation economics and slavery. One Cherokee, James Vann, was actually the richest man in George, with a large brick house, hundreds of acres and hundreds of slaves. During the removal, most Cherokee brought their slaves with them and continued to keep them until after the Civil War. Cherokee fought for both the North and the South, but in the end, the tribe was treated like the defeated Confederates. A treaty imposed in 1866 required the Cherokee to not only free all slaves, but make them members of the tribe. Many of the slaves intermarried with Cherokee. In 1896-1907, the Dawes Commission tried to break up the Cherokee Nation and allot individual plots of land to individual Indians, with the “surplus” being then opened to white settlers. The so-called Dawes Rolls are really a mess, incredibly inaccurate. The names are frequently wrong, because some Indians objected to being forced to give “English” names. The blood quanta listing is usually wrong, because if an Indian claimed he was a “full blood,” he was considered incompetent and the land would be held in trust for him by the federal government. The Freedmen were listed, but were not given a blood quanta rating due to the prevailing racist belief at the time that “one drop” of “negro blood” made you a “negro.” In fact, the whole idea of blood quantum or “Indian blood” is a racist invention of whites that has no precedent in Indian history or culture. ohn Ross, the greatest chief in modern Cherokee history, was only 1/8th! For decades after the Dawes Rolls, the Freedmen descendents were considered members of the tribe. Some even served on the Tribal Council. When a new constitution was adopted in 1975, the tribe stopped enrolling Freedmen, on the grounds that they weren’t “Indians by blood.” This was challenged in the courts and last year the Cherokee Supreme Court ruled that the tribe had to allow Freedmen descendents to enroll as full tribal members. A petition (which was riddled with fraud and inaccuracy) was circulated and now a vote is scheduled to limit tribal membership to those who can “prove” that they have “Indian blood.” Of course, this is a Catch 22 for the Freedmen descendents, since they weren’t allowed to list their “Indian blood” on the Dawes Roll in the first place.

Is that attitude based on racism, pride, economics or something else?
P.B.: That’s a hard question to answer. It’s not money; the Cherokee Nation makes enough off casino gambling to pay for services, but nobody gets a rebate check as with some other smaller tribes that have periodically tried to kick out members. Yes, it would put a strain on the nation to absorb as many as 10,000 (by some estimates) new citizens, but they would also be contributing to the nation. I don’t want to believe the exclusionists (led by Principal Chief Chad Smith) are motivated solely by racism but some of their comments (like saying the Freedman “haven’t contrubuted to the life of the nation”) make me wonder. The whole issue of “Indian blood” is very sensitive to many Indians, especially among Cherokee who have been intermarrying with whites (and blacks) for 200+ years. In fact, the Cherokee have kind of a reputation among other tribes for being “apples” (red on the outside, white on the inside).

Do Cherokee have ‘special days’ or feasts? If so, do you celebrate them and… how are they generally celebrated?
Cherokee Nation Day is celebrated on Labor Day Weekend and commemorates the ratification of the first post-Removal constitution. My family also observes the Green Corn Ceremony in late summer, early fall, which is a harvest festival that marks when the corn crop is first fit to eat. We also celebrate the Great New Moon ceremony, which is the Cherokee New Year. Of all the traditional holidays, the Green Corn Ceremony is probably the one most widely celebrated today.

Do you commemorate the Trial of Tears? If so, how?
Every year, the Cherokee Nation reenacts a portion of the Trail of Tears. I got to walk an actual section of the Trail in Arkansas with Principal Chief Chad Smith and about 200 others two years ago. It was very moving.

Are most Cherokee Christian, or they adhere to traditional Cherokee religion?
The overwhelming majority of Cherokee have been Christian, and mostly Southern Baptist, for nearly 200 years. There are still some traditionalists around.

What is the traditional Cherokee religion? Could you give a brief description?
Not many people remember the traditional ways. The Cherokee with polytheistic and spiritualist. Even among those who don’t practice the old ways exclusively, it’s not uncommon to refer to plants and animals the same way you would to human beings.

What has – in your opinion – been the worst policy toward Native Americans in U.S. history, and what has been the best one?
The worst policy? All of them. From the Cherokee perspective, that would easily be the Trail of Tears, followed by the policy of Termination in the 1950’s, when the federal gov’t tried to forcibly disband tribal governments and give away their assets. Some tribes have been fighting 50 years to recreate themselves through the court system. One of the better policy proposals was one during the New Deal Era, when the government proposed to hand over federal lands to the tribes to administer. It didn’t get very far before WWII. President Gerald Ford signed into law the Indian Health Service that helped hundreds of thousands of Indians get access to health care for the first time in their lives.

What is the economical situation of Cherokee Nation / the Cherokee people (compared to that of other tribes)?
The Cherokee Nation is self-sufficient. It runs a school system, the Tribal Marshall Service, various health clinics and services for the elderly.

Can you explain that?
The Cherokee Nation is in rural Oklahoma, but not nearly as isolated as other tribes further west. Tahlequah is pretty close to big cities like Tulsa and Oklahoma City. Also, the Cherokee have been very aggressive in expanding operations like Cherokee Nations Industries and casino operations.

Native Americans tend to live in (extremely) poor conditions: from all minority groups their suicide rates, unemployment rates, high school dropout rates, etc. etc. are the highest. How can this situation be changed and in how far can the US government do something about it and in how far is it in their own hands?
The best thing the federal gov’t could do would be to turn over public lands back to the tribal governments. If, for example, the Lakota could run the Blacks Hills National Park, the income from tourism and mining alone could help drag those reservations out of poverty. The federal gov’t should also get serious about paying off the billions of dollars in Indian trust fund money that it cannot account for.

I would like to thank Patrick for this interview. It has been incredibly interesting to work with a Cherokee on this. Part 2 of Chapter 1, again, will be published as soon as possible.

Lastly, I would also like to repeat my request: if you’re (partly) Native American and would like to share your story and your views, please send me an e-mail.

P.S.
Commenter C. Stanley links to websites about the history of the Cherokee in the area she lives.

Interesting reading material (and photos)
General history of Cherokee (predating the Trail of Tears)
New Echota, first capital of the Cherokee Nation
Photo page of New Echota historical site
Chief Vann House

Michael van der Galien
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Copyright 2007 The Moderate Voice
  • I really wish you would find a way to introduce that ‘read more’ into this site…
    Not that I don’t find the topic interesting, but this long story results in to much scrolling to get to the previous one below it.
    🙁

  • Stop complaining Gray.

    So, what do you find so interesting about this topic?

  • I used to read a lot about Tecumseh, Geronimo and the other leaders in my youth. And I second your opinion that the US doesn’t appreciate the history of native Amricans as much as they should.

  • “Stop complaining Gray”
    Stop ignoring the problem Michael 😛
    This is an inconvenience for the readers here.

  • Well, Gray, I’m sorry to hear that. I hope you will be able to deal with it though;)

    This is an inconvenience for the readers here.

    You are, of course, a reader, and a one who is very highly regarded, but… you’re the only one complaining about it I believe…

  • “you’re the only one complaining about it I believe…”
    Damn! Ok, that’s a point. Maybe I just need a faster scrolling mouse.
    :-/

  • Joe Gandelman

    Read more may be introduced in coming months but it will be an optional feature since there are some posts (like the roundups ) that do need to be displayed in full. also, I want to give each writer the option and not have it imposed on them. we have this set up to show a lot of posts per page so unless it’s truly an unusual day, the front page of this site should show all the day’s posts and, if not, past posts are in the archive. I find it very refreshing to see a nonblogspeak topic on a weblog, to be honest.

  • Good news, Joe. Thx!

  • BeYourGuest

    I’m interested in history, but don’t know much about Native American culture, so I found this interesting.

    I hope you’ll do more on this.

  • CStanley

    Thanks, Patrick and Michael; very interesting interview. The home of Chief Vann is near my home (also New Echota, the first capital of the Cherokee Nation) and this reminds me to schedule a trip there with the kids soon.

  • BeYourGuest: Yep I will do more on this. At this moment it looks like there will be 5 Chapters – history, religion, culture, etc.

  • CStanley

    Gray,
    Even without the “read more” links, you can avoid scrolling by using the “recent posts” links in the upper right sidebar.

  • Thanks, Patrick and Michael; very interesting interview. The home of Chief Vann is near my home (also New Echota, the first capital of the Cherokee Nation) and this reminds me to schedule a trip there with the kids soon.

    No thanks of course and… if you can take pictures… it would be great if you’d e-mail them.

    I find it very refreshing to see a nonblogspeak topic on a weblog, to be honest.

    We’ll see more of it in the future, right? 😉

  • Bottom Line…Our country was built on the backs of taking their land and massacring them and also on the backs of the slaves we stole from Africa. GO USA!!! *smh* The Average American seems to be offended when introduced to this thought in my experience.

  • C.P.: are you African American yourself, yeah right? In the future, I also plan on doing a ‘special’ on African American history / life / contemporary situation / etc.

    ur country was built on the backs of taking their land and massacring them and also on the backs of the slaves we stole from Africa… The Average American seems to be offended when introduced to this thought in my experience.

    Well, reality dictates that to a degree at least it’s true. The U.S. does not have a ‘clean history’ to put it mildly.

    On the other hand, what about the Dutch? We became one of the richest nations by shipping and selling slaves worldwide and by exploiting native peoples.

  • CStanley

    Will try to do so. Meanwhile, here’s a couple of links to websites about the history of the Cherokee in my area:

    General history of Cherokee (predating the Trail of Tears)
    New Echota, first capital of the Cherokee Nation
    Photo page of New Echota historical site
    Chief Vann House

  • Very interesting! Thx for the links, CS.

  • CStanley

    Oops, my last comment was in response to MvdG’s request for pics of historical Cherokee sites in North Georgia.

    Well, reality dictates that to a degree at least it’s true. The U.S. does not have a ‘clean history’ to put it mildly.

    On the other hand, what about the Dutch? We became one of the richest nations by shipping and selling slaves worldwide and by exploiting native peoples.

    The way I see it, all of human history is about progress built on the foundation of one civilization exploiting another. That’s not a comfortable thought, but the question is, is it really possible for reparations to be made, or is it enough to acknowledge the sins of the past and learn from them?

  • C.S.: thanks for the links! I have added them to the post.

    That’s not a comfortable thought, but the question is, is it really possible for reparations to be made, or is it enough to acknowledge the sins of the past and learn from them?

    I have much trouble answering that question, however I see a lot in Patrick’s suggestions. Give them those kinds of lands, full authority over it and let them ‘exploit’ it. I’d say give them a chance to live like they want to live, help them build high quality schools, make sure that they are insured for health care, etc. At least, that’s part of my opinion on it.

    More will follow on that later, in a different Chapter.

  • MvdG,

    I may not be black but I live in the hood where I can’t get gas w/o being near a shooting. But I love the hood, it’s a great place! 🙂

  • lol, well… at least your life’s never boring…

    I guess..

  • CStanley

    A question for Patrick:
    It seems that the history of the Cherokee stands out among the various tribes partly due to the degree of assimilation that they displayed by the time that the US government was formed. It seems to me that this led to the hope of a peaceful coexistence between the two civilizations, which unfortunately was snuffed out by the racist or imperialistic factions of the GA and US governments.

    So, some questions relating to this:
    1. To what do you attribute the Cherokee people’s relative willingness to adopt European ways? Do you see that as a sign that they were a more advanced civilization (relative to other tribes), or just different? In other words, were other Native American tribes equally advanced in your opinion, but perhaps less willing to adapt due to concerns that they would lose their own culture and heritage?

    2. Do you think that the Cherokee could have preserved their own civilization (and maintained a fully sovereign nation on the lands they inhabited) if they hadn’t tried to adopt a European style governance? Obviously this ultimately led to them being betrayed, but do you think it could have turned out differently?

  • AustinRoth

    That’s not a comfortable thought, but the question is, is it really possible for reparations to be made, or is it enough to acknowledge the sins of the past and learn from them?

    It is a false question, IMO. This is revisionist history. The story of mankind, and history itself, revolves around displacement/conquering, and cannot be changed.

    To me, the issue is that while we should try to learn from what has happened in the past, and develop a mindset that prevents as much as possible similar conflicts and displacements in the future, you cannot put Humpty Dumpty back together.

    The past has to be left where it is – in the past. As soon as you open the door to ‘reparations’ or similar discussions, the salient question has to immediately turn to ‘how far back do you go’? To the 19th century? The 14th century? Roman times? Mycenaean, Egyptian, or Mesopotamian times?

  • MvdG,

    It’s more like not really being afraid to go anywhere, if you exude that love and respect for where you’re going and who you’re going to see…things always work out. I’ve been in houses where there is nobody but Five Percenters…I’ve been in some of the worst neighborhoods here and elsewhere. If you’re not confrontational or fearful of anywhere you go you’ll be okay, trust that.

    CS,
    I need to make a trip to the Great Smokey Mountains and visit some of the places relevant to the Cherokee…I’m always looking to further expand my knowledge any way I can.

  • Five what?

  • MvdG,

    Five Percenter Muslims

  • Lynx

    Chuck, I’m afraid adding Muslim to the equation is only going to confuse poor Michael more LOL. Michael, they’re African American Muslims, radical ones. But their radicalism isn’t like extremist Muslims, it’s based more on the black-white divide in the US. Islam has been seen by many black men as a form of rebellion against the system. The five percenters have….erm….interesting beliefs. A large portion of traditional Muslims (in Arab and Asian countries) don’t feel very much affection for these people.

    I can think of almost no spot on earth where powers didn’t rise by stepping on others. Spain was also once a great empire, by crushing and exploiting much of Central and South America. On the other hand, the great empires of the Maya, Aztec, Olmec etc. were built on the blood of their enemies. I think a civilization must be judged by how they behave today, and if they acknowledge their past.

  • CStanley

    CS,
    I need to make a trip to the Great Smokey Mountains and visit some of the places relevant to the Cherokee…I’m always looking to further expand my knowledge any way I can.

    You should do, CP, not only for the Cherokee sites but also for the natural beauty here. I assume you don’t get to enjoy mountain vistas and waterfalls in the hood. 🙂

  • “1. To what do you attribute the Cherokee people’s relative willingness to adopt European ways? Do you see that as a sign that they were a more advanced civilization (relative to other tribes), or just different? In other words, were other Native American tribes equally advanced in your opinion, but perhaps less willing to adapt due to concerns that they would lose their own culture and heritage?”

    Terms like “advanced” are loaded. The largest cities on Earth in 1492 and the world’s largest land empire were located in the New World. More people lived in North and South America at the time than at Europe, and with a generally longer life-expectancy (the Puritans, for example, were astonished that many Indians knew their grandparents and great grandparents). And without being too Cherokee-chauvinist, I think the tribe overall showed a great historical flexibility and adaptibility that has helped it survive. Just to use a few examples, Cherokee were quick to trade for iron weapons, spinning wheels and firearms when they encountered them. When the Cherokee genius Sequoyah saw the advantage white people had with a written language, he single-handedly created one for his people.

    “2. Do you think that the Cherokee could have preserved their own civilization (and maintained a fully sovereign nation on the lands they inhabited) if they hadn’t tried to adopt a European style governance? Obviously this ultimately led to them being betrayed, but do you think it could have turned out differently? ”

    No, it didn’t matter. White Americans were never, ever going to allow non-whites to keep their land (particularly after gold was discovered in the Old Cherokee Nation); some Cherokee tried to adapt, others tried to withdraw, some tried to fought–the result was the same. Though not all whites were vicious racists, the ones in power, such as the government of Georgia and President Andrew Jackson were, and they were the voices that counted. Actually, there is one way the Cherokee might have kept their land–if they had joined the Shawnee warrior Tecumseh (who in at least one version of the legend had a Cherokee mother) in his alliance against the United States in the War of 1812.

  • “This is revisionist history”

    What exactly is revisionist history? That Native Americans were swindled out of their land? And as for the “everyone did it” canard, how is that even an argument? From whom did the Native Americans “steal” this land? Our ancestors were either created here (according to traditional beliefs) or they have lived here for at least 30,000 years. As for the “that was a long time ago” argument, the Cherokee were rounded up into concentration camps and shipped across country in 1838-1839, hardly Phoenecian times. Indian treaties were broken by the federal government in a wild orgy of lawlessness called the Termination Era as recently as the 1950’s. Forget reparations, how about if the Federal Government actually kept one, just one, treaty it signed with an Indian Nation?

  • SFB

    Chuck Prez says: “Bottom Line…Our country was built on the backs of taking their land and massacring them and also on the backs of the slaves we stole from Africa. GO USA!!! *smh* The Average American seems to be offended when introduced to this thought in my experience.”

    Local Crank Says: “This is revisionist historyâ€? What exactly is revisionist history? That Native Americans were swindled out of their land? And as for the “everyone did itâ€? canard, how is that even an argument? From whom did the Native Americans “stealâ€? this land?”

    For starters, the various aboriginal peoples cheerfully fought with and slaughtered each other, often for control of land. No one has a patent on man’s inhumanity to man. Indians are just as willing to engage in warfare as whites, or Africans, or Asians. The losers in inter tribal warfare were willing to see if they could work a deal with the strange people to even old scores. Why do you think Cortez, with a few hundered men, could take on the Aztecs? Because the Aztec’s neighbors were tired of being the losing side in fights with the Aztecs, and tired of providing human sacrifices for the Aztecs. The pattern of shifting alliances was well established by the time the English and the French were trying to conquer North America from the Indians and the Spanish. Indians, like whites, had some rather unsavory customs, and they both treated the “other” as less than human when it served their purposes. The notion of Indians as proto-environmental pacifists has been effectively de-bunked by Shepard Krech and others.

    Slavery is a horribe thing, but it was virtually universal in much of the world before 1400. Including some north American Indian tribes. What many people overlook is that the African slave trade was made possible by Africans enslaving their fellow Africans, and then selling them to Europeans. The Portugese and the Spanish and the Dutch were not sending parties into the African interior to capture slaves as much as they were buying them from other Africans. So while damning the Europeans and Americans who profited from the slave trade, save a few curses for the Africans involved in this business. They were not all victims.

    The attempts to write history as a morality play are generally poor history, and even worse literature. The Europeans were not gentle or subtle, but they were not much different than most of the Indians. The values of Europeans and Americans were different from the values of most of the Indian tribes. That doesn’t make one “right” and the other wrong. But it does suggest that if there is a conflict in social values, there will be winners and losers; no culture remains static unless it dies. The Europeans and later Americans were agents of dramatic change to the Indians. But, as James Axtell notes, the Indians were also agents of change on the whites. It wasn’t an equal exchange, but it was an exchange. That process continues.

  • Katie

    I think I have somewhat of a different take than some of you. I’m not native but my husband is. He absolutely thinks he’s American first and native second. It aggravates me when he declines to put his race on job applications and things like that. He’s determined to do things on his own with no racial “crutch”.

    Another somewhat odd view that he has is that unlike everything you read, the natives of old were not particularly noble. They stole, raped women, and often starved to death in lean years. He finds it interesting that what he calls “professional natives” only look at things like ceremonies and not the hard living that most native cultures really had. He also gets annoyed over many natives wanting reparations for things that happened generations ago. Granted, white people stole land, but that’s happened for years. Heck, indians used to steal other indians land.

    As I said, his view is pretty different than a lot of people’s. He doesn’t see why people put native culture up on a pedestal–especially when so much of it is based on mythology rather than christianity.

    He feels the same way about wolves too. Thinks they’re mangy creatures that often kill just for the fun of it. So maybe he’s just a wrong thinking guy!

  • SFB

    I’d say Katie’s husband is like a lot of people on tribal rolls around the USA. He’s got a better outlook on life than many people. The “professional Indians” are more of a problem than the white guys. In fact, it is interesting that a number of the “professional Indians” are not even enrolled members of any tibe – see Ward Churchill as Exhibit A.

    Romanticizing people – any people – has its dangers. One of them is that we make people into something which they are not, either by making them appear to be without blemish, or by demonizing them. The ‘noble savage’ stereotype is appealing to a lot of people, but it is every bit as damaging as the ‘bloodthirsty savage’ stereotype. Katie’s husband sounds like someone I would enjoy talking to, someone who recognizes that people are people.

  • “For starters, the various aboriginal peoples cheerfully fought with and slaughtered each other, often for control of land.”

    Okay, well, assuming that it is even true, so what? How does the fact that Indian tribes fought each other make it morally acceptable for whites to invade and conquer their land? Poland invaded Ukraine; did that make the Nazi invasion justified? Your argument appears to boil down to “everyone does it,” which is frankly not very effective.

    “The notion of Indians as proto-environmental pacifists has been effectively de-bunked by Shepard Krech and others.”

    I don’t recall saying Indians were “proto-environmental pacifists.” That argument is generally a steaming pile of white New Age crapola. But, as Vine Deloria, Jr. wrote, it is also true that no Indian ever thought of dumping enough pollutants into a river to make it burst into flames. But, again, even if they did, how does that justify stealing their land?

    “He’s got a better outlook on life than many people. The “professional Indiansâ€? are more of a problem than the white guys. In fact, it is interesting that a number of the “professional Indiansâ€? are not even enrolled members of any tibe – see Ward Churchill as Exhibit A.”

    Ward Churchill is not any sort of Indian, professional or otherwise, and he never has been. He’s a fraud, plain and simple. Beyond that, though, what precisely do you mean by a “professional Indian”? You seem to be implying that Indians who point out how badly their tribes have been treated by the United States are somehow less valid, or at least less fun, than those who assume “people are people” (an attitude Indians would have appreciated more if white people had adopted it 150 years ago).

    The “noble savage” stereotype is just as offensive, untrue and racist as the “bloodthirsty savage” stereotype and again involves white people projecting their own fears and prejudices onto Native peoples. I know of few, if any, Indians who want “reparations”; I know of plenty who would appreciate it if maybe, just once, the United States government honored ANY treaty it ever signed with ANY tribe. They could pick one at random, surprise us.

  • Jim S

    Whites and Native Americans have been marrying for centuries. A simple search on the internet shows that my surname (A relatively rare one.) is on both the Cherokee rolls from before the Trail of Tears and the Choctaw rolls. I wouldn’t be surprised if I had a trace of Cherokee given the time and place of the Cherokee listing and a simple look at pictures of my Dad. My wife looks as Irish as any stereotypically redheaded Irishwoman but the Cherokee in her bloodline came out in one of her sisters. It’s hard to believe that someone with her coloring (Blue eyes and all.) is almost a quarter Cherokee but such are the tricks of genetics. No one really thought about if my family had Cherokee blood and my wife’s life was hardly affected by it except when she was young and would get odd looks (Don’t think there wasn’t still prejudice against Cherokee in Oklahoma a few decades past.) when she’d be hanging out with cousins whose parents had married back into the tribe. But I’d have to say we both agree with Katie’s husband.

  • “My wife looks as Irish as any stereotypically redheaded Irishwoman but the Cherokee in her bloodline came out in one of her sisters.”

    John Ross, the greatest Cherokee chief in modern history, was 1/8 Cherokee by the racist “Indian blood” standard and the rest Irish. He was proud of his Irish heritage and even arranged a fund-raiser among the Cherokee after the Trail of Tears and sent money to Ireland at the height of the potato famine. There are many red-headed Cherokee and the links between Celts and Cherokee go way back. The point is, there’s really no such thing as “Indian blood”; you are either part of the culture and the society or you are not. If you are, blood is (or should be) irrelevant. If you are not, then it doesn’t really matter who your great great granddaddy was. Having said that, I would encourage your family to research their genealogy as best they can. We owe it to our ancestors (Indian and otherwise) to learn and remember their history.

  • Katie

    Beyond that, though, what precisely do you mean by a “professional Indian�? You seem to be implying that Indians who point out how badly their tribes have been treated by the United States are somehow less valid, or at least less fun, than those who assume “people are people� (an attitude Indians would have appreciated more if white people had adopted it 150 years ago).

    What do I mean by that phrase? A professional indian is one that sees being indian as a paycheck, basically an opportunist. Most of the ones we know (and we know a lot of them where we live) in grand scheme of things could care less about the plight of the poor indian. They make their living and reputation running around talking about how bad the indians have it and don’t really do a lot to improve things except for in their immediate families. I know that sounds sour, but it really is frustrating to see people that are being acknowledged as “experts” are for the most part frauds. There are plenty of these types by us–they realize that by dressing up and complaining about white people they don’t have to go work at a real job.

    Having said that, there are plenty of natives that do lots and lots of good things for their tribes and tribes all over–they just generally aren’t the ones on platforms talking loudly.

    As far as not looking native, I have a niece that’s half native that has blue eyes and blond curly hair. You really can’t tell by looks.

    Your comment that just because indians killed each other for land doesn’t mean it made it ok for white people to do that doesn’t make sense. It’s no worse for whites to steal land than natives. It’s no better either. The point is that there’s no difference between the two.

  • “What do I mean by that phrase? A professional indian is one that sees being indian as a paycheck, basically an opportunist.”

    Okay, I’d like to know who these people are, especially if they have somehow magically figured out how being Indian translates into getting a paycheck (as opposed to surplus gov’t cheese). Can you name some? Besides Ward Churchill, who isn’t an Indian anything.

    “There are plenty of these types by us–they realize that by dressing up and complaining about white people they don’t have to go work at a real job.”

    Sooooo…”Professional Indians” are Indians who wear regalia all the time and “complain about white people” and somebody actually pays them to do this? Where do I sign up for this gig?

    “Your comment that just because indians killed each other for land doesn’t mean it made it ok for white people to do that doesn’t make sense. It’s no worse for whites to steal land than natives. It’s no better either. The point is that there’s no difference between the two.”

    Then I still don’t understand your point. I have heard this “point” (though there’s never an ounce of proof offered to support it) raised every single time I, or anyone else, points out that white people stealing Indian land was generally a bad thing. If your only point is that people kill each other, what the heck does that have to do with stealing land? Why even raise it at all? Because, frankly, every single time I have heard this point raised, it sounds like a justification.