News From Indian Country
Late June Issue
States Endorsing New Tribes is Damaging Our Culture
by Silena Jumper
Why is Alabama endorsing state-recognized tribes? Why is Georgia? Why would any state official validate or help to invent a European Indian? Is it because they are not exploring the damages these white Indians can cause to legitimate, federally recognized Indians? Or, could it be that when these tribes propose to become state recognized there is a little unofficial note that is slipped in the package about the possibility of gaming in the future?
I don't have an answer to any of my own questions; however, I can tell you that the damage is being done.
It is subtle and slow, but, by the time my daughter (tribal member of the Eastern Band of Cherokees) is 10 years old, I have a feeling that anything that is Cherokee that is outside Snowbird or the Qualla Boundary, is going to be perceived completely backwards to what it actually means.
I say this because it is happening every day, contorted and distorted by members of the white Indian's state recognized tribes. I have been doing much research on the tribes of Alabama and Georgia that have state recognition and it is funny to me that practically all of their statements of purpose say they want to educate other people about Native America.
That is a pretty broad statement considering they are "so-called" Cherokees. Why did they not just incorporate themselves as the "Native American" state recognized tribes of Alabama and Georgia?
These tribes do have certain parts of Eastern Cherokee beliefs or traditions that they exploit. Probably the most offensive to myself are the ladies they claim are the beloved women of their tribes.
Without going into a long history of what beloved women were to the Eastern Band, I'll just cut it short by saying the last beloved woman of the Eastern Band passed away in the 1990's and to the knowledge of any of her relatives in West Buffalo, she was the last.
These state tribes also put on Indian festivals or powwows, which seem to be more like self-admiration conventions than anything else.
My family recently attended a powwow in Decatur, Alabama that we made the mistake of going to (usually we screen our powwows before we get there). As I walked by the craftsman, I noticed what few full bloods that were there, were placed in the very back of the building, and predominately the self-invented Indians had booth spaces in the front.
I don't know if it was first come, first to set up, but I did think it was a shame that if the public did come to see real native craftsmen, they probably missed many of them.
As for the dancing, there were some legitimate native dancers but the arena was mostly overwhelmed with white Indians who have no idea what they are doing in regards to appropriateness of clothing in relation to their dance style. It always leaves a sadness in me to see people that have dressed themselves to look like circus acts out there, dancing around dancer. I have known almost my whole life to be true to the medicine of that dance right down to every detail of their regalia. And as for those dancers, they don't say anything about the ridiculousness because in many cases to be a dancer means to be a humble person.
The irony to me is where there is a legitimate Indian who is a humble person there is usually a self-invented white Indian who is soaked in their own arrogance in believing they are equals to federally recognized Indians.
I will close by saying I refuse to patronize these tribes and their members any longer. I can't accept seeing all of these white Indians running around with these eagle feathers and hawk feathers for that matter. Why should my husband who is 4/4 degree Cherokee have to jump through hoops to make sure he has his federal permits when it is quite obvious that these self-invented Indians have no worries?
The Migratory Bird Act was a wonderful law that that not only protects our very precious resources it also gave Indians, federally recognized Indians a special privilege, to possess feathers which are inherit in the practice of many ceremonies. Now even the eagle and hawk feathers are being molested by these self-invented Indians who the states of Alabama and Georgia have been kind enough to empower into thinking they are Indians.
My family will not go to another state-recognized tribe's powwow. And as for the general public if you wander into a powwow that you think looks like a circus, turn around and ask for your money back, tell them you'll wait for Barnum and Bailey to come to town.
Reprinted under the Fair Use doctrine of international copyright law.
States Endorsing New Tribes is Damaging Our Culture:
by Tony Mack McClure, Ph.D.
It is always amazing to see people who purport to know the true culture and history of the Cherokee people yet obviously do not, touting their own lack of knowledge by putting it in print.
In a recent article carried by News from Indian County - "States Endorsing New Tribes is Damaging Our Culture" by Silena Jumper, the writer makes it quite obvious that she is simply repeating the uninformed rhetoric of so many others in our midst who have either not taken the time to learn or simply prefer to ignore the truth about who is a bonafide Cherokee descendant and who is not.
The duly legislated Indian Affairs Commissions of Alabama and Georgia saw fit to extend recognition to the descendants of Cherokee and a few other Indian tribes in those states based on a number of well documented, but obviously little known facts. Important among these relates to the requirements for federal tribal enrollment which can be illustrated by the rules of both the Eastern Band of Cherokees and the Cherokee Nation of Oklahoma.
In the Eastern band, enrollment is currently closed except to newborns on the reservation and persons within one year of their 18th birthday. Not surprisingly, this closure coincided with the opening of their new casino from which a portion of the profits are shared by tribal members on a per capita basis and which Mrs. Jumper would have us believe is the intended purpose of state recognition of tribes. But far more significant in this regard is the fact that the original members of the Eastern band were people who had voluntarily withdrawn from the Cherokee Nation prior to the Trail of Tears! Most hid out in the nearby mountains to avoid removal and were later granted the right to remain in North Carolina. After 1924 when the Baker census of Eastern Cherokees was taken, tribal membership there required that a person be a descendant of someone registered on that roll only! No other Cherokee roll was considered. So, are we to assume that those people who simply continued to refuse registration in any form or that descendants of people who were recorded on the rolls previous to Baker ceased to be of Cherokee blood? Are we also to assume that every single Cherokee who remained in the eastern mountains bowed to the wishes of the white government and willingly carted their families off to Cherokee, N.C. and put their names on the dotted lines even after refusing to do so for generations?
Or are we to believe the often extolled misconception that all other Cherokees were removed to the west (now Oklahoma) on the Trail of Tears? Fortunately, the records unquestionably prove otherwise.
I would call Mrs. Jumper's attention to an often overlooked but validly recorded Cherokee census roll known as the Siler roll taken in 1851. Please note that 1851 was a full 12 years after 1839, the last year of the infamous removal and the exact title of the roll identified as roll # 7RA-06 in the National Archives is "a listing of 1,700 Cherokees remaining in North Carolina, Tennessee, Georgia and Alabama entitled to a per capita payment pursuant to acts of Congress in 1850 and 1851." Granted, a cross check of later rolls will verify that A FEW of these people eventually migrated to Indian Territories in the west, but what about the remaining majority? Did they simply vanish into thin air? Did they cease to be Cherokee people? Are their descendants today any less Cherokee than the tribesmen of the approximately 10,000 member federally recognized Eastern band or 200,000 member Cherokee Nation of Oklahoma.? Of course not and official records fully substantiate this fact!
Now, let's consider the western refugees. While there is no official roll which lists the Cherokee people who were actually on the Trail of Tears, one can discern with a reasonable degree of accuracy from other records in the National Archives the total number of people who left the east under supervision as well as the number who arrived in the west. Comparing the two and allowing for known deaths enroute, there still is a discrepancy of several thousand less people who arrived than left. What happened to them? Were they picked up by UFO's? Experts commonly agree that many of these people escaped to parts unknown and assimilated themselves into local white populaces along the way or secretly returned to hide near their native homelands.
Today, to be a member of the Cherokee Nation of Oklahoma, which by far makes up the majority Cherokee tribe, the rules (designed totally by white government agents to minimize individual land allotments) require that a person be a descendant (child or some generation of grandchild) of a person listed on only one roll called the "final" Dawes roll taken primarily in 1906. Now that might have been somewhat reasonable, except for a carefully planned flaw aimed at minimizing Cherokee land to be allotted and one more step toward partial assimilation of Indians into the non-Indian majority race. That cultural fallacy, which in itself totally and logically negates the notion that the only Cherokees in this country are members of federally recognized tribes, required that for a person to be enrolled by the Dawes commission, they had to be a resident of the Cherokee Nation territory (now eastern Oklahoma) at the time of enrollment and for some time prior! This would be closely approximated by the hypothesis of a foreign power taking over the United States today and then declaring that the only people with Italian blood who would be recognized in the future are those from Manhattan. Imagine also what Mrs. Jumper's attitude might be if the Eastern Cherokee Band had declared that the daughter she mentions was not Cherokee because she and her husband were not residents of Qualla Boundary!
National archive records adequately record that there was a mass exodus of Cherokee people to Missouri, Arkansas and Texas years earlier and, as shown above (Siler roll) that many Cherokees other than the Eastern Band members who became citizens of North Carolina either never left their eastern homelands or returned there after the forced removal. Records also are very plain verifying that thousands of people migrated to California during the gold rush days (1850s) and several thousand fled Indian Territories during the upheaval of the Civil War (1862-65) to all parts of the United States. Did these people disappear into the winds? Are their descendants any less Cherokee than members of the federally recognized tribes whose ancestors did remain in Oklahoma thus providing them the ONLY basis today for their prized federal cards?
Contrary to popular thought, the card does not an Indian make! As a matter of fact, the very records outlined herein make the entire requirement for such a card ludicrous and attempts to put Cherokee people in the same class as cattle awaiting slaughter or dogs whose breeding capabilities must be certified by the American Kennel Club!
Certainly no personal offense is intended to members of any federally recognized tribe.
The acceptance of a federal card for the relatively few that are qualified according to the discriminatory rules is purely a matter of personal choice. But being able to prove one's blood only by such a card is another matter altogether, especially when a few of those who do have them often act as elite country club members discriminating against those who don't. Have we descendants forgotten that the requirement for such a card was an invention of the very people who broke every single treaty ever made with any Indian Nation?
To be at least a little fair, however, let me point out another fact that few Indian people seem to know. The United States Department of the Interior, Bureau of Indian Affairs, in their own published guidelines, utterly invalidates Mrs. Jumper's idea that only federally recognized Indians have Indian descendants. As a matter of fact, they go so far as to state that there are many Indian people who cannot be federally enrolled because their ancestors separated from their tribes and they refer to them as "Class IV descendants." Note that it does not in any way imply that such people are not Indian - only that they cannot be enrolled. Why can't they be? It would nullify the assimilation process, of course, which, whether the admitted purpose or not, is still the desire of most politicians and likely most non-Indian people.
Mrs. Jumper was quick to use the terms "white Indians, European Indians, and self invented Indians." Perhaps she will be surprised to learn that at the time of the Trail of Tears, some 160 years ago in 1838-39, only 7% of the enrolled Cherokee people were still so called "full bloods."And that figure has barely changed today. The government considered anyone of 1/4 degree Indian blood or more to be Indian for purposes of the Removal.
Does blood quantum make the difference in whether a person is Cherokee or not? If so, what minimum blood quantum applies? Perhaps she should review the statistics of both the Eastern Band and Cherokee Nation of Oklahoma. Today, in these "federal" tribes, there are far more "little bloods" enrolled in both tribes than "more bloods." One page of the 1933 Eastern Cherokee Band federal roll (page 71) used only as an illustrative example in my book, Cherokee Proud, 2nd edition, indicates the names of 7 people who were 1/32 degree blood, one 1/16, one 1/2, and two 1/4. What blood quantum might the descendants of these people be today, assuming they have descendants? With at least three generations possible (allowing the genealogical standard of 20 yrs between generations) the increases of the 1/32nd bloods whose names appeared on that roll might today be a mere 1/256th Cherokee. A closer look at other pages in that same old roll will in fact indicate some federal enrollees who were a mere 1/128th. Their descendants today depending, of course, on the racial makeup of the inter-marriages of their forebears after the 1933 roll was taken, could conceivably be 1/1024th Indian! Does Mrs. Jumper mean to imply then that these people no longer have a right to honor being Cherokee?
It is true that in more recent years, the eastern Band of Cherokees in North Carolina has instituted a minimum blood quantum for enrollment, the last of which was 1/16th. Whether or not that policy has been successful to their plan is known only to their leadership, but whether it is culturally correct according to the ways of our ancestors is an altogether different matter. In the recorded words of the son of Attacullaculla, one of the most noted high chiefs of the Cherokee people, " my father is proudly watching his grandson suck his breakfast from his daughter, the baby three-quarters Cherokee, more than enough.
Will a minimum blood quantum eventually result in self annihilation?
At what point will Indian tribes forbid inter-racial marriages in order to prevent blood dilution?
Unless I'm extremely deluded myself, that is the only way to avoid it perpetually. Be glad that it hasn't happened already, Silena. Otherwise, you may have had to write your article as a Mrs. Smith or Jones! And are we to assume that there are no members on the Eastern Cherokee rolls today with less than 1/16th blood? Hardly! Are these people white Indians . . . self invented Indians... or are they "real Indians" only because they have the card so coveted by some?
The federal Cherokee Nation of Oklahoma did away with the minimum blood quantum years ago. Not over 15,000 of 200,000 plus members today are full bloods. In fact, a larger percentage are 1/64th quantum or less. . . dwindling to the 1000ths. W.W. Keeler, the first Principal Chief of that Nation after reconstruction and very highly regarded by his people was only 1/64th. John Ross, Chief of the Cherokee Nation during the removal was barely 1/8th. Does Mrs. Jumper consider these respected leaders European Indians . . .self invented Indians? Where does it end?
The millions (yes, millions are quite possible) of authentic Cherokee descendants who do not meet the roll requirements of the federal tribes simply because they never had a grandparent who bowed to the wishes of a racist white government and lived in a small area of Oklahoma (or opted for North Carolina state citizenship which, by the way, equates to state recognition) have just as much right to recognition for their blood heritage as anyone, anywhere. Thus the state governments who have had the good sense to recognize this discriminatory phenomenon and inherent right among both their citizens and those of other states have provided a cure in the form of state recognized tribes. Yes, they have some problems, as do the federal tribes, but for the most part, the people who make up their membership are quite authentic descendants because proof of blood is required by the tribes and their primary impetus is simply to honor this important part of their heritage. The only difference between the authentic federal and state recognized tribesmen is simply that the ancestor(s) of state members simply appear on a different roll than is required by federal requirements.
Naturally, most who were not raised as Cherokee are now learning about the culture, and of course, they make mistakes while doing so. Such is the nature of human development. I'm also proud to say, I haven't met a dozen who are looking for any type of "benefit." Are there so called "wannabes" among them? I would not argue that a few obviously get through the cracks. But ditto for the federal tribes. That, too, is very much a matter of public record as there have been numerous cases of tribal memberships being "bought!"
Leaders of the existing state recognized tribes will be quick to state that there are definitely some groups opting for state recognition who absolutely do not appear to deserve such recognition because of no required proof of blood.
Mrs. Jumper also suggests the "exploiting of culture" by members of state recognized tribes. While there can be no question that some exploiting takes place here, the same thing occurs within the federal tribes. Are the tribal members on Qualla Boundary who wear Plains Indian head-dresses and other attire and charge for having their photographs taken with tourists exploiting or damaging the culture?
Full blood Cherokee vendors at southeastern pow wows presented by state recognized groups are being discriminated against, Mrs. Jumper? Simply using the population mathematics, assuming an event has 50 vendors, only 3 or 4 vendors would usually be full bloods based on the average since only 7% of the community nationwide is full blood. And I challenge anyone to show me a verifiable instance of a full blood vendor being segregated purposely. Common sense should tell you that an event promoter would be stupid to do this, but if anyone can substantiate such an action to me, I'll be happy to publicize it widely.
Finally, let me make it quite clear that while being judgmental or politically critical is absolutely not the intent of this writer, one cannot help but be puzzled about Mrs. Jumper's motives by her apparent willingness to suddenly do an about face and bite some of the hands that have fed her. Many times in my long life, I have been quite disappointed to see people who have no proof of Indian blood change completely after marrying a federal tribal member. It is as if they suddenly experience some type of metamorphosis and, almost overnight, fancy themselves godly among the ungodly to whom until now they have always been loyal. We have not had the occasion to become anything more than casual acquaintances, but I can truthfully say that I have enjoyed seeing the musical performances of both her and her mother "Cherokee Rose" at numerous events that I have attended for quite some time. Some of these were even produced by her blood uncle, Chippa Wolf, whom I understand is the biological brother of Cherokee Rose. I have watched them sell their tapes and heard both of them exert extreme pride in their Cherokee heritage. So now I am quite confused and have to ask: Are these people "real Cherokees" by Mrs. Jumper's own published standards? Obviously, her husband and talented dancer, Robin Jumper, is a full blood. But Mrs. Jumper looks quite white to me, so her own words cannot help but prompt me to ask is she, her mother , Cherokee Rose, and uncle Chippa blood members of any federal Cherokee tribe? Or if not, does it mean that they also are some of the white Indians...self invented Indians....that Mrs. Jumper seems to so disdain. Does the so called "exploitation" she mentions start at home? Or does she actually believe, given the blood quantum statistics above, that all Cherokee people of today should look Indian? If so, she needs to take a much closer look the next time she rides down the streets of Cherokee or Tahlequah.
Should a member of a state recognized tribe have "the arrogance to believe he is equal to federally recognized Indians," as Silena Jumper puts it? Realizing that the sole difference between the two often is only a matter of which roll a person's ancestor(s) appeared on, it is difficult to discern how she mistakes this obvious "pride" for "arrogance." Seldom has a week gone by in the more than 35 years that I have personally conducted Cherokee genealogical and cultural seminars at schools, historical societies or pow wows that some member of one of the federal Cherokee tribes doesn't come up to me, hand me their federal cards and ask, "what can I get with these - what are they good for?" And in every such case - without exception - their knowledge of our tribal history and culture is virtually nil. Of course, I have had similar things happen within other organized groups, especially those with no recognition whatever.
Nevertheless, to suggest that state tribal members, many of whom possess as much or more blood than their federally recognized counterparts, are somehow inferior to federally enrolled members simply because the latter possess a card which the state members usually do not even desire to have is not even worthy of comment. No one has the right to make such a ridiculous remark and anyone who truly understands our history would not consider doing so.
Is Mrs. Jumper also aware that most if not all of the state recognized tribes have provisions for registering the non-Indian spouses or children of their blood members as non-Indian members? This policy, which is NOT allowed in federal tribes, is designed solely to keep family units intact by allowing full participation and while it seems quite admirable to this writer, it is often used as another point of criticism by those who insist on being judgmental.
Obviously, readers of Jumper's article which included in its title the words "OUR culture," and formed the basis for this response now have a right to know about Mrs. Jumper's blood since by omission, she purposely left the impression that she is Indian. And it seems only fair that the blood members of all state recognized tribes have a right to expect that Mrs. Jumper, whether enrolled or not, understand the true history of our people if she plans to be so publicly judgmental. Her own words fully substantiate that she currently does not and her willingness to blatantly stereotype all members of state recognized tribes while implying that she is in some way different says much about her own credibility.
I also implore her to study and learn and if nothing else, at least try to realize that one of the worst, yet indisputable testimonials so readily obvious in the history of the Cherokee people is the constant bickering from within which always resulted in division and ultimately, failure. Mark my words; there will come a time, and likely in the not too distant future, when all native people will need every friend they can find, including those she calls "white Indians." Indian sovereignty is being threatened on every front, every day. Advocates of white supremacy take the lives of non-whites somewhere in this country and the situation worsens by the day. Alienating each other by being judgmental, especially without credible basis, will absolutely insure our downfall. United we stand and when all is considered, humans, regardless of blood, really do make such ugly gods. Mrs. Jumper.
(Editor note: Tony Mack McClure is the author of the highly acclaimed book "Cherokee Proud" and certified member of the Native American Journalists Association and Wordcraft Circle of Native Writers and Storytellers. He is, by choice, a member of the state recognized Cherokee Tribe of Northeast Alabama).
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