The Cherokee nation of Oklahoma comprising the Cherokee community is one of the largest of the five Native American tribes of southeastern America, who migrated from the Great lakes region of the US.
These people who are originally of the Iroquoian lineage, called themselves “Ani-yun’-wiya”, which means the “principal people” or “Real people”. In doe course of time, they settled down over an area of 40,000 square miles, including places like Georgia, North and South Carolina, Virginia, Kentucky and Tennessee. With a population of 22,500 people, this Cherokee Indian tribe was the most powerful among its peers and lived in harmony in the mountains, now referred to as the Smokies.
The history of the Cherokee people
Like other Native Americans of the Southeast, the nation of the Cherokee was also a confederacy of towns, governed by the supreme chiefs. When the Cherokee people were leading a peaceful, religion-oriented life in their log huts with an agro-based economy to support them, they were suddenly attacked by the Europeans. Later, during the American Revolution, the Cherokee, Creek and the Choctaw supported the British and fought on their behalf. In the 1800’s the Cherokee people took to the British influence profoundly and became famous for their endeavors to live peacefully with their white neighbors.
Soon they adopted a Democratic government pattern similar to the United States, followed the construction and firming methods of the Europeans and wore European style dresses. Sequoyah, a Cherokee silversmith invented Cherokee syllabary (the method of writing their language) and this resulted in rapid literacy. Writing of constitution, spread of Christianity and printing of Cherokee Phoenix (the only newspaper of the Native Americans) – everything was made possible by this.
However, none of these achievements could protect them against Andrew Jackson’s Indian Removal policy, whereby he forced the southeastern tribes to leave their homeland and march to the lands west of Mississippi, in the winter of 1838-39. This march resulted in the deaths of thousands of Cherokee people and is known as the infamous “Trail of tears”.
The modern nation of the Cherokee
There are three federally recognized Cherokee communities – the largest being located in Oklahoma, the united keetoowah band in Oklahoma and the eastern band of Cherokee in North Carolina. The modern nation of the Cherokee of Oklahoma (as in the constitution) has achieved unprecedented success in recent times, under the leadership of principal chief Chad Smith. The nation controls an Enterprise, which creates thousands of job opportunities for the citizens. Moreover, the nation has led to progress in corporate and agricultural pursuits, constructed health clinics throughout Oklahoma, arranged learning facilities and building of universities, infused the practice of Gadugi and self reliance in the citizens, reconstructed language immersion programs for children and youth and acts as a vital economic and political force in Eastern Oklahoma.
The nation of the Cherokee also arranges a national holiday every September and publishes the famous age-old newspaper Cherokee Phoenix. It sponsors several heritage centers, museums, sun dance, Cherokee film festivals, etc and has recently become the leader in the environmental protection field. On March 7, 2006 the nation has made a historical announcement saying that the Cherokee Freedman (the African-American descendents) are now eligible for membership as Cherokee citizens.
So the tribe that was once ousted from their homeland has now usurped the status of Cherokee nation, the second largest Indian nation in the US.
Joseph Paige © 2006