COMMENT: Cultural Confusion – The Cherokee One Feather
By ROBERT JUMPER
Editor One Feather
It was a common conversation in tourist offices when I was involved in this area – people coming from out of town to reception centers and immediately approaching a member of staff and giving them , an overview of personal family history. Somewhere in the conversation they were declaring their great-great-grandmother to be “partial” or “full” Cherokee. The discussion continued and the visitor invariably said that while they had no way of verifying that their ancestral mother was of Cherokee descent, they just knew that somehow they were Cherokee. The phrase “but I can’t prove it” would pop up (and sprout a pretty lucrative t-shirt business).
Members of the tribe have mixed reactions to the claim of blood lineage to the tribe. Some of them are a game of money and services. After all, we are fortunate to have the financial support and community services that many people envy. There is a perception, and perhaps a reality, that the number of registration requests mysteriously increased after the tribe entered the adult gaming industry and substantial “per capita” cash disbursements began to flow. paid to members of the tribe. Most people are students of human nature, obviously because we are human, and we think that people would seek membership if there was a significant benefit in being, mainly because if we were in this. situation, “this is what we would do.” And yet, we are still offended that someone wants to appropriate our inheritance because of the money.
It is very interesting to watch the One Feather news feed on Facebook. With nearly 50,000 likes on the page and only around 16,000 tribal members, it’s a safe bet that the vast majority of those interested in the culture of our people are not Indians from the Eastern Band of the Cherokee. Now we don’t know how many of those people are from other tribes on our likes list, but I imagine there are a few. I also imagine that there are quite a few people from various ethnic backgrounds who are just curious or interested in the history, traditions and culture of Indigenous peoples, and particularly that of the Eastern Band Cherokee.
Many years ago, on the model of Folkmoot, the Travel and Promotion office of the EBCI organized a festival, aptly named the Indigenous Peoples Festival. The program solicited and paid traveling cultural groups from across India to present, celebrate and fraternize at the Cherokee Indian Fairgrounds (or Ceremonial Grounds). All the participants agreed that it was an incredible moment of cultural sharing. There really was no such thing in the eastern United States. The tribes were encouraged to set up stalls to showcase their arts and crafts, and they were allowed to sell these handmade items to the community and tourists. Local representatives of the tribe, such as the late Diamond Brown (former representative of the Cherokee / Snowbird County Tribal Council) would set up a camp to educate people about the Cherokee way of life of the “era”. Diamond was a Cherokee treasure who was good at making people of any race or creed feel welcome. He was very proud of his heritage and was not at all offended by those who wanted to experience or share it. Diamond knew that no one could make what he had because he understood that it was not just superficial.
And the travel and promotion office, in the first year of the event, took the various tribal traveling groups, in the old Folkmoot style, to elementary schools in the counties around the border, to offer them a more personal educational experience, allowing tribes to interact. with local educators and students, often one-on-one. The meetings were absolutely magical; no animosity, no hatred; just fascination, joy and enlightenment for participants and spectators.
The Indigenous Peoples Festival was about proud peoples sharing their proud unique heritages. And when you have a legacy that you can be proud of, you will find that many wish they could have, or at least experience it. Yes, some might seek tribal affiliation for the material gains they could make, but there were people who wanted to be connected with us long before it was “cool” to be Cherokee.
Everyone wants, needs a sense of belonging; whether they belong to something or someone. If you have any doubts, ask the people at Ancestry.com. According to their records, on average, over a billion searches are processed by Ancestry’s servers per month; 330 million user-generated photos, scanned documents and written stories; and over 3 million paying subscribers with over 100 million family trees on Ancestry. And that’s just a genealogical service.
I always believed that the Indigenous Peoples Festival could have rivaled our own Cherokee Indian Fair in terms of marketing and advertising. But it was canceled before that could happen. It was a very expensive event to organize if you did it right and there was just never enough publicity support to get the attendance needed to keep it going. The cultural advantage was canceled out by financial considerations. I hope that one day the avant-garde will take another look at FONP and bring it back. I believe that the benefits of cultural sharing outweighed the monetary gains.
Cultural confusion breeds cultural hatred. We are afraid of what we do not understand. We need more sharing time, not less. If our little COVID quarantines should have taught us anything, it’s that there is great value in fellowship. A computer screen will never replace the treasure of face-to-face interaction. Even though they feature a “cuddly” emoji, there is nothing quite like the real one.