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The Cherokee Indian Nation

Cherokee territory

It may seem strange to link tartan with some of the great tribes of north American Indians and you could be forgiven for querying the link. It is however, part and parcel of the legendary global spread of the early Scots adventurers who permeated all walks of life and all cultures. The modern appeal of tartan as a unique identifier with those adventurers - whether the links are by nature or nurture - is a fascinating phenomenum.

It has been widely reported that historically there has always been a great affinity between the Scots and the North American Indians and the reasons suggested have been the similarities between their cultures and the fact that, generally speaking, if the Scots wanted to settle on Indian territory, they tended to ask, rather than take!

Someone who has studied the matter in great detail is our good friend James "Al" Bullman of Franklin, North Carolina. He's been a student of things Scottish for decades and is a Chevalier of the Grand Priory of Scotland and a Fellow of the Society of Antiquaries (Scotland). He's also a past member of the boards of the Council of Scottish Clans and Associations (COSCA); Clan Rose and the Scottish Tartans Society, USA, of which he was Scottish Games Chairman. He is a lecturer at college level on Scottish history and the history of tartan and is the founder in 1988 of the original Scottish District Families Association. Even more importantly, Al is also a past vice-principal Chief of the Echota Band of the Cherokee Indians in Alabama.

Who are the Cherokee?

In the early days before the coming of the Europeans to this side of the Atlantic, the Cherokee claimed territory about the size of Scotland in what is now the Southern Appalachian chain of mountains covering Western North Carolina, North Western South Carolina, North Georgia, North Alabama, Eastern Tennessee and South West Virginia. They also claimed the Cumberland basin of Northern Alabama, Kentucky and Tennessee.
Today the Cherokee are concentrated in Oklahoma and the Cherokee Boundary in Western North Carolina and there are about 12,000 in Missouri and in the Echota Band in Alabama.
The name Cherokee comes from a Creek Indian word "Chelokee" meaning people who talk differently and although the Cherokee were part of what was known as the five civilized tribes, they spoke in an Iroquian language, the Iroquois being a northern Native American group.
The early Spanish (Desoto) called them Chalaque and the Choctaw and Chickasaw peoples called them Chilukki. To confuse the issue even further, the Cherokee in early times are thought to have called themselves Aniyunwiya or "the principal people". Today many prefer "Tsalagi" which is their word for Cherokee.
In 1674 the population of the Cherokee was thought to be about 50,000. Smallpox epidemics (originally 'imported' by the Spanish 'Desoto' expedition of 1540) in 1729,1738 and 1753 are said to have killed over half the population, but the Cherokee population stabilized at roughly 20 to 25 thousand until their removal west to Oklahoma in the late 1830's. The American Civil War in the 1860's cost the Cherokee a quarter of its population. In the early 1990s the U.S. census recorded 308,132 persons identified as Cherokee.

The Cherokee were divided in three groups. The lower Cherokee, the middle and the over the hill Cherokee and each group was further divided into seven "clans" . . . sounds a bit Scottish does it not!
The seven "clans" were The Bird, The Paint, The Deer, The Panther, The Wild Potato, The Blue Holly and The Wolf. There were also other divisions into bands, some being the Atali, Chickamauga Etali, Onnontiogg and Qualia. All of these bands collectively made up the Cherokee nation.

Each village or town operated independently in daily matters except in time of war or gatherings for special ceremonies. In times of war 'red chiefs' ran things, in times of peace 'white chiefs' ran things. Contrary to western cowboy movies, the Cherokee didn't live in teepees but in wattle and daub structures - circular frames of interwoven branches plastered with mud and mixed grasses with the interiors dug out below ground level. A village was normally made up of 30 to 60 homes and a large council house for meetings and ceremonies.
The first European to meet the Cherokee was the Spaniard Desoto during his 1540 expedition to the southeastern U.S. After the settlement of Virginia in 1609, traders working their way west had reached the Cherokee by 1629. Increasing dependence on trade goods caused the Cherokee to have an alliance with the British in their wars with the French and Spanish and the Cherokee raided Spanish settlements as far away as Florida. At the same time they were also successfully safeguarding their territory from the Catawba peoples in the east of Carolina and the Creek and Choctaw to the south.

Cherokee women had more rights and powers than European women. A Cherokee could decide who she would marry. Her new husband would build her a house, which was her property and she and her brothers raised the children. To obtain a divorce she packed her husband's clothes and put them outside the door and she was free to remarry. When she died, her daughters inherited, not her sons. On the council was a woman called The War Woman who decided if prisoners lived or died. Woman's lib at its earliest!

During the civil war in the US, the Cherokee took the side of the southern states and paid the price for being on the losing side. In the late 1830's they were forcibly removed from their homes to Oklahoma but a few resisted and went into hiding and they are the forebears of those who live in Western North Carolina today where they own the land, having bought and paid for some 58,000 acres. That settlement is called a Cherokee Boundry or Boundary and is not a reservation - a government territory reserved for native peoples who cannot own the land they live on. Today, the Cherokee are a strong, independent people, keeping alive traditions, but living in the 21st century. On our next trip, I will tell you of John Ross, a blue eyed Scot who became the most famous Cherokee chief.

You cannot curse (swear) at someone in the Cherokee language, there are no such words. You must use English.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Cherokee art

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Cherokee diplomats


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