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For my paper I will be focusing on the group of Native Americans known as the Cherokee more specifically the Eastern Band and their culture. I decided on this topic because I am part Cherokee but I had never learned much about my heritage, I discovered a multitude of interesting facts.
The earliest recorded subsistence pattern of the Cherokee was a hunter/forager society but as time passed on circumstances forced them to alter their way of life. The Cherokee originally primarily hunted White Tail Deer which was an extremely lucrative business for them when they traded with the white settlers in the area. It led to great changes in Cherokee society as the trade expanded due to the fact that the men were being forced to stay out for longer and longer periods of time to hunt for the deer. This combined with the ever increasing dependence on European goods led to increased tension between the tribes and various white settlers in the area. Eventually the deer trade would nearly drive the species to extinction in the southeastern region of the United States, although it was still possible to hunt the deer the ever decreasing size of the Cherokee territory forced them to convert to a domestication approach with pigs and cattle in an effort to emulate the white settlers.
Cherokee made frequent use of a wide variety of technologies for war, farming and every day life. One of the most widely known technologies used by the Cherokee is the old fashioned bow and arrow. What most people don't know are the techniques used in crafting the bows and arrowheads. In general arrowheads were made from a wide variety of materials however flint was considered to be the absolute best for making quality arrowheads, not simply because it was such a dense material, but it's also far easier to shape than other hard stones. A favored tool of the Cherokee craftsmen to shape the arrowheads was a carved piece of deer antler. The first step was typically to break off pieces of the stone material being used with a hammer stone. Next the pieces of stone were shaped by chipping away small bits from the stone with a chisel and the deer antler to craft and sharpen the arrowhead.
Another staple weapon of the Cherokee was the tomahawk. A tomahawk was typically formed by finding stones with the correct edge to them and sharpening one side to a very fine edge. After that a groove was ground into the stone so that a handle could be attached with rawhide. Next we come to one of my favorite weapons, the blowgun. The Cherokee used the blowgun for many purposes from hunting small game to full blown warfare, a blowgun was typically anywhere from three to eight feet long depending on the use it was intended for. Ammunition for the blowguns, the darts, was formed from various types of hard wood with the back of the dart being constructed out of thistledown in order to center the dart. This was necessary in order to form a better seal inside the barrel which allowed the darts to be propelled at greater speeds out of the barrel. If the guns were used in a warfare application then it was extremely common for the darts to be poison tipped. The poison was typically gathered from various animal species and a few plants.
Before the coming of the European settlers most food was acquired through hunting and foraging off of the land as well as production of almost all daily goods. The early white Americans however decided that they wanted to civilize the "savages" and under various programs distributed various modern technologies and were instructed in their use. Among other things the tribes were supplied with spinning wheels and cotton-seed to allow much easier clothing production. Prior to that point clothing was produced much more slowly by hand. Next to aid in food production to offset the loss of the deer, men were taught to fence and plow the land, in contrast with traditional division where farming was woman's labor. This was a strange shift for the Cherokee because prior to that any farming was done by women. In another strange turn the women were instructed in many tasks typically thought to be male jobs such as blacksmithing and the running of farms or more specifically cotton farms. That eventually led to several quite successful Cherokee cotton plantations being established.
Surprisingly the Cherokee had very free attitudes towards marriage. For a very long time before the coming of the white settler and lasting all the way up until the end of the 18th century polygamy was a very common practice among the Cherokee. Also unlike many of ancient tribal cultures a woman was free to divorce her husband at any time she so chose. After the arrival of the white settlers intermarriage with white people was very common but an extremely complicated process. White men were allowed to marry a Cherokee woman through the process of appealing to the federal court with direct approval of the marriage by ten of the woman's close relatives. After the marriage the man became a member of the tribe and was designated as an "intermarried white". He was considered a Cherokee but he did not hold the same rights as a blooded Cherokee however he did still remain a citizen of the United States with all rights and protections that granted him. On the other hand if a white woman married a Cherokee man, weren't recognized as part of a clan and were simply not considered Cherokee; this is however not the case today as the regulations concerning tribal enrollment have been updated and changed for modern times.
As with all of other Indian nations there were a multitude of clans. The definition of the clans was never truly set down and the various subjects of the clans often intermingled. Among the Cherokee culture if you are of the same clan as someone then you are considered to be family, in fact this relationship seems to be as binding as a blood relationship. Any Cherokee can easily tell you how related he or she is to any various member of his or her clan.
Now we come to what I found to be the most fascinating part of my research on the Cherokee which was their belief system. At first glance the beliefs of the Cherokee may seem simply but upon closer examination they are quite complex. Unlike many tribes the Cherokee belief system still plays an active part in the modern culture of the tribe.
In Cherokee legends the owl and the cougar both hold a very special place because they are the honored ones in many versions of the Cherokee creation myth. The Owl and the Cougar were the only two who were able to stay awake for the seven nights of Creation while the others fell asleep and because of this they are now nocturnal animals. In the legends the Owl is thought to resemble an old man with the way he walks. He also resembles a cat with the arrangement of the tuft around its neck which is supposed to honor the cougar. In the legends the cougars screams are said to mimic that of a human woman. The cougar is famous for his wily and unknowable ways.
Lastly I'd like to cover what is what one of the most tragic events in Cherokee history and shameful events in American. It is known as the Trail of Tears and it refers to the forced relocation that took place between 1836 and 1839 of the Cherokee Nation from their ancestral homelands in Georgia, Tennessee, Alabama, and North Carolina to what is now present day Oklahoma in the Western United States, this forced move directly resulted in the deaths of records indicate close to 4000 Cherokee Indians.
In the Cherokee language, the event is called Nu na da ul tsun yi or the place where they cried in English. However, this phrase was not used by Cherokees at the time, and appears to have originated with the Choctaw Tribe which was another one of the tribes that was being forcibly relocated by the US Government. In contrast to most of the other Indian tribes, the Cherokees in an almost completely unprecedented move resisted removal by hiring attorneys to represent their nation in court and present their side of the story. They won their case before the U.S. Supreme Court, but were forced to emigrate anyway when President Jackson defied the ruling and moved ahead with his plan anyways.
In summary the Cherokee are a nation of many hidden facets with a rich and fascinating heritage. They have been in America since before the first European ever thought of lands beyond their shores and they will be here throughout the future yet to come.