Why do Cherokee people look white

Minorities: Blacks also want to be Indians


Read on one side

Who is a real Indian? The Cherokee in Oklahoma and around 2,800 so-called Freedman argue about this. The Freedman are descendants of the black slaves the Cherokee tribe had when they lived in Tennessee and Georgia. They rely on an 1866 agreement between the Cherokee and the Washington government that gives them full tribal rights. The tribe, which has 300,000 members in Oklahoma, only wants to take in people who have at least one Cherokee grandparent.

It's not least about money. Because the Freedman want to participate in the tribe's social network, which ranges from subsidized hospitals to discounted apartments to food stamps. And the federal government, for its part, has threatened to cut those subsidies if the Freedman are not recognized.

But it is also about the American self-image. American is anyone who was born or naturalized in the United States. Cherokee, however, ultimately define themselves ethnically, and all the more since they have successfully defended themselves against the destruction of their indigenous culture over the past decades.

For a long time the white settlers had fought against the Indians of North America, locked them in reservations and finally assimilated them by force. Indian children were taken to boarding schools, where their language and religion were forbidden. The Cherokee are one of five tribes expelled from the Old South by US President Andrew Jackson with the Indian Removal Act of 1830. Soldiers forced the Indians on a death march over a thousand miles in the freezing winter of 1838. During this so-called Trail of Tears and in the previous internment, almost half of the tribe perished.

The Cherokee had just tried to assimilate into white culture in the hope of being spared. They lived in stone houses, wore modern clothes, and adopted a constitution based on that of the USA. They developed a script in which they also printed the Bible, and published their own newspaper, den Cherokee Phoenix , and most recently went to the US Supreme Court to prevent their evictions. They got it right there, too, but Jackson ignored it.

Two percent slave owners

To adapt to the white culture also counted that some of the Cherokee kept slaves; the tribe speaks of two percent slave owners. The slaves had to go on the death march. They were released in 1863, two years before the end of the Civil War - and voluntarily, as the Cherokee point out. In 1866, Washington decreed that all blacks who lived on tribal land were tribe - it was one of many attempts to get rid of as many blacks as possible. Because Oklahoma was not a US state at the time. The Cherokee also tried to proclaim their own state on the territory, which would be called Sequoyah, but Washington vetoed it. Oklahoma was founded in 1907.

Only in the past few decades have many tribes fought back the right to their own culture. It also gave them semi-autonomous status. The laws of the federal government apply to them, but not those of the states. Since then, the tribes have been allowed to raise their own cigarette and gasoline taxes and operate casinos. Many of them became wealthy, including the Cherokee.