Preamble, July 26, 1827:
We, the Representatives of the people of the Cherokee Nation, in Convention assembled, in order to establish justice, ensure tranquility, promote our common welfare, and secure to ourselves and our posterity the blessings of liberty; acknowledging with humility and gratitude the goodness of the sovereign Ruler of the Universe, in offering us an opportunity so favorable to the design, and imploring His aid and direction in its accomplishment, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the Government of the Cherokee Nation.
Many people are surprised to learn that the Cherokee, using an alphabet invented for them by noted Cherokee scholar Sequoyah, wrote their own constitution for their Nation. After contact with the Europeans, the Cherokee seemed to be willing to try everything to co-exist with these new colonists and proved to be a most adaptable people.
But these new settlers, biased by their European view of civilization, religion, and land ownership were determined to “civilize” the savage Cherokee. Starting with George Washington, the United States government sought to change the Cherokee communal land-tenure practice and encouraged them to settle on individual farmsteads. Under these programs, men were taught to fence and plow the land in contrast to their traditional practices where cultivation was woman’s work. Women were instructed in weaving, and men were taught blacksmithing and encouraged to set up gristmills and cotton plantations.
Starting around 1788, the Cherokee organized a national government and many supported acculturation, formal eduction, and modern methods of farming. They even invited the teaching of Christianity and “the arts of civilized life.”
Quoting from Grace Steele Woodward’s book, “The Cherokees”:
“In a supreme effort to forestall the removal of their people from ancestral homelands promised to the state of Georgia by the Compact of 1802, progressive Cherokee Leaders . . . undertook an ambitious and aggressive program that would further Cherokee education and religion; replace ancient Cherokee culture with that of the educated and Christianized white man; and—of utmost importance—convert the Cherokee’s tribal government …into a republic substantially patterned after that of the United States. [hoping] that government [United States] would then . . . bring its compact with Georgia to a close.
“But, ironically, the Cherokee’s phenomenal advancement—unparalleled between 1819—27 by any of the other American aborigines—hastened, insead of deterred, enforcemtn of the Compact. For, upon perceiving the Cherokees’ advancement, which, in some respects, outpaced her own, Georgia flew into a might rage. Denouncing the Cherokees as savages, Georgia abandoned both dignity and ethics and through her government, press, and courts began, in 1820 a vicious attack upon the Cherokees that was to continue for eighteen years, or until the Cherokees’ final removal west of the Mississippi in 1838—39.”
It is clear that nothing the Cherokee could have done would have made any difference. And , looking back, they can rest assured they did everything humanly possible.
Author of “The First Raven Mocker”