Steve Russell: Cherokee Nation and assimilation

"Cherokees, as my Plains Indian pals never hesitate to remind me, are among the most assimilated peoples indigenous to North America. We've been a constitutional republic since 1827, but our fascination with written law goes back farther. In Oklahoma, they say a Creek who gets too much education becomes a poet and a Cherokee who gets too much education becomes a lawyer.

Well, it's hard not to notice that when the United States acted against Cherokee sovereignty in ways that amounted to acts of war, we did not go to war but rather went to court and won. In the end, though, we took as many casualties as those who did go to war and still lost their land, as the aforesaid Plains Indians always point out.

We are in fact highly assimilated in two distinct ways.

First, there is assimilation into the culture of the Bible Belt yahoos who govern Oklahoma: the culture that sends a fool to the Senate who claims global warming is a hoax; the culture that thinks allowing gay people to marry will raise the divorce rate among heterosexual couples; the culture that regrets the outcome of the War of Northern Aggression and denies the Tulsa race riots like Ahmadinejad denies the Holocaust. This is the missionary culture that finds virtue in ostentatious public prayer, Matthew 6:5-6 notwithstanding.

Second, there are Cherokees assimilated like me, and I know more of them than I can count without taking my shoes off. We leave the Nation in pursuit of an education or a career. We always say we intend to go back. Then we get a dose of realism and think maybe we will retire there, because it's always ''home'' in some sense."

Get the Story:
Russell: Assimilation and the borders of the Wanabi Nation (Indian Country Today 2/29)

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Steve Russell: Cherokee constitutional crisis (12/14)
Steve Russell: The price of 'sovereignty' (11/23)
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