About Cherokee Nation
The Cherokee Nation (ᏣᎳᎩᎯ ᎠᏰᎵ, pronounced Tsalagihi Ayeli) of the 19th century was a legal, autonomous, tribal government in North America recognized from 1794 to 1907. Often referred to simply as "The Nation" by its inhabitants, it should not be confused with what is known in the 21st century as the Cherokee Nation.
It consisted of the Cherokee (ᏣᎳᎩ —pronounced Tsalagi or Cha-la-gee) people of the Qualla Boundary and the southeastern United States; those who relocated voluntarily from the southeastern United States to the Indian Territory (circa 1820 —known as the "Old Settlers"); those who were forced by the United States government to relocate (through the Indian Removal Act) by way of the Trail of Tears (1830s); Cherokee Freedmen (freed slaves); as well as many descendants of the Natchez, the Delaware and the Shawnee peoples.
HIstoryThe Cherokee called themselves the Ani-Yun' wiya. In their language this meant "leading" or "principal" people. Before 1794, the Cherokee had no standing national government. The people dwelt in "towns" located in scattered autonomous tribal areas related by kinship throughout the southern Appalachia region. Various leaders were periodically appointed (by mutual consent of the towns) to represent the tribes to French, British and, later, American authorities as was needed. The title this leader carried among the Cherokee was "First Beloved Man" —being the true translation of the title Uku, which the English translated as "chief". The chief's function was to serve as focal point for negotiations with the encroaching Europeans, such as the case of Hanging Maw, who was recognized as chief by the United States government, but not by the majority of Cherokee peoples.
At the end of the Chickamauga Wars (1794), Little Turkey was recognized as "Principal Chief of the Cherokee Nation" by all the towns. At that time, Cherokee tribes could be found in lands nominally under the jurisdiction of Georgia, North Carolina, South Carolina, and the Overhill area that was to become part of the state of Tennessee. The break-away Chickamauga band (or Lower Cherokee), under chief Dragging Canoe (Tsiyugunsini, 1738–1792), had retreated to and now inhabited an area that would be the northern area of the future state of Alabama.
U.S. president George Washington sought to "civilize" the southeastern American Indians, through programs overseen by US Indian Agent Benjamin Hawkins. Facilitated by the destruction of many Indian towns during the American Revolutionary War, U.S. land agents convinced many Native Americans to abandon their historic communal-land tenure and settle on isolated farmsteads. Over-harvesting by the deerskin trade had brought white-tailed deer in the region to the brink of extinction; therefore, pig and cattle raising were introduced, becoming the principal sources of meat. The tribes were supplied with spinning wheels and cotton-seed, and men were taught to fence and plow the land (in contrast with their traditional division of labor in which most cultivation for farming was considered woman's work). Women were instructed in weaving. Eventually blacksmiths, gristmills and cotton plantations (along with slave labor) were established.
Succeeding Little Turkey as Principal Chief were Black Fox (1801–1811) and Pathkiller (1811–1827), both former warriors of Dragging Canoe. "The separation", a phrase which the Cherokee used to describe the period after 1776 when the Chickamauga had removed themselves from the other tribes which were in close proximity to the Anglo-American settlements, officially ended at the reunification council of 1809.
The important Chickamauga War veterans of the time, James Vann (a successful Scots-Cherokee businessman) and his two protégés, The Ridge (also called Ganundalegi or "Major" Ridge) and Charles R. Hicks, made up the 'Cherokee Triumvirate' —advocating acculturation of the people, formal education of the young, and the introduction of modern farming methods. In 1801 they invited Moravian missionaries to their territory from North Carolina to teach Christianity and the 'arts of civilized life.' The Moravian, and later Congregationalist, missionaries ran boarding schools, with a select few students chosen to be educated at the American Board of Commissioners for Foreign Missions school in Connecticut.
These men continued to be leaders in the tribe. Hicks participated in the Red Stick War, which coincided with part of US involvement in the War of 1812. He was the de facto Principal Chief from 1813–1827.
The RemovalIn 1802, the U.S. federal government promised to extinguish Native American titles to internal Georgia lands in return for the state's formal cession of its unincorporated western claim (which was made part of the Mississippi Territory). In 1815, the US government established a Cherokee Reservation in the Arkansaw district of the Missouri Territory and tried to convince the Cherokee to move there voluntarily. The reservation boundaries extended from north of the Arkansas River to the southern bank of the White River. The Cherokee who moved to this reservation became known as the "Old Settlers".
Additional treaties signed with the U.S., in 1817 and 1819, exchanged remaining Cherokee lands in Georgia (north of the Hiwassee River) for lands in the Arkansaw Territory west of the Mississippi River. A majority of the remaining Cherokee resisted theses treaties and refused to leave their lands east of the Mississippi. Finally, in 1830, the United States Congress enacted the Indian Removal Act to bolster the treaties and forcibly free up title to the sought over state lands. At this time, one-third of the remaining Native Americans left voluntarily, especially because now the act was being enforced by government troops and the Georgia militia. Even after this area was organized as Indian Territory, white settlers continued to infiltrate both from Texas and from the United States, as well as traders and missionaries (especially Methodists).
Most of the settlements were established in the area around the western capital of Tahlontiskee (near present day Gore, Oklahoma)
The Cherokee Nation—East had adopted a written constitution in 1827 creating a government with three branches: legislative, executive, and judicial. The Principal Chief was elected by the National Council, which was the legislature of the Nation. A similar constitution was adopted by the Cherokee Nation—West in 1833.
The Constitution of the reunited Cherokee Nation was ratified at Tahlequah, Oklahoma on September 6, 1839, at the conclusion of "The Removal". The signing is commemorated every Labor Day weekend with the celebration of the Cherokee National Holiday.
A New Home
Founded in 1838, Tahlequah was developed as the new capital of a united Cherokee Nation. (It was named after the historic Great Tellico —an important Cherokee town and cultural center in present-day Tennessee that was one of the largest Cherokee towns ever established. The mostly European-American settlement of Tellico Plains developed later at that site.
From 1898–1906, beginning with the Curtis Act of 1898, the US federal government set about the dismantling of the Cherokee Nation's governmental and civic institutions, in preparation for the incorporation of the Indian Territory into the new state of Oklahoma. In response, the leaders of the Five Civilized Tribes sought to gain approval for a new State of Sequoyah in 1905 that would have a Native American constitution and government. The proposal received a cool reception in Congress and failed. The tribal government of the Cherokee Nation was dissolved in 1906. After this the structure and function of the tribal government were not formally defined. The federal government occasionally designated chiefs of a provisional "Cherokee Nation", but usually just long enough to sign treaties.
As the shortcomings of the arrangement became increasingly evident to the Cherokee, demand arose for the formation of a more permanent and accountable tribal government. New administrations at the federal level also recognized this issue, and the Franklin D. Roosevelt administration gained passage of the Indian Reorganization Act of 1934, encouraging tribes to re-establish governments and supporting more self-determination. The Cherokee convened a general convention on 8 August 1938 in Fairfield, Oklahoma, to elect a new Chief, and reconstitute a modern, Cherokee Nation, to be a "successor in interest" to the historic Cherokee Nation.