Thursday, November 28, 2013

Cherokee Misconceptions, Part 3: Squaw Ten Paces Behind

I don’t remember where I first heard it, but growing up it seemed to be just common knowledge that American Indian “Squaws” followed their husbands a respectful ten paces behind.  Today, I doubt that this was a practice by any Native American culture.  But, there is no question, that in the Cherokee culture, women were not subservient to men.

The Cherokee were a matriarchal society.  The woman was the head of the household and the children were born into her clan.   My father’s last name is Miller and my mother’s maiden  name is McDaniel.  So, my last name is Miller.  But, had we been living in a Cherokee system when I was born, my last name would be McDaniel and I would’ve been taught the ways of the McDaniel clan by my mother’s uncles.

The Cherokee had seven clans and each clan usually had a woman, called Ghigau, or Blessed Woman.  The Ghigau were women who had earned the respect of their clan and represented their clan in Council meetings and were in on decisions.  The Beloved women were also responsible for deciding the fate of prisoners.
Nanyehi, Cherokee Ghigau

Women could be chiefs, Uku’s, priests, virtually any position men could have and women often fought in wars beside the men.  About 1751, a young girl named Nanyehi married the Cherokee "Tsu-la".  In the Battle of Taliwa against the Creeks , Nanyehi  lay behind a log in order to chew his bullets so that the resulting jagged edges might create more damage.  When Tsu-la was killed, Nanyehi  picked up his rifle and continued the fight leading her people to victory.
In 1776, after the Cherokee attacked Fort Watauga, Nanyehi used her power as a Ghigau to spare the life of captured Lydia Russell Bean.  Mrs. Bean taught Nanyehi a new loom weaving technique that revolutionized Cherokee garments and dairy farming. 

Serving as an embassador for the Cherokee in 1781, when the American delegation expressed surprise that the Cherokee had sent a woman to negotiate,  Nanyehi replied, “You know that women are always looked upon as nothing;  but we are your mothers; you are our sons.  Our cry is all for peace; let it continue.  This peace must last forever.  Let your women’s sons be ours; our sons be yours.  Let your women hear our words.”

[Burial tribute to Nanyehi]

[To learn more about Nanyehi, read “When Women Ruled”  from the archives of Native American Antiquity]

“The European culture viewed the role of women in Cherokee government with disdain.  In the early 1700’s, the trader Adair coined the phrase ‘petticoat government’ to describe the prominence of the women’s role.”

In an article published January, 2011 in the online e-zine “Indian Country” the following was quoted from Wilma Dunaway, professor of sociology at Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University and author of  “Rethinking Cherokee Acculturation; Agrarian Capitalism and Women’s Resistance to Cult of Domesticity, 1800-1838:
“By the 1800s the Cherokees had lost their independence and had become dominated by white Americans,” said Johnston. “At this time white Americans did not believe that it was proper for women to fight wars, vote, speak in public, work outside the home or even control their own children. The Cherokees began to imitate whites, and Cherokee women lost much of their power and prestige. In the 20th century, they had to struggle along with other women to acquire many of the rights that Cherokee women once freely enjoyed.”
I am pretty sure that had a Cherokee husband commanded his “squaw” to walk ten paces behind him prior to the arrival of Europeans, he would have found his stuff piled up outside the front door of the house.  That was how a Cherokee woman divorced her husband.

Author of the Cherokee Chronicles
Book One: The First Raven Mocker
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Thursday, November 21, 2013

Cherokee Misconceptions, Part 2: Transportation

When you picture the ancient Native American, is he on horseback galloping across the prairie or paddling gracefully down the river in a birch bark canoe?  If so, you are not picturing the ancient Cherokee.

So, looking at the picture, what would you guess was the Cherokee’s favorite modes of transportation?

Well, I have already hinted that they may not have ridden horses.  So did they ride mules or burros?  Maybe they just used horses for hauling their things on sleds.  The fact is, horses were brought to America by the Europeans.  Before contact with Europeans, the ancient Cherokee walked everywhere except on water, of course.

This was true of all Native Americans, however, maybe in large part due to Hollywood, most of us imagine Native Americans as great horsemen.   When the Conquistadors travelled through what is now the United States, they left a trail of horses.  Many of the Plains Indians captured these wild horses and found them to be a great advantage in warfare with other tribes.  Then, after Spanish and Mexican settlers moved into the areas around Santa Fe and Albuquerque, the Native American tribes began to trade with them and the horse and rifle were prized trading items.

Meanwhile, the Cherokee were living a different lifestyle.  They were farming and hunting and living in settled villages.  When colonists arrived, the Cherokee saw them not as rivals but as equals and adopted many of the new ways of the colonists.  They used horses, mules, and burros for farming and hauling, just as the colonists did. 

The Cherokee did glide up and down the many rivers in a canoe before the European invasion.  But it may be a surprise to most that their canoes were hollowed out logs and not the more well-known birch-bark-style canoes.   Great logs were skinned of the bark and then the ends formed or “streamlined” for smooth passage through the water.  The centers were burned and then chiseled and hacked  until hollowed out.  Their canoes were sturdy and well-suited for stream travel

I once read an interesting take on the word “canoe”.  In 1882, Ignatius Donnelly,  a U. S. Congressman, wrote the book “Atlantis, The Antediluvian World” which has become the “cornerstone on which all modern study of the ‘Lost Continent’ depends.”  In his book, he cited countless examples of similarities between the new and old worlds—presumably the result of contact with the Atlantean culture.

He wrote, “If, then, we prove that, on both sides of the Atlantic, civilizations were found substantially identical, we have demonstrated that they must have descended one from the other, or have radiated from some common source.”

A critic of Donnelly’s book took him to task on a number of his comparisons including “canoe”.  He stated that Donnelly had claimed the canoe was remarkably similar to the Asian word for a similar boat proving that the word had a common origin.   The critic scoffed that when early explorers saw the American Indian boat, it reminded them of the Asian boat and so they called it “canoe” suggesting that Donnelly was guilty of a circular fallacy.

Ready for this?  What Donnelly actually said was , “The bark canoe of America was not unknown in Asia and Africa, while the skin canoes of our Indians and the Eskimos were found on the shores of the Thames and the Euphrates.”  Donnelly compared the boat, not the word.  And, ironically, the word canoa was first mentioned in a letter from Columbus who got the word from the Arawakan Indians he encountered in the Caribbean.  Their word was kana:wa canoe or, possibly, kenu.  And, in my research, I can find no Asian word similar to canoe for that type of boat! 

So, canoe probably did originate from a Native American term—another misconception busted?
Author of the "Cherokee Chronicles"
is currently available at a book store
near you or at Barnes and Noble

Thursday, November 14, 2013

Cherokee Misconceptions, Part 1

Recently [May 9, 2013 issue], I wrote an article on Cherokee Misconceptions.  It was such a success, I am going to expand on it by popular request.  In this series, I will be addressing in detail ten of the more common misconceptions about the Cherokee:

1. The Cherokee lived in Tipi’s.
2. The Cherokee were masterful horsemen and cruised in bark canoes
3. Cherokee squaws walked 10 paces behind their husbands
4. Squaw is an insult referencing a woman’s private parts
5. Cherokee were noble savages relying on their hunting skills
6. Cherokee slaves were granted Cherokee citizenship
7. You may be the descendant of a Cherokee princess
8. Only Cherokee chiefs wore feathered headdresses
9. A type of leprechaun lived in the Cherokee mountains
10. The Cherokee had a written constitution of their own.

Think you know the truth?  You may be surprised!  I have found that the Cherokee were nothing like the Native American portrayed in movies and on T.V.  Follow me to discover what the Cherokee called: the Ani-Yun Wiya, which means “The Real People”.

First, most people are surprised to learn that the Cherokee did not live in Tipi’s.  That is mainly because the American Indian that we see in Westerns almost always lives in a Tipi.  Well, in defense of Westerns, the point in history when settlers were moving west to start a new life they were pushing into the United States plains and bumping up against the Plains Indians many of whom did, in fact, live in Tipi’s.  Oddly, though, there were a number of tribes that the settlers came across that did not live in Tipi’s but they are rarely shown in movies or T.V.

The Cherokee originally lived in South Carolina, Kentucky, northern Georgia.  Mostly in the area we call the Great Smoky Mountains.  The United States had grown to include these states and the Cherokee Territories were being whittled away by treaties and outright encroachment.  In 1836, under president Andrew Jackson’s direction, the Cherokee people were rounded up and relocated to Oklahoma ("for their own good").  That awful trek through one of the worst winters on record came to be known by the Cherokee as “the trail of tears.”  That is another subject.

The time that I am focusing on in these articles is the time before the Europeans came to America.  As you can see in the examples in the picture, the American Indian lived in many different types of houses.  If you picked “Wattle and Daub” for the Cherokee, you would be correct.  The Cherokee were not nomadic like the Plains Indians.  If you were to go back in time and visit an ancient Cherokee village, your first impression might be that you were visiting a frontier fort.  The villages of the Cherokee were surrounded by palisaded walls.  But inside the walls, the villages were very different from a frontier fort, there were streets lined with frame stucco houses that would look quite modern. 
A large seven-sided Council House would sit majestically atop a large, rectangular mound.  Across from the Council House would have been a large field used for Ball Play (the Anetsa was similar to today’s LaCrosse) and used for dances and ceremonies.  Beside each house their would have been a large, domed dwelling, called an asi, used to keep warm in winter and for many private ceremonies and functions.  The houses often were multi-roomed with windows for light and ventillation.  Bedrooms would have had beds and bunks very familiar to what we use today.

The Cherokee at that time were farmers as well as hunters and were recognized by the colonists, rightly so, as “a civilized tribe.”
--Courtney Miller
Author of the "Cherokee Chronicles"
is currently available at a book store
near you or at Barnes and Noble and

Thursday, November 7, 2013

Native American Cultures: The Ute

View from our home of the Sangre de Cristo Mountains
My wife and I live in the beautiful Wet Mountain Valley of southern Colorado.  This valley was originally the home of the Ute Indians.  Before the Spanish came, the Ute were divided into seven bands.  Our little valley was in between the territories of the Mouache and Capote bands, but was probably occupied by the Mouache who ranged along the eastern slopes of the Rockies, from Denver south to near Las Vegas New Mexico.  The Capote band inhabited the San Luis Valley, which is on the other side of the Sangre de Cristo’s from us, near the headwaters of the Rio Grande south to New Mexico around the current towns of Chama and Tierra Amarilla.
Ute Tipi

It would be easy to imagine a small circle of Tipi’s sitting on the rounded hill where our house sits today.  It would have been a great spot to camp.  From here, you can see for miles across the valley and watch for game.  Buffalo would probably have come up the valley from the prairie down by Walsenburg in the summer and grazed the fertile valley between the Wet Mountains, to the east, and the Sangre de Christo Mountains to the west.  Yesterday, my wife spotted a large herd of buffalo to the south from out her studio window.  Thousands of buffalo pasture on the huge Wolf Springs Buffalo Ranch three miles south of us.

In the spring and summer, the Ute would break up into small family units and hunt for deer, elk, antelope and other animals.   At that time, they had no horses—horses were brought to America from Europe—so it was easier to provide for small groups.  These same animals roam the valley today.  We often have antelope coming across our property and have seen the elk migrating through the valley in spring and fall.  Aside from the few houses that occasionally dot the landscape, the valley is probably much the same as it was back then.

In late fall, the bands would regroup in sheltered areas for the winter.  The Mouache, Capote, and Weeminuche bands would migrate south and live through the winter in northwestern New Mexico or northeastern Arizona.  Winter provided a great opportunity for social interaction and festivities which were eventually ended by the Great Bear Dances in early spring.

The Ute probably migrated into Colorado, Utah (named after the Ute) and New Mexico over 2,000 years ago.  The Anisazi (or Ancestral Puebloan people) were living in the area at the time.  The influx of the Ute may have driven them into the sandstone caves in the cliffs that is now known as Mesa Verde.  The ruins of the Ancestral Puebloan people are found throughout the current Ute reservation.

Wet Mountain Valley is no longer a part of the Ute territories.  The lives of the Ute in this valley began to change dramatically with the settlement of the Spanish in New Mexico.  The Spanish brought horses and domestic animals.  Horses greatly enhanced the Ute’s ability to hunt game.  The Ute began to make trips to Taos and Pecos to trade.  At first, relations were peaceful and beneficial to all.  But over time, the Ute began to realize that with the horse, it was easier to raid other tribes or villages than to hunt for food.

The Ute became master horsemen and fierce warriors.  At first, the enemies of the Ute were the Cheyenne, Crow, Shoshone, Blackfoot and Arapaho to the north;  the Sioux, Osage, Pawnee, Kiowa, Comanche, and Plains Apache to the east and southeast; and west and south they battled the Navajo, Paiute, and Western Shoshone;  in other words, their neighbors.

Over the years, when white settlers and gold seekers began to move into Utah and Colorado, there were several skirmishes with the Ute.  But, during the same time-frame, the Ute often allied with the United States in wars with the Navajo and Apache.  A series of treaties established a small reservation in northeast Utah and in 1868 extended to include the western third of modern Colorado.  But, the large area included land claimed by other tribes and was whittled away over time by encroaching white settlers and mining interests.

In the 20th century, several U.S. federal court decisions restored portions of the original reservation land and awarded monetary compensation for the losses.
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