September 11, 2008

Cherokees battle identity theft

Citizenship definedThe appropriation of Cherokee culture by people who have no citizenship amounts to identity theft. This is why the Cherokee Nation passed a law to prevent people who have no citizenship rights from claiming to be Cherokee artists. No individual or group has the right to appropriate Cherokee name(s), heritage, language, government, clothing, tribal seal, art, story, ceremonies or other things Cherokee.

Identifying these fraudulent tribes and individuals is more than just defining Indian art. Once I learned the extent of the problem, I stopped buying from folks who earn a living, off the backs of Indian people, by yelling the loudest. These same fraudulent so-called “Indians” are taking our children’s scholarships and working their way into federal programs such as Indian Health Service and Indian housing by claiming to be members of any of the more than 200 fake groups calling themselves Cherokee. The Cherokee Nation is defending its sovereignty and the culture that provides the basis for our unique sovereign status as a nation, indigenous to the U.S.
Comment:  I agree that the Cherokee Nation has the right to determine who's a member of the tribe. In other words, who can identify themselves as officially a Cherokee. But I don't agree that the Cherokee Nation has the right to prevent other people from calling themselves Cherokee or using aspects of Cherokee history and lore. "Cherokee" encompasses a lot of people and places across the Southeast, not merely one tribe in Oklahoma.

But what if the issue is defrauding the public--as when "Cherokees" offer classes or "healing" or art for sale? Perhaps the law could require such people to identify themselves as "part Cherokee" or "of Cherokee" descent"--to distinguish them from enrolled Cherokees. And what if these "Cherokees" apply for government aid or grants? Perhaps the law could require them to prove their ancestry before giving them anything.

For more on the subject, see Hoklotubbe on Who's a Cherokee and Lots of Possible Indians.

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