March 02, 2008

How Cherokees are assimilated

Russell:  Assimilation and the borders of the Wanabi NationWe 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.
What does leaving the rez and joining the mainstream imply?I think there is a sense in which one can be "more Indian" or "less Indian," and it has nothing to do with blood quantum. If it did, I would long ago have had a transfusion to cure my problem with Cherokee verbs. It's a set of customs and values that get weaker with geographical distance. As the Choctaw philosopher Lee Hester says, white people care about orthodoxy while Indians care about "orthopraxy." With distance, we lose the practice of being Indian. Whether that is a function of time as well as distance, I cannot be reliably informed, but I hope not.

Without a doubt, many of my fellow outlanders will have kittens when they read this because they think they are Indian by blood rather than by practice. Maybe so, just like British royals. Lots of peoples have taken the position that virtue is inherited rather than accomplished, so the idea cannot be dismissed out of hand.
Comment:  Steve Russell has argued before that the Freedmen should be considered Cherokees. This article helps explain why. The Freedmen who live and participate in the Cherokee culture are arguably more Cherokee than assimilated Cherokees who live elsewhere.

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