The Dominance of Euro-American Influence in Cherokee Nation
Although it is true that people of African and Native descent share a common history of slavery and oppression by whites, this ideology of equality neglects the prejudices of groups condone by other than whites and the practice of chattel slavery Natives originating in the Southeast legitimatize.1 Slavery and anti-black prejudice existed in the Cherokee society since the late 1700s, as the Cherokee Nation put their best effort into answering the call of “civilization” by adopting white culture to becoming Anglo-Americans.
Enslavement brought African and Native people into contact with each other, especially during the early colonial period, and created a situation in which sexual relationships were developed. For some Africans, there were forced illegitimate kinship ties, through Native American mixed-blood slave owner engaging in conjugal visits or forced breeding to increase the slave population. For some Natives, this meant intermarriage with Africans or Afro-Natives. This development led to the descendants of either situation to merge in with the larger African slave populations of homes and integrated plantations, all who were sold to either a white, Native mixed-blood, or Native slave owner. The bonds they developed persisted throughout the early 1700s, where black slaves escaped to Indian communities in significant numbers and Native slaves were traded to the West Indies to prevent the likelihood of their escape. Evidence that black slaves sometimes found protection in Native communities exists in the oral histories of African American and Native American as well as in the British colonists who were frustrated by the heighten relations between African and Natives.2
As Indian slavery feel out of favor in the British colonies and many African slaves were imported on the Native’s land, the Cherokee and Africans could not help but to view each other through the lenses of European colonialism and racism. Within the gradual developing relationship was the characteristic of an ever-present theme of contradiction. One of those contradictions was the trading of slaves. The Treaty of Whitehall signed in 1730 between several Cherokee men and the British called to the Cherokee to act “that if any negro slaves run away into the woods from their English masters, the Cherokee Indians shall…bring them back to the Plantation from whence they run away or to the Governor…” in exchange for traded goods such as guns and Euro-American clothing.3 As the Cherokees hunted the runaway slaves, they also aided, adopted many of them into their families, and married both free and enslaved black slaves. It wasn’t until the late 1700s that a firmer separation between Cherokees and African Americans began.
The call to civilization changes the entire trajectory of how the Cherokee nation lived. The Cherokee understandings of racial difference and hierarchy surged by an American program to “civilize” the Cherokees in the Treaty of Holston of 1790.4 No one in the Cherokee tribe owned the land they inhabited up until the 1790s. In the previous period men would hunt, go to war, and conduct political negotiations and leadership. Women would raise corn, prepared foods, and manage both the home and the community ties. Men going from hunting to farming and women going from farming to weaving, along with trying to privately own land and put use to it was just a fragment of the Cherokee nation’s growing imbalance.
Only eight percent of the Cherokee nation will come to owning slaves along with much land in means of practicing and inheriting the “American way of life”. They embraced white culture such as eating three times a day instead of when they were hungry at any time. They started to dress like them and those who owned land were either a white man with a Cherokee woman, a Cherokee man with a white woman, or the descendant of either one. This was oddly there are several people who look Euro-American as chiefs for the Five Civilized Tribes, especially the Cherokee. Their slaves built them mansions, handled domestic needs, and worked in the fields just like those in the American South.