As with all my blog entries, this will need some editing. I have spend many years pondering what I should do, as pertains to our Indian blood. I have decided to become a member of a state recognized tribe. It has taken me twenty years of wavering back and forth on this issue. Finally jumping in . . .
One day, I decided I'd look into the origins of our Indian blood, and I started the research. I started our piecing together the family stories. The family stories took me back to both the Cherokee and the Catawba, via separate routes. There is a possibility of a Choctaw or Chickasaw link, but evidence of it is just too weak at present to take it seriously.
So I looked into the histories of both the Cherokee and Catawba. It was a quicker search for the Cherokee as their history is far better known than that of the Catawba. While looking into the history of the Cherokee, My online searches discovered there are 3 federally recognized Cherokee tribes. There were also several state recognized Cherokee tribes, and several dozen others not recognized by anyone but their members.
Being new to this, I wondered if it were possible to join any of these groups, starting at the top, the federally recognized tribes. The Cherokee required ones ancestors were on Dawes Rolls. There were several named “Josephine Brown”, great grandma's maiden name. But none were born the exact day she was born, although some were close. There was a rejected “Samuel Richey”. Josephine's husband was Jeffrey Richey. Jeff had an uncle Samuel, and we lose track of him. Is his uncle the same man on the rejected rolls? Still don't know . . . However, to be admitted we need to find a DIRECT ancestor, on Dawes. When I was researching all this, Dad had died, but my mother was still alive. She told me she recalled hearing dad's grandparents had once tried to sign up for Dawes, but something happened, they became upset, of felt insulted, or something, she didn't know what had happened. But she said because of this, they never signed up for Dawes. Therefore I realized I would not find us on the accepted or the rejected rolls. Not being on the rolls meant we would not and could not become tribal members.
That is when I first thought of the state recognized tribes. Was that a possibility? There were also dozens of groups calling themselves the Cherokee/Chickamauga/Tsalagi Tribe/Band/Nation of a state/county/river-creek/mountain range. Many of these had websites. I contacted several, and was actively recruited. I went to events sponsored by three of them. One was called “Cherokee Tribe of Old Louisiana Territory”, a second was called “Texas Cherokee” or “Tsalagi Nudagi”. A third was called “Southern Cherokee”.
http://www.ncnolt.net/ This is the link to the “Northern Cherokee nation of Old Louisiana Territory”. They broke up into several groups, and are found mostly in Missouri and Arkansas. There was a time when the first Cherokee settlers west of the Mississippi River lived near the 'boothill' of Missouri. A small settlement developed there to support the warriors of Dragging Canoe and Doublehead They went down the Tennessee River to its mouth. Then up other rivers to attack settlers in East Kentucky and Eastern Tennessee in the late 1770s, 80s, and early 90s. It is thought by members of this tribal organization some descendants of these people remain, and survive to this day as mixed bloods.
Another was Tsalagi Nvdagi. “Nvdagi” is said to be the Cherokee word for “Texas”. http://www.texascherokees.org/tngoals.html . This link tells something about them. The same Cherokee who were in the boothill of Missouri were said to migrate to Arkansas after a large earthquake hit the area in 1811. Some of these later migrated to Northeastern Texas. There was a large cherokee community in Texas until they were driven out in 1839, by Texans. Again, there is a report that a remnant remained in Texas, and this group claims to descend from them.
The Southern Cherokee Nation has the following website. http://www.southerncherokeenation.com/html/home.htm. On their website they say they are federally recognized based on the treaty after the Civil War, in 1866. Some Cherokee sided with the South during the American Civil War. At the end of the war, General Stand Waite, A Cherokee, was the last Confederate General of the war to surrender. He was not defeated in battle, but surrendered anyhow. The 1866 Treaty with the Cherokee was a treaty with these Confederate Cherokee. This group, the Southern Cherokee nation, claims to descend from them.
Now not many people believe there were ANY Cherokee still in Missouri today. Most researchers also think most if not all the Texas Cherokee returned to Oklahoma. The Confederate Cherokee did the same. I was always curious, but also was skeptical.
I firmly believe many people probably have mixed-American Indian ancestry that is not documented. I am not as certain that those ancestors are Cherokee. Everyone must be able to trace an ancestor back to the Cherokee Nation, and I know this is a difficult task. It is easy to discover evidence, but a vast chasm can separate evidence from fact. A lawyer can say "an abundance of circumstantial evidence", but that is am ambiguous phrase, meaning different things to different people.
While visiting these “Southern Cherokee” I met Michael Johnson, and what he was saying hit a chord in me. http://www.ewebtribe.com/NACulture/articles/johnsonemail.htm. Here is a link to something Michael Johnson was saying. Please know Mike knew former Principle Chief Chad Smith personally. I a honored that Mike was also a personal friend of mine, as well. Although I saw Principle Chief Chad Smith once, in fact he walked right past me, I am certain he had and has no idea who I was. :). Mike said these fake tribal organizations were unnecessary. He got into an argument with Tony McClure, author of “Cherokee Proud”. http://www.ewebtribe.com/NACulture/articles/cherokeechief.htm . Mike and I talked about these things as they were happening. I knew mike and he was my friend, so I sided with him at the time. The Cherokee Nation even wrote an article about Mike here – http://www.cherokee.org/NewsArchives/Archives/9-00-23.htm . I had tried to help Mike. I had hoped if an undocumented Cherokee was able to 'befriend' enrolled Cherokee, they might change their position, with respect to the undocumented. I looked up many of these organizations trying to achieve federal recognition. The more I read up on them, even tried to communicate with them, the more I realized many had no idea of achieving federal recognition.
But while looking into them, I also came across other, state recognized groups. State recognition gives a degree of credibility those other groups didn't have. About this time my friend, Michael Johnson passed away, a great loss. I was torn between honoring his friendship and these state recognized tribes. This was probably ten years ago. I had even contacted the Cherokee Nation about some of these fake tribes, keeping them informed about some of what was going on. I had personally separated these state recognized tribes from these fake tribes, and I was able to do this as I had researched them all online.
After a while, I gave up on all of that. It didn't seem that anyone cared for my approach. Most other unenrolled Cherokee I ran across literally hated the Cherokee Nation, and would have nothing to do with them. I simply wanted to find my own ancestry, and document them better. While doing this, I discovered my family had lived just South of the Tennessee River, in Alabama, on lands ceded from the Cherokee in 1816. I can document my family there in 1818. Also one of the State recognized Cherokee tribes of Alabama claimed to have descended from this group. Hmmm . . . they have more credibility being state recognized. Hmmm . . . But the Cherokee nation still lumped this group with the fake tribes . . . hmmm . . .
http://www.cherokee.org/News/Stories/22692.aspx – Cherokee Nation report on the “Southern Cherokee”.
Not long ago there was an easily accessed entry from a 2007 entry of the Cherokee Phoenix. Dr. Richard Allen wrote an very good article as to why to ignore many of rte groups calling themselves “Cherokee”. He and I had emailed back and forth a few years earlier, back when Michael Johnson, my friend, was still alive. I copied much of Dr. Allen's words, and placed much of it in my blog entry at the link above. I knew many of the groups calling themselves “Cherokee tribes” had no validity. However there are three federally recognized tribes. There are also several state recognized tribes.
My next research was to look into the state recognized tribes. How valid are they? Should I try to seek membership in one of them? The one worth mentioning is the one I sought – The Echota Cherokee Tribe of Alabama. All I could do was read what was online about them. First, I discovered an author who was also a member. Ricky “Butch” Walker has written several books on the Cherokee who remained along the Tennessee River, in Lawrence County, Alabama, after their lands were ceded. This, my family had done. We lived right there, where he said these Indians were living at the time.
So how rigorous were the requirements for state recognition? What I know is what I saw online, and what I saw was on their website – http://echotacherokeetribe.homestead.com/History.html . This tells a great deal about how they came into existence. It looks like it was quite an achievement for them to achieve state recognition.
http://www.aiac.alabama.gov/tribes_EchotaCherokee.aspx . Here is a little more. Now the Cherokee nation says if you charge for tribal membership you are fraudulent. But the Cherokee nation gets thousands of dollars, probably millions, from the federal government. Without federal recognition, state recognized tribes get nothing., and so must generate revenue some other way. You might look at the membership fee as a sort of flat tax.
I slowly started to realize that I wanted something for all my efforts to find my ancestors. I wanted something to prove my efforts were worth while. I hope I don't lose my friends who are federally enrolled not only with the Cherokee, but other tribes as well. After reading the efforts the members of the Echota Cherokee went through to become state recognized, I realized I went through a similar effort, and for a similar reason. We were not eligible to be federally enrolled because of enrollment regulations. But perhaps we could be state recognized.
So, after 20 years of family research, 15 years of learning the history and movements of literally every tribe that is either indigenous to Oklahoma, or descend from the Emigrant tribes, I felt I was well versed on the topic. We also have Catawba blood, but there is no state recognized Catawba group I'd feel we'd be qualified to become members. Earlier in the year I sent paperwork into the offices of the state recognized “Echota Tribe of Alabama”. I am happy to state that per a letter post marked 09 Dec 2015, received the following notification. It starts by saying “Hello new member and welcome,” – I immediately smiled.
I did not do this solely for me, but for my family as well. I think other Richey's and Hawkins' are also eligible as well. I know a couple who are interested. I know we won't get those federal goodies like hospital care, or educational benefits, but we can claim our Cherokee blood without having to bear the ridicule of being called “wannabes”. Having lived in Oklahoma most of my life, I know how people who have a Cherokee heritage who can not claim it are often treated. I LOVE Oklahoma, and can trace some ancestors here back to 1832 at least and perhaps earlier. But we are not on Dawes, and therefore are not eligible. But we can trace other ancestors back to Northern Alabama, and it is through them we are eligible to obtain membership in the Echota Tribe of Alabama. I also home my Oklahoma family and friends (especially those who are federally enrolled) understand.