Cultural Identity

Cherokees are one of the indigenous people of America. They lived for centuries in Southeast America. Cherokees lived in a communal society. Individual Cherokees did not own land. All land was owned by the Cherokee tribe. 

From the early days of our nation, colonists wanted to acquire Cherokee land but found it difficult to accomplish because the land was owned communally and not privately. In the 1830’s Congress gave the President the authority to relocate the Cherokees from their land to part of what is now Oklahoma. 

Striving to preserve their culture, the Cherokee had strict requirements for who is considered a Cherokee. The federal government wanted the Cherokees to assimilate into the white culture of America. One aspect of that assimilation was the acceptance of slavery. 

Following the Civil War, the Cherokees agreed to make their slaves full Cherokee citizens. The Cherokees did not want the U.S. government to dictate to them who could be considered citizens so they decided to take action on their slaves first. 

The U.S. government, aided by religious groups and non-profits, tried to “civilize” the Cherokees. In 1887, Congress forced the Cherokees to give up their concept of communal land in order to free up land for farms and cities. 

Disputes between the Cherokees and the U.S. government continued. The basic issue in all the disputes was whether the U.S. government should have the authority over the Cherokee people. 

What should be the role of the U.S. government over citizens who have a cultural identity that existed before there was a U.S. government? Does the government have the right to set the rules for who can be considered in the community? What right does the government have to forcibly remove the community from their land? Should the government have a mission of civilizing those whose cultural values are different from the rest of the country? 

As you think about these questions, just imagine what the requirements might be for such a community? Should the requirements only apply to indigenous people? What about those who share an ethnic identity? Just imagine how we might balance societal goals for diversity and inclusion with the desire of a community to maintain its cultural identity? Just imagine how cultural identity and basic human rights can be woven together into a coherent national policy that is fair to all citizens.

* * *

“The indigenous peoples understand that they have to recover their cultural identity, or to live it if they have already recovered it. They also understand that this is not a favor or a concession, but simply their natural right to be recognized as belonging to a culture that is distinct from the Western culture, a culture in which they have to live their own faith.” – Samuel Ruiz (Roman Catholic priest)

How To Use

Useful guides for incorporating messages into discussion.