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NYT: The Cherokees Free Their Slaves 
Written by Melinda Miller and Rachel Smith Purvis

Following on the heels of the Emancipation Proclamation, in February 1863 the Cherokee Nation declared that all slaves within its limits were “forever free.” In 1983, the descendants of these slaves, known as the Cherokee Freedmen, were removed from tribal membership rolls and prohibited from voting in Cherokee elections. A series of protracted legal battles over Freedmen citizenship ensued and continue today.
Questions on the status of the Cherokees’ former slaves in tribal life originated in the complicated landscape of the Civil War in Indian Territory, a story of an internal civil war within the larger conflict. Although the Cherokee Nation had initially joined the Confederacy, Principal Chief John Ross and his supporters began discussions with Northern forces during the summer of 1862. These loyal Cherokees convened a meeting of the National Council at Cowskin Prairie and produced two distinct emancipation acts, documents that reverberate in today’s controversies over the legal standing of the Cherokee Freedmen.
Ross had originally rebuffed attempts to become engaged in the war, writing in June 1861: “I have already signified my purpose to take no part in it whatever.” But neutrality proved untenable, and the Cherokees signed a treaty of alliance with the Confederacy in October 1861. The nation raised two regiments; one was under the command of Ross’s nephew-in-law John Drew, while Stand Watie, Ross’s long-time political opponent, led the other.
By 1862, Ross had become disillusioned with the Confederate government. The first major military engagements in Indian Territory proved disastrous for both the Confederacy and the Cherokees. Retreating from Indian Territory, the Confederacy left the Cherokees open to Union advances and without supplies for Cherokee troops and destitute civilians. Although Ross believed the Confederacy was shirking its treaty promises, the Confederate colonel Douglas H. Cooper called upon Ross to fulfill his obligations by ordering all Cherokee men of fighting age to “take up arms to repel invasion.”
Union Capt. Harris S. Greeno was aware of Ross’s dissatisfaction with the Confederacy, and he ordered the arrest of Ross and his family at their plantation home, Rose Cottage, in present-day eastern Oklahoma. They were quickly paroled and escorted to Union territory, and they retreated to his wife’s family home in Philadelphia. Ross would spend the remainder of the war attempting to convince the Lincoln administration of the Cherokee’s loyalty and commitment to the Union cause.
With Ross absent from from Indian Territory, southern Cherokee leaders moved quickly to elect Stand Watie as principal chief and reaffirmed the Cherokee Nation’s treaty with the Confederacy. But in the winter of 1863, Col. William Phillips escorted Union Cherokees into the Cherokee Nation. There, they held a meeting of the National Council to affirm that they, and not Watie and his followers, were the true government of the Cherokee people. This 1863 loyal council opened by denouncing the Cherokee treaty with the Confederacy and insisting they were pressured into the alliance due to a lack of federal protection in Indian Territory. They then quickly moved to address the issue of slavery in the Cherokee Nation. Within the four-day period from Feb. 18 to Feb. 21, 1863, the Cherokee Council passed two separate emancipation acts.
The slavery issue was of such great importance they tackled it first: before they removed Stand Watie and other Confederates from office, before discussing how to deal with the utter devastation the Cherokee people faced in their war-torn country and before John Ross was appointed to represent the Cherokee Nation in discussions with the United States government.
The prominent place of slavery at these council meetings reflected a keen understanding of the nature of emancipation policy within the Lincoln administration. As the Cherokee Nation severed ties with the Confederacy and hoped to rejoin the Union, they were certainly aware of another government that had recently done exactly that: on Dec. 31, 1862, President Lincoln welcomed West Virginia into the Union, with its statehood conditional on its newly written constitution’s including an abolition clause.
The Emancipation Acts themselves further demonstrated the Cherokee Council’s acute awareness of President Lincoln’s policies. They first called for a Cherokee delegation to negotiate with the United States government to emancipate their slaves “upon the Principle of Compensation.” During the initial years of the Civil War, Lincoln had proposed ending slavery in the border states through a gradual dissolution of the peculiar institution, with compensation offered to slave owners for their financial losses. He again endorsed a plan for gradual and compensated emancipation in his annual address to Congress on Dec. 1, 1862. The Cherokee Council’s first Emancipation Act, passed on Feb. 18, was an attempt to take Lincoln up on this offer.
What is surprising, then, is how quickly the Cherokee council issued a second Emancipation Act that specified universal emancipation without compensation. On Feb. 20, the council declared: “Any person or Persons, who may have been held in Slavery are, hereby, declared to be forever free.” Why did Cherokee leaders change such a fundamental aspect of their emancipation plans?
Between Lincoln’s endorsement of compensated emancipation in his annual address and the Cherokees’ plan for compensated emancipation, a watershed had occurred. On Jan. 1, 1863, President Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation. This action forever altered the parameters of freedom in the United States, and Lincoln would cease his offers of compensated emancipation. The Cherokee Nation had missed its opportunity to receive payment for freeing slaves. Strengthening ties with the Union would require the Cherokees to adjust to Lincoln’s new emancipation policies.
The Cherokees, however, differed from Lincoln and his cabinet over one key issue. There was no serious discussion or consideration of freedmen’s citizenship in the Cherokee Nation. Instead, on Nov. 14, the Cherokee Council passed an act that explicitly denied citizenship to former slaves and required freed slaves remaining in the Nation to obtain work permits. The incorporation of the former slaves of Cherokee masters into the Cherokee citizenry would wait until the 1866 Treaty between the Cherokees and United States.
In the aftermath of freedom, the United States incorporated freed people into the body politic with constitutional amendments outlining their citizenship rights. In the 1866 treaty, federal officials also required Cherokee leaders to grant former slaves and their descendants “all the rights of native Cherokees.” This particular phrase is important, because it did not explicitly state what these rights were - and has been a source of tension between Cherokee leaders and the Cherokee Freedmen ever since.
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Sources: Clarissa Confer, “The Cherokee Nation in the Civil War”; William McLoughlin, “After the Trail of Tears”; Melinda Miller, “Essays on Race and the Persistence of Economic Inequality; Cherokee Nation, 1863 Emancipation Acts and Treaty of 1866; James Oaks, “Freedom National”; Rachel Smith Purvis, “‘Maintaining intact our homogenousness’: Race, Citizenship, & Reconstructing Cherokee”; United States Government, The War of the Rebellion: a Compilation of the Official Records of the Union and Confederate Armies.
Melinda C. Miller, a visiting assistant professor of economics at Yale and an assistant professor of economics at the United States Naval Academy, studies the economic status of the Cherokee freedmen during the decades following the Civil War. Rachel Smith Purvis, a postdoctoral associate at Yale, is revising her manuscript on the Cherokee Nation during the Reconstruction era.

NYT: The Cherokees Free Their Slaves

Written by Melinda Miller and Rachel Smith Purvis

Following on the heels of the Emancipation Proclamation, in February 1863 the Cherokee Nation declared that all slaves within its limits were “forever free.” In 1983, the descendants of these slaves, known as the Cherokee Freedmen, were removed from tribal membership rolls and prohibited from voting in Cherokee elections. A series of protracted legal battles over Freedmen citizenship ensued and continue today.

Questions on the status of the Cherokees’ former slaves in tribal life originated in the complicated landscape of the Civil War in Indian Territory, a story of an internal civil war within the larger conflict. Although the Cherokee Nation had initially joined the Confederacy, Principal Chief John Ross and his supporters began discussions with Northern forces during the summer of 1862. These loyal Cherokees convened a meeting of the National Council at Cowskin Prairie and produced two distinct emancipation acts, documents that reverberate in today’s controversies over the legal standing of the Cherokee Freedmen.

Ross had originally rebuffed attempts to become engaged in the war, writing in June 1861: “I have already signified my purpose to take no part in it whatever.” But neutrality proved untenable, and the Cherokees signed a treaty of alliance with the Confederacy in October 1861. The nation raised two regiments; one was under the command of Ross’s nephew-in-law John Drew, while Stand Watie, Ross’s long-time political opponent, led the other.

By 1862, Ross had become disillusioned with the Confederate government. The first major military engagements in Indian Territory proved disastrous for both the Confederacy and the Cherokees. Retreating from Indian Territory, the Confederacy left the Cherokees open to Union advances and without supplies for Cherokee troops and destitute civilians. Although Ross believed the Confederacy was shirking its treaty promises, the Confederate colonel Douglas H. Cooper called upon Ross to fulfill his obligations by ordering all Cherokee men of fighting age to “take up arms to repel invasion.”

Union Capt. Harris S. Greeno was aware of Ross’s dissatisfaction with the Confederacy, and he ordered the arrest of Ross and his family at their plantation home, Rose Cottage, in present-day eastern Oklahoma. They were quickly paroled and escorted to Union territory, and they retreated to his wife’s family home in Philadelphia. Ross would spend the remainder of the war attempting to convince the Lincoln administration of the Cherokee’s loyalty and commitment to the Union cause.

With Ross absent from from Indian Territory, southern Cherokee leaders moved quickly to elect Stand Watie as principal chief and reaffirmed the Cherokee Nation’s treaty with the Confederacy. But in the winter of 1863, Col. William Phillips escorted Union Cherokees into the Cherokee Nation. There, they held a meeting of the National Council to affirm that they, and not Watie and his followers, were the true government of the Cherokee people. This 1863 loyal council opened by denouncing the Cherokee treaty with the Confederacy and insisting they were pressured into the alliance due to a lack of federal protection in Indian Territory. They then quickly moved to address the issue of slavery in the Cherokee Nation. Within the four-day period from Feb. 18 to Feb. 21, 1863, the Cherokee Council passed two separate emancipation acts.

The slavery issue was of such great importance they tackled it first: before they removed Stand Watie and other Confederates from office, before discussing how to deal with the utter devastation the Cherokee people faced in their war-torn country and before John Ross was appointed to represent the Cherokee Nation in discussions with the United States government.

The prominent place of slavery at these council meetings reflected a keen understanding of the nature of emancipation policy within the Lincoln administration. As the Cherokee Nation severed ties with the Confederacy and hoped to rejoin the Union, they were certainly aware of another government that had recently done exactly that: on Dec. 31, 1862, President Lincoln welcomed West Virginia into the Union, with its statehood conditional on its newly written constitution’s including an abolition clause.

The Emancipation Acts themselves further demonstrated the Cherokee Council’s acute awareness of President Lincoln’s policies. They first called for a Cherokee delegation to negotiate with the United States government to emancipate their slaves “upon the Principle of Compensation.” During the initial years of the Civil War, Lincoln had proposed ending slavery in the border states through a gradual dissolution of the peculiar institution, with compensation offered to slave owners for their financial losses. He again endorsed a plan for gradual and compensated emancipation in his annual address to Congress on Dec. 1, 1862. The Cherokee Council’s first Emancipation Act, passed on Feb. 18, was an attempt to take Lincoln up on this offer.

What is surprising, then, is how quickly the Cherokee council issued a second Emancipation Act that specified universal emancipation without compensation. On Feb. 20, the council declared: “Any person or Persons, who may have been held in Slavery are, hereby, declared to be forever free.” Why did Cherokee leaders change such a fundamental aspect of their emancipation plans?

Between Lincoln’s endorsement of compensated emancipation in his annual address and the Cherokees’ plan for compensated emancipation, a watershed had occurred. On Jan. 1, 1863, President Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation. This action forever altered the parameters of freedom in the United States, and Lincoln would cease his offers of compensated emancipation. The Cherokee Nation had missed its opportunity to receive payment for freeing slaves. Strengthening ties with the Union would require the Cherokees to adjust to Lincoln’s new emancipation policies.

The Cherokees, however, differed from Lincoln and his cabinet over one key issue. There was no serious discussion or consideration of freedmen’s citizenship in the Cherokee Nation. Instead, on Nov. 14, the Cherokee Council passed an act that explicitly denied citizenship to former slaves and required freed slaves remaining in the Nation to obtain work permits. The incorporation of the former slaves of Cherokee masters into the Cherokee citizenry would wait until the 1866 Treaty between the Cherokees and United States.

In the aftermath of freedom, the United States incorporated freed people into the body politic with constitutional amendments outlining their citizenship rights. In the 1866 treaty, federal officials also required Cherokee leaders to grant former slaves and their descendants “all the rights of native Cherokees.” This particular phrase is important, because it did not explicitly state what these rights were - and has been a source of tension between Cherokee leaders and the Cherokee Freedmen ever since.

Follow Disunion at twitter.com/NYTcivilwar or join us on Facebook.

Sources: Clarissa Confer, “The Cherokee Nation in the Civil War”; William McLoughlin, “After the Trail of Tears”; Melinda Miller, “Essays on Race and the Persistence of Economic Inequality; Cherokee Nation, 1863 Emancipation Acts and Treaty of 1866; James Oaks, “Freedom National”; Rachel Smith Purvis, “‘Maintaining intact our homogenousness’: Race, Citizenship, & Reconstructing Cherokee”; United States Government, The War of the Rebellion: a Compilation of the Official Records of the Union and Confederate Armies.

Melinda C. Miller, a visiting assistant professor of economics at Yale and an assistant professor of economics at the United States Naval Academy, studies the economic status of the Cherokee freedmen during the decades following the Civil War. Rachel Smith Purvis, a postdoctoral associate at Yale, is revising her manuscript on the Cherokee Nation during the Reconstruction era.

Tribe Fights With Slaves’ Kin: Court Weighs Whether Cherokee Must Extend Rights to Its Freedmen’s Progeny

An old dispute about whether the descendants of slaves freed by the Cherokee Nation more than a century ago qualify as members of the tribe is heating up again in a federal court.

The Cherokee Nation abolished slavery in 1863, and three years later it signed a treaty with the U.S. granting tribal rights to the Cherokee’s freed slaves, or “Freedmen,” many of whom had migrated with the tribe decades earlier to present-day Oklahoma.

But the Oklahoma-based Cherokee tribe, which has more than 310,000 members, later narrowed its citizenship criteria, excluding many descendants of the Freedmen and rendering them ineligible for a broad range of tribal benefits, such as business loans, medical services, housing assistance and college scholarships.

About 25,000 Freedmen descendants have been wrongly excluded from Cherokee citizenship, said Marilyn Vann, president of an Oklahoma-based Freedmen’s advocacy group. While a sovereign nation, the Cherokee don’t extend citizenship to all those within a certain territory but rather limit membership to those who share a common ancestry.

After almost 10 years of legal battles, including in Cherokee tribal courts and federal court in Washington, D.C., the Freedmen’s citizenship status appears headed toward a resolution before Judge Terence Kern in Tulsa, Okla.

The Cherokee Nation filed a complaint this year, asking Judge Kern to rule that a 1866 treaty didn’t grant citizenship to Freedmen descendants. On July 2, the Interior Department filed a counterclaim against the tribe, saying Freedmen descendants should enjoy all rights of native Cherokee. A group of Freedmen descendants also filed a July 2 claim contending the Cherokee Nation had violated the U.S. Constitution by perpetuating the “badges and incidents” of slavery.

"Hopefully, we can move forward on this issue," Bill John Baker, principal chief of the Cherokee, said in a statement. "This matter has been held up in the court system for several years, and now that we have everyone at the table, we can get a definitive ruling."

The litigation will hinge partly on the legality of a 2007 vote in which Cherokee amended their constitution to grant citizenship only to those descended from at least one person listed as Indian on a government census of Cherokee taken more than 100 years ago. That definition excludes most Freedmen descendants, although more than 1,500 people who had an Indian ancestor qualify as citizens.

The Cherokee declined to be interviewed about the litigation. But in a summary of the Freedmen dispute posted on the Cherokee website, the tribe said its 2007 vote on citizenship wasn’t meant to discriminate against Freedmen descendants.

"The Cherokee people determined that the Cherokee Nation should return to what it had been since time immemorial—an Indian tribe made of Indians," according to the website.

Some experts in Indian rights say the Cherokee Nation has a sovereign right and duty to limit its membership, particularly as the tribe has become increasingly assimilated into American society and more people claim some affiliation with the tribe.

"The Cherokee people are sensitive because of efforts by non-Indians to claim to be Indians with nothing behind the claim," said G. William Rice, a professor at the University of Tulsa College of Law and member of the United Keetoowah Band of Cherokee Indians. Mr. Rice noted the recent questions over whether Elizabeth Warren, a Massachusetts candidate for the U.S. Senate, exaggerated her possible Indian ancestry, an allegation Ms. Warren has denied. She has said that she has Native American ancestry, but she hasn’t been able to document that heritage.

Jon Velie, an Oklahoma lawyer who represents Freedmen descendants in the Tulsa case, said the Cherokee don’t have a right to discriminate against his clients because of their race. “The tribe is arguing, ‘We can do whatever we want,’ in the same way Southern states in the 1950s said, ‘Segregation is a states’ rights issue, and we can do whatever we want,’ ” he said.

Clint Carroll, a Cherokee citizen and professor in the University of Minnesota’s Department of Indian Studies, said a ruling in favor of the Freedmen would be a blow to the Cherokee’s tribal sovereignty. But if the tribe wins the right to define its citizenship as it sees fit, it would face the lingering perception that it had excluded people based on race.

"I can see both sides of the debate," he said. "We are at a fork in the road, and both paths lead to bad things."

Write to Nathan Koppel at nathan.koppel@wsj.com

A version of this article appeared July 17, 2012, on page A3 in the U.S. edition of The Wall Street Journal, with the headline: Tribe Fights With Slaves’ Kin.


Forcibly removed from their homes in the late 1830s, Cherokee, Creek, Choctaw, and Chickasaw Indians brought their African-descended slaves with them along the Trail of Tears and resettled in Indian Territory, present-day Oklahoma. Celia E. Naylor vividly charts the experiences of enslaved and free African Cherokees from the Trail of Tears to Oklahoma’s entry into the Union in 1907. Carefully extracting the voices of former slaves from interviews and mining a range of sources in Oklahoma, she creates an engaging narrative of the composite lives of African Cherokees. Naylor explores how slaves connected with Indian communities not only through Indian customs—language, clothing, and food—but also through bonds of kinship. 
Examining this intricate and emotionally charged history, Naylor demonstrates that the “red over black” relationship was no more benign than “white over black.” She presents new angles to traditional understandings of slave resistance and counters previous romanticized ideas of slavery in the Cherokee Nation. She also challenges contemporary racial and cultural conceptions of African-descended people in the United States. Naylor reveals how black Cherokee identities evolved reflecting complex notions about race, culture, “blood,” kinship, and nationality. Indeed, Cherokee freedpeople’s struggle for recognition and equal rights that began in the nineteenth century continues even today in Oklahoma.

Excerpt available online.

Forcibly removed from their homes in the late 1830s, Cherokee, Creek, Choctaw, and Chickasaw Indians brought their African-descended slaves with them along the Trail of Tears and resettled in Indian Territory, present-day Oklahoma. Celia E. Naylor vividly charts the experiences of enslaved and free African Cherokees from the Trail of Tears to Oklahoma’s entry into the Union in 1907. Carefully extracting the voices of former slaves from interviews and mining a range of sources in Oklahoma, she creates an engaging narrative of the composite lives of African Cherokees. Naylor explores how slaves connected with Indian communities not only through Indian customs—language, clothing, and food—but also through bonds of kinship. 

Examining this intricate and emotionally charged history, Naylor demonstrates that the “red over black” relationship was no more benign than “white over black.” She presents new angles to traditional understandings of slave resistance and counters previous romanticized ideas of slavery in the Cherokee Nation. She also challenges contemporary racial and cultural conceptions of African-descended people in the United States. Naylor reveals how black Cherokee identities evolved reflecting complex notions about race, culture, “blood,” kinship, and nationality. Indeed, Cherokee freedpeople’s struggle for recognition and equal rights that began in the nineteenth century continues even today in Oklahoma.

Excerpt available online.

History Lost in the Cherokee Freedmen Controversy

deluxvivens:

It is deeply ironic and tragic that the rolls created by the very commission that eliminated Cherokee sovereignty at the beginning of the 1900s are the same rolls that are used as the definitive list to decide membership in the Cherokee Nation today. The blood lineality requirement often underscored in the Cherokee freedmen debate revolves around the Cherokee Nation’s requirement that Cherokee citizens prove their connection to an ancestor listed on the “Cherokee by blood” Dawes roll. Though some Indian nations require a specific Indian blood quantum for membership, the Cherokee Nation has a blood lineality (not blood quantum) requirement for Cherokee citizenship today. When one considers the central role of matrilineality in the past in defining one’s Cherokeeness, as well as the ways people could be adopted within the clan system in Indigenous Cherokee society, the current Cherokee citizenship requirement (based on the Dawes Rolls) becomes even more problematic and perplexing.

http://www.firstpeoplesnewdirections.org/blog/?p=3846

University of North Carolina Press author Celia Naylor provides historical context for the current debates surrounding the Cherokee freedmen. Naylor is the author of African Cherokees in Indian Territory: From Chattel to Citizens, which examines the intricate and emotionally charged history of Cherokee freedpeople.

(via deluxvivens-deactivated20130417)


This beautifully written book tells the haunting saga of a  quintessentially American family. It is the story of Shoe Boots, a famed  Cherokee warrior and successful farmer, and Doll, an African slave he  acquired in the late 1790s. Over the next thirty years, Shoe Boots and  Doll lived together as master and slave and also as lifelong partners  who, with their children and grandchildren, experienced key events in  American history—including slavery, the Creek War, the founding of the  Cherokee Nation and subsequent removal of Native Americans along the  Trail of Tears, and the Civil War. This is the gripping story of their  lives, in slavery and in freedom. Meticulously crafted from historical and literary sources, Ties That Bind vividly  portrays the members of the Shoeboots family. Doll emerges as an  especially poignant character, whose life is mostly known through the  records of things done to her—her purchase, her marriage, the loss of  her children—but also through her moving petition to the federal  government for the pension owed to her as Shoe Boots’s widow. A  sensitive rendition of the hard realities of black slavery within Native  American nations, the book provides the fullest picture we have of the  myriad complexities, ironies, and tensions among African Americans,  Native Americans, and whites in the first half of the nineteenth  century.

Google Preview available.

This beautifully written book tells the haunting saga of a quintessentially American family. It is the story of Shoe Boots, a famed Cherokee warrior and successful farmer, and Doll, an African slave he acquired in the late 1790s. Over the next thirty years, Shoe Boots and Doll lived together as master and slave and also as lifelong partners who, with their children and grandchildren, experienced key events in American history—including slavery, the Creek War, the founding of the Cherokee Nation and subsequent removal of Native Americans along the Trail of Tears, and the Civil War. This is the gripping story of their lives, in slavery and in freedom. Meticulously crafted from historical and literary sources, Ties That Bind vividly portrays the members of the Shoeboots family. Doll emerges as an especially poignant character, whose life is mostly known through the records of things done to her—her purchase, her marriage, the loss of her children—but also through her moving petition to the federal government for the pension owed to her as Shoe Boots’s widow. A sensitive rendition of the hard realities of black slavery within Native American nations, the book provides the fullest picture we have of the myriad complexities, ironies, and tensions among African Americans, Native Americans, and whites in the first half of the nineteenth century.

Google Preview available.


Circe Sturm takes a bold and original approach to one of the most highly  charged and important issues in the United States today: race and  national identity. Focusing on the Oklahoma Cherokee, she examines how  Cherokee identity is socially and politically constructed, and how that  process is embedded in ideas of blood, color, and race. Not quite a  century ago, blood degree varied among Cherokee citizens from full blood  to 1/256, but today the range is far greater—from full blood to  1/2048. This trend raises questions about the symbolic significance of  blood and the degree to which blood connections can stretch and still  carry a sense of legitimacy. It also raises questions about how much  racial blending can occur before Cherokees cease to be identified as a  distinct people and what danger is posed to Cherokee sovereignty if the  federal government continues to identify Cherokees and other Native  Americans on a racial basis. Combining contemporary ethnography and  ethnohistory, Sturm’s sophisticated and insightful analysis probes the  intersection of race and national identity, the process of nation  formation, and the dangers in linking racial and national identities.

Google Preview available.

Circe Sturm takes a bold and original approach to one of the most highly charged and important issues in the United States today: race and national identity. Focusing on the Oklahoma Cherokee, she examines how Cherokee identity is socially and politically constructed, and how that process is embedded in ideas of blood, color, and race. Not quite a century ago, blood degree varied among Cherokee citizens from full blood to 1/256, but today the range is far greater—from full blood to 1/2048. This trend raises questions about the symbolic significance of blood and the degree to which blood connections can stretch and still carry a sense of legitimacy. It also raises questions about how much racial blending can occur before Cherokees cease to be identified as a distinct people and what danger is posed to Cherokee sovereignty if the federal government continues to identify Cherokees and other Native Americans on a racial basis. Combining contemporary ethnography and ethnohistory, Sturm’s sophisticated and insightful analysis probes the intersection of race and national identity, the process of nation formation, and the dangers in linking racial and national identities.

Google Preview available.


In Becoming Indian, author Circe Sturm examines Cherokee  identity politics and the phenomenon of racial shifting. Racial  shifters, as described by Sturm, are people who have changed their  racial self-identification from non-Indian to Indian on the US Census.  Many racial shifters are people who, while looking for their roots, have  recently discovered their Native American ancestry. Others have family  stories of an Indian great-great-grandmother or -grandfather they have  not been able to document. Still others have long known they were of  Native American descent, including their tribal affiliation, but only  recently have become interested in reclaiming this aspect of their  family history. Despite their differences, racial shifters share a  conviction that they have Indian blood when asserting claims of  indigeneity. Becoming Indian explores the social and cultural  values that lie behind this phenomenon and delves into the motivations  of these Americans—from so many different walks of life—to reinscribe  their autobiographies and find deep personal and collective meaning in  reclaiming their Indianness. Sturm points out that “becoming Indian” was  not something people were quite as willing to do forty years ago—the  willingness to do so now reveals much about the shifting politics of  race and indigeneity in the United States.

Excerpt available online (PDF).

In Becoming Indian, author Circe Sturm examines Cherokee identity politics and the phenomenon of racial shifting. Racial shifters, as described by Sturm, are people who have changed their racial self-identification from non-Indian to Indian on the US Census. Many racial shifters are people who, while looking for their roots, have recently discovered their Native American ancestry. Others have family stories of an Indian great-great-grandmother or -grandfather they have not been able to document. Still others have long known they were of Native American descent, including their tribal affiliation, but only recently have become interested in reclaiming this aspect of their family history. Despite their differences, racial shifters share a conviction that they have Indian blood when asserting claims of indigeneity. Becoming Indian explores the social and cultural values that lie behind this phenomenon and delves into the motivations of these Americans—from so many different walks of life—to reinscribe their autobiographies and find deep personal and collective meaning in reclaiming their Indianness. Sturm points out that “becoming Indian” was not something people were quite as willing to do forty years ago—the willingness to do so now reveals much about the shifting politics of race and indigeneity in the United States.

Excerpt available online (PDF).

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