Your Great-Great Grandmother Wasn’t a Cherokee

Your Great-Great Grandmother Wasn’t a Cherokee

Indian Country Today Media Network

Jay Daniels

Once, at a tribal consultation meeting, Larry Echo Hawk, Assistant Secretary of Indian Affairs, asked me to join him for lunch. Upon learning that I was a member of the Cherokee Nation of Oklahoma, he asked about my opinion of the Freedmen issue. I said “as a Bureau of Indian Affair’s employee, I can’t state my opinion.” Everyone laughed. He asked me again and I responded in the same manner. Everyone laughed again. Mr. Echo Hawk’s staff member reminded me that he was the Assistant Secretary and “you can answer his question.”

I have always been proud to be a member of the Cherokee Nation of Oklahoma. I wasn’t looking for benefits, or because it was trendy, I’ve received no other tribal perks other than health services, attending Haskell Indian Junior College and eventually a career with the BIA. But, it gave me a purpose and identity of who and what I am – part of a people who respect life and others. What else is there?

Native Americans have always been a people who made room for others. We didn’t embrace these ways, but we made room for it. Making room in our homes for family and friends when necessary isn’t always easy, but it’s what we do. I grew up in north Tulsa, Oklahoma, and it wasn’t your normal little white picket fence neighborhood. There were Indians, blacks, some of this and some of that. Racism to me didn’t exist. We made room for everyone. The Cherokees are part of the Five Civilized Tribes not because we turned from our cultural and religious ways, but we made room for those who came to our land. We couldn’t use all of it so we made room for others. But, a house has only so much space, and when it’s full, we either have to add on, or shut the door on others. We never shut the door on those who belong in the house. Tribal sovereignty refers to the fact that each tribe has the inherent right to govern itself. Each tribe has the right to shape the course of its future that will ensure the continued and ongoing general welfare of its people without outside interference. What is an Indian? That is the question that divides us. Who is an Indian is better left up to the individual and the path they have chosen to follow…

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