cherokee removal

But if the natives are already agriculturalists, then why not simply incorporate their productivity into the colonial economy? At this point, we begin to get closer to the question of just who it is (or, more to the point, who they are) that settler colonialism strives to eliminate—and, accordingly, closer to an understanding of the relationship between settler colonialism and genocide. To stay with the Cherokee removal: when it came to it, the factor that most antagonized the Georgia state government (with the at-least-tacit support of Andrew Jackson’s federal administration) was not actually the recalcitrant savagery of which Indians were routinely accused, but the Cherokee’s unmistakable aptitude for civilization. Indeed, they and their Creek, Choctaw, Chickasaw and Seminole neighbours, who were also targeted for removal, figured revealingly as the “Five Civilized Tribes” in Euroamerican parlance. In the Cherokee’s case, two dimensions of their civility were particularly salient. They had become successful agriculturalists on the White model, with a number of them owning substantial holdings of Black slaves, and they had introduced a written national constitution that bore more than a passing resemblance to the US one. Why should genteel Georgians wish to rid themselves of such cultivated neighbours? The reason why the Cherokee’s constitution and their agricultural prowess stood out as such singular provocations to the officials and legislators of the state of Georgia—and this is attested over and over again in their public statements and correspondence—is that the Cherokee’s farms, plantations, slaves and written constitution all signified permanence. The first thing the rabble did, let us remember, was burn their houses. Brutal and murderous though the removals of the Five Civilized Tribes generally were, they did not affect each member equally. This was not simply a matter of wealth or status. Principal Cherokee chief John Ross, for example, lost not only his plantation after setting off on the Trail of Tears. On that trail, one deathly cold Little Rock, Arkansas day in February 1839, he also lost his wife, Qatie, who died after giving her blanket to a freezing child. Ross’s fortunes differed sharply from those of the principal Choctaw chief Greenwood LeFlore, who, unlike Ross, signed a removal treaty on behalf of his people, only to stay behind himself, accept US citizenship, and go on to a distinguished career in Mississippi politics. But it was not just his chiefly rank that enabled LeFlore to stay behind. Indeed, he was by no means the only one to do so. As Ronald Satz has commented, Andrew Jackson was taken by surprise when “thousands of Choctaws decided to take advantage of the allotment provisions [in the treaty LeFlore had signed] and become homesteaders and American citizens in Mississippi.” In addition to being principal chiefs, Ross and LeFlore both had White fathers and light skin. Both were wealthy, educated and well connected in Euroamerican society. Many of the thousands of compatriots who stayed behind with LeFlore lacked any of these qualifications. There was nothing special about the Choctaw to make them particularly congenial to White society—most of them got removed like Ross and the Cherokee. The reason that the remaining Choctaw were acceptable had nothing to do with their being Choctaw. On the contrary, it had to do with their not (or, at least, no longer) being Choctaw. They had become “homesteaders and American citizens.” In a word, they had become individuals. What distinguished Ross and the removing Choctaw from those who stayed behind was collectivity. Tribal land was tribally owned—tribes and private property did not mix. Indians were the original communist menace. As homesteaders, by contrast, the Choctaw who stayed became individual proprietors, each to his own, of separately allotted fragments of what had previously been the tribal estate, theirs to sell to White people if they chose to. Without the tribe, though, for all practical purposes they were no longer Indians (this is the citizenship part). Here, in essence, is assimilation’s Faustian bargain— have our settler world, but lose your Indigenous soul. Beyond any doubt, this is a kind of death. Assimilationists recognized this very clearly. On the face of it, one might not expect there to be much in common between Captain Richard Pratt, founder of the Carlisle boarding school for Indian youth and leading light of the philanthropic “Friends of the Indian” group, and General Phil Sheridan, scourge of the Plains and author of the deathless maxim, “The only good Indian is a dead Indian.” Given the training in individualism that Pratt provided at his school, however, the tribe could disappear while its members stayed behind, a metaphysical variant on the Choctaw scenario. This would offer a solution to reformers’ disquiet over the national discredit attaching to the Vanishing Indian. In a paper for the 1892 Charities and Correction Conference held in Denver, Pratt explicitly endorsed Sheridan’s maxim, “but only in this: that all the Indian there is in the race should be dead. Kill the Indian in him and save the man.”
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Patrick Wolfe, Settler Colonialism and the Elimination of the Native

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Native Languages of the Cherokee (Tsalagi)


Language Cherokee–more properly spelled Tsalagi–is an Iroquoian language with an innovative written syllabary invented by a Native Cherokee scholar. 22,000 people speak the Cherokee language today, primarily in Oklahoma and North Carolina. Though it is one of the healthier Indian languages of North America and the one in which the most literature has been published, the Cherokee language is still in imperiled condition because of government policies as late as the fifties which enforced the removal of Cherokee children from Cherokee-speaking homes, reducing the number of young Cherokees being raised