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Serving the Nation: Cherokee Sovereignty and Social Welfare, 1800-1907

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Well before the creation of the United States, the Cherokee people administered their own social policy—a form of what today might be called social welfare—based on matrilineal descent, egalitarian relations, kinship obligations, and communal landholding. The ethic of gadugi, or work coordinated for the social good, was at the heart of this system. Serving the Nation explores the role of such traditions in shaping the alternative social welfare system of the Cherokee Nation, as well as their influence on the U.S. government’s social policies.

Faced with removal and civil war in the early and mid-nineteenth century, the Cherokee Nation asserted its right to build institutions administered by Cherokee people, both as an affirmation of their national sovereignty and as a community imperative. The Cherokee Nation protected and defended key features of its traditional social service policy, extended social welfare protections to those deemed Cherokee according to citizenship laws, and modified its policies over time to continue fulfilling its people's expectations. Julie L. Reed examines these policies alongside public health concerns, medical practices, and legislation defining care and education for orphans, the mentally ill, the differently abled, the incarcerated, the sick, and the poor.

Changing federal and state policies and practices exacerbated divisions based on class, language, and education, and challenged the ability of Cherokees individually and collectively to meet the social welfare needs of their kin and communities. The Cherokee response led to more centralized national government solutions for upholding social welfare and justice, as well as to the continuation of older cultural norms.

Offering insights gleaned from reconsidered and overlooked historical sources, this book enhances our understanding of the history and workings of social welfare policy and services, not only in the Cherokee Nation but also in the United States.

Serving the Nation is published in cooperation with the William P. Clements Center for Southwest Studies, Southern Methodist University.

ISBN-13: 9780806152240

Publisher: University of Oklahoma Press

Publication Date: 04-29-2016

Pages: 376

Product Dimensions: 6.10(w) x 9.10(h) x 1.40(d)

Series: New Directions in Native American Studies Series #14

Julie L. Reed (Cherokee Nation) is Associate Professor of History at the Pennsylvania State University.

Read an Excerpt

Serving the Nation

Cherokee Sovereignty and Social Welfare, 1800â"1907

By Julie L. Reed


Copyright © 2016 University of Oklahoma Press
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-0-8061-5224-0


Taking Care of Our Own, 1800–1829

In February of 1806, when a smallpox outbreak struck the Chickamauga towns around present-day Chattanooga, Tennessee, Cherokees Pathkiller, John Lowery, and intermarried white trader Daniel Ross asked U.S. agent to the Cherokees Return J. Meigs to "procure some of the cowpox" and obtain the services of a local doctor to administer the inoculations. When Dr. McNeil of Maryville, Tennessee, arrived in the Cherokee Nation, however, he put forward a less-than-favorable assessment of the cowpox vaccination, which was relatively new. Instead, he offered to provide smallpox variolation, an older technique, which involved lancing the pustules of a smallpox-inflicted patient and then placing the infected material in the arm of a healthy person. The community rejected the treatment and sent McNeil away.

As the fledgling United States extended its civilization policy and dangled the possibility of "citizenship" just out of reach of Indian people, Cherokees chose to debate social and public health policy internally as community rules dictated. These debates occurred as U.S. officials and citizens grappled with the Enlightenment beliefs shared by many of the founding fathers suggesting that Indians could be equal in all things. Cherokees further had to contend with growing romantic nationalism that espoused a racial and intellectual superiority of Euro-Americans relative to all people of color. The latter movement denied the intellectual equality of Cherokees and African Americans. The former placed a series of moral, intellectual, gender, and religious roadblocks on the road to citizenship. U.S. representatives, particularly those most covetous of Indian-controlled resources in the South, backed away from the civilization policy, which at least in principle conceived of the possibility of Indian equality in the United States, and moved toward removal policy, or what today would be termed "ethnic cleansing."

This chapter explores a moment when federal policy held out the future possibility of Cherokee peoples' full inclusion in the United States. However, everyday U.S. settlers and state governments made clear what the prevailing attitudes and interactions that governed Indian-white relations would entail. Professionals like Dr. McNeil would flaunt their perceived cultural, racial, and intellectual superiority over Cherokee people and engage in price gouging to provide the social provisions that community ethics required Cherokee people provide for one another. Most Cherokee people never seriously considered second-class citizenship in the United States; instead, they debated and adjusted their social policy to determine how best to care for one another in an altered international landscape.

The community's rationale for rejecting treatment, outlined in several follow-up letters to the agent, provides insight into the debates waged within the community during this transitional period in federal policy. In a subsequent letter, Cherokee local chiefs The Glass, Dick Justice, and John Bogs, writing through interpreter Charles Hicks, who would later serve as second chief, asked the agent to pay the doctor's $150 fee and "charge it to the nation." The letter stated that the chiefs "had not expected to see the doct[o]r here, as [they] had never sent for one." As the letter makes clear, neither Pathkiller, nor Lowery, nor Ross shared their request, nor did they seek the consent of the other local chiefs before making a unilateral decision to secure medical services. The Glass, Justice, and Bogs described Cherokee people's resistance to the services offered by Dr. McNeil not as arising from suspicion of new treatment but "owing to the impossibility of the patients attending to the doctor's directions."

In a follow-up letter, Daniel Ross offered additional reasons that led the community to decline McNeil's services. Ross voiced his personal disagreement with Dr. McNeil's views on cowpox vaccination, a technique that Edward Jenner had developed in Britain and that Harvard professor Benjamin Waterhouse and Thomas Jefferson had endorsed. The inoculation required an incision to be made in the arm and infected material from cowpox placed in the incision and covered. Jenner's "Instructions for Vaccine Inoculation," published in England in 1801 and in Philadelphia in 1807, described an eighteen-day process that required keeping the vaccination site open to the air, yet clean. Both Waterhouse and Jenner promoted a vaccination process burdensome to those who worked and spent a significant amount of time outdoors, as Cherokee people did. If Dr. McNeil had outlined a similar treatment, Cherokee people might have rejected it for quite pragmatic reasons.

Ross asked the agent to locate and acquire the cowpox vaccine as Pathkiller had originally requested. Even as Ross offered legitimate reasons for the community to refuse vaccination, he distanced himself from the community's decision. By doing this, he suggested that people who failed to accept the services of doctors or abide by their instructions (even if the instructions were at odds with the reality of one's condition) were irrational.

Ross also cited the unreasonable $150 charge for services. The demand of set fees by professional doctors for medical services provided was a relatively new concept, even for U.S. citizens. For Cherokee people, charging fees for services stood in direct opposition to the practices of local adonisgi, local healers who diagnosed and treated individual physical and spiritual conditions and carried out community ceremonies. They expected no compensation for fulfilling a community obligation, though Cherokee people offered generous gifts ranging from agricultural products, baskets, jewelry, pigs, or horses in gratitude for their aid. This monetary expense for McNeil's medical services compounded the view that treatment was more costly than bypassing vaccination.

If one considers Ross's and the local chiefs' letters in their entirety, the community offered a rational and diverse critique of the public health services secured by the agent and offered by Dr. McNiel. The local chiefs rejected the treatment based on the paternalism exercised by Ross, Lowery, and Pathkiller, who sought services without informing the community. The community "had never sent for [a doctor]." The three men made a public health decision without the rest of the community's consultation and consent. As even Ross acknowledged, the doctor charged unreasonable fees. Finally, Dr. McNeil was not providing the services Pathkiller had specifically requested, and "some of the chiefs did not appear willing to introduce the usual mode of [i]noculation," the usual mode being smallpox vaccination.

In light of hardening racial attitudes in the South, U.S. politicians advertised removal as a more humane and economical answer to the violence and border skirmishes that already raged between tribes and settlers. This shift in policy and the events it triggered led Cherokee people to debate strategies to defend their continued ability to fulfill their social service obligations to one another; it is these events and the corresponding debates and Cherokee policies enacted that this chapter will focus on. The decision to variolate or vaccinate paled in comparison to the social welfare emergencies potentially created by the loss of Cherokee homelands.

Nevertheless, public health concerns and the louder removal debates that would physically and politically divide the Nation derived from the same central question facing Cherokee people. Who has the responsibility, the rights, and the ability to assume care for others? Within a traditional social service system, the community's spiritual, economic, and social health and well-being trumped an individual's personal autonomy. Community decisions came about through consensus building, not the acts of a small, consolidated group of men assuming the right to speak for all. As Daniel Ross explained to Agent Meigs, he did not think it "proper" to introduce variolation "without [the local chiefs'] approbation."

From 1800 to 1829, Cherokee people moved from a nation made up of autonomous towns governed by the rules of kinship and connected together through seven matrilineal clans to a constitutional republic comprised of citizens operating under a constitution that administered pensions from a national treasury. The decisions that led to institutionalized centralization occurred in tandem with the shift in U.S. policy. This chapter traces the social protections and provisions that federal officials, state governments, and the centralized Cherokee nation presented to Cherokee people during this period and the choices different groups of Cherokees made in response. As demonstrated by numerous scholars, class differences, racial demarcations, and political schisms informed the decisions that groups pursued. However, different means did not imply different ends. As Cherokee society and families underwent uneven changes, all Cherokee people remained committed to fulfilling their social obligations to their families and kin. However, the changes taking place meant that not all Cherokees had the same social protections and provisions available to them within or outside the Nation; this led families to choose options that sometimes undercut the social provisions and protections available to other Cherokee people.

As the vaccination/variolation debate illustrates, Cherokee people showed an openness to new medical concepts, but remained reluctant to abandon their own medical practices completely. Even though John Lowery, Pathkiller, and Daniel Ross clearly embraced the services of medical doctors, the majority of Cherokees continued to seek the services of local adonisgi for treatment. Adonisgi approached illness and its treatment holistically. Physical and psychological illnesses were not mutually exclusive and one could manifest itself as the other. Regardless of how symptoms manifested, adonisgi sought to restore balance, and as a result community ceremonies and medical treatments included similar components. Both included medicinal remedies and purification rituals. Adonisgi identified young people who proved particularly adept at skills and ceremonies necessary for apprenticeships. Healers emanated from the community and proved their competence over long periods of time. Their position differed greatly from that of outsiders like Dr. McNeil, who had little medical authority among community members when he arrived to administer the smallpox vaccination in 1806.

For Cherokee people, using the kinepox (cowpox) vaccination, a treatment derived from an illness caused by animals, probably made far more cosmological sense than treating a disease with the disease. Cherokee cosmology readily accepted a world where animals could aid or hinder the lives of humans.

Within the community, missionaries introduced Euro-American medicine to Cherokee people and offered alternative ideas about psychic and physical illness and treatment. Cherokee people continued to apply traditional remedies while seeking additional sources of healing power. In 1810, for example, the paternal uncle of Tlaneneh, a student at the Moravian Springplace Mission, asked the missionaries for medicine for Tlaneneh's father Suakee. Despite their reluctance to provide medicine when they were unable to examine the patient "because he seemed already to be in the hands of an Indian doctor," the missionaries decided that they "could not refuse since he was our friend." Three days later, the missionaries reported that Suakee was on his way to recovery. In 1814, Dawzizi, another pupil at the Springplace Mission, returned to school after an absence due to illness. Dawzizi reported to his teachers that "an old Indian doctor had scratched his whole body [with a saw-shaped lower jaw of a fish] and rubbed it with the juice of certain herbs. ... The doctor extracted a little horn of blood from his forehead and back of his head, which provided him with the desired proof against headaches." The process described bore remarkable resemblance to the preparation for traditional ball play, which the missionaries discouraged. It is possible that Dawzizi misrepresented his absence, but it is equally possible that he described receiving "medicine" before the ritual cycle of ball play and the missionaries misunderstood his meaning. It is also possible that a healer used scratching as a means to administer medicine directly to Dawzizi's blood and the horn of blood was an attempt to draw out impurities causing his affliction.

Most missionaries had little formal training as physicians, but their position required them to fill many roles. Perhaps the first recognized Euro-American physician to live in the Cherokee Nation was Congregationalist missionary Elizur Butler, who had studied medicine, anatomy, diseases, and surgery under another physician, not unlike the training of Cherokee medicine men. He arrived in the Nation in 1820. Unlike Dr. McNeil, missionaries lived in the community, were willing to defer to the care of traditional healers, based their actions on a community ethic, and provided ceremonies, albeit in the form of Christian prayers, with medicinal herbs. During the first three decades of the nineteenth century, between the medical services offered by missionaries and the continued access to traditional healers, most Cherokee people neither desired nor required national officials to institute services for individual and family health matters.

Just as community members integrated some aspects of Euro-American medicine and rejected others, three prominent Cherokee leaders — John Ross, Sequoyah, and The Ridge — identified with and adapted the elements of the civilization policy that proved useful for them even as they discarded others. Ross, Ridge, and Sequoyah all rose to prominence because they embodied a mix of traditional Cherokee values and "civilized" skills and abilities. All three lived in close proximity to the U.S. Indian agent and benefitted from institutional services provided by the agency. All three came of age in an era of nation building and anomie, and over time they came to represent the growing class divides evident in the Nation. Also, they each benefitted from the increasing influence and official political authority that men were acquiring within and outside the Nation.

John Ross, future principal chief of the Cherokee Nation, was born a member of the Bird clan in 1790 near Turkey Town on the Coosa River, near present-day Center, Alabama. His mother was Mollie McDonald, a Cherokee and the daughter of Anne Shorey and the granddaughter of Ghigooie. His father was the white trader Daniel Ross, a Scottish immigrant who was "left an orphan" in Baltimore, Maryland. While working as a trader, Daniel Ross met McDonald, whose father was also a trader among the Cherokees. John Ross received an English education that surpassed that of most U.S. citizens of his day. His father employed private tutors for him, and later he attended an academy in Tennessee. He owned stores and operated ferry crossings, including Ross's Landing, in present-day Chattanooga. With the profits from these businesses, Ross established a plantation in 1827, near what is today Rome, Georgia. The plantation was made possible by the labor of enslaved people, an endeavor viewed by other elite southern whites as the most civilized and profitable pursuit for men.

Sequoyah and The Ridge never spoke English and had very different educational experiences from Ross's. Sequoyah's childhood combined many elements of traditional matrilineal Cherokee life with features that accompanied living in close proximity to Euro-Americans. A member of the Red Paint clan, he was born in approximately 1767 and was raised by his Cherokee mother, Wuh teh. He grew up in the Tuskegee community of the Overhill Towns along the banks of the Little Tennessee River, near what is today Vonore, Tennessee. His father's identity is debatable and within a traditional matrilineal Cherokee worldview not relevant in determining kin ties. His mother operated a trading post and had a small farm. Like many Cherokee women, she stepped forward as the rightful vendor of the products of her agricultural labor and the rightful caregiver and guardian to her child. Sequoyah aided his mother on her farm. As he grew older, he developed skills as a silversmith and a blacksmith, two skills encouraged by the civilization policy, and he married and became a father.

Rather than invest in English-language pursuits, Sequoyah devised a system of writing for the Cherokee language brought into use during the second decade of the nineteenth century. He believed that innovation could come from within the Nation. Additionally, a written language afforded the Cherokees advantages that they otherwise lacked.

Sequoyah sequestered himself away for close to a year to devise the syllabary at the expense of his familial and community obligations. Rumors spread that he was possibly engaged in witchcraft. Frustrated with Sequoyah's failure to fulfill family and community obligations, his wife threw early drafts of his invention into a fire. Many people were aware of Sequoyah's efforts and likely discounted the possibility that he was engaged in witchcraft, but the rumors and his wife's frustration both originated because he isolated himself from his community and failed to fulfill his obligations.


Excerpted from Serving the Nation by Julie L. Reed. Copyright © 2016 University of Oklahoma Press. Excerpted by permission of UNIVERSITY OF OKLAHOMA PRESS.
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Table of Contents

List of Illustrations ix

Acknowledgments xi

A Note on Language xvii

Introduction 3

1 Taking Care of Our Own, 1800-1829 23

2 The Crises of the Removal Era, 1830-1860 60

3 The Civil War and Reconstruction Treaty, 1860-1868 91

4 Strengthening Our Institutions, 1869-1877 115

5 Institutional Lives, 1877-1880 144

6 "We Will Solve the Indian Problem," 1880-1893 196

7 Talking Back to Our Civilized Nation, 1893-1898 229

8 Social Services and Tribal Sovereignty, 1898-1907 253

Conclusion 268

Epilogue 273

Notes 279

Bibliography 323

Index 343