My Tribe is a small tribe, around 500 to date, and much of that has come from 2 tribal splits since the onset of our reformation in 1896, following the Trail of Tears..Our numbers would have been over 2000 and growing had the splits not happened. Our first Chief was tasked with beginning to reconstruct a scattered band of Natives who were called the “stick people” owing to one very large pile of sticks that served as a hiding spot for Indians who ran away during that long journey. There are other legends surrounding “stick indians” but they are unconnected to our tribe ( as far as we know). My brother has been involved with our tribe for over a decade and has even written a book regarding our history which is way more than i have ever done.He has been and remains very dedicated.
I officially joined the tribe in 2016 at my his urging. At the time he had risen up to the level of tribal historian. Today, he is the chairman ( which, in american politics would mean one step below the chief, but this is not so in most tribal spheres). It is more like the chief’s right hand man or go between. In fact, the Chief himself really holds very little responsibility as far as the laws are concerned. He is only allowed to vote in the case of a tie. But, i digress.
In the first year or two i was tasked with learning and then teaching basic Cherokee to our citizens. We are NOT Cherokee , per say, although some citizens do have Cherokee blood.But we had no language of our own, it was a cool pass time and I learned a lot. Cherokee is the first written Native American language that has an official form, or syllabary, It consists of 86 symbols.
“Sequoyah was one of the most influential figures in Cherokee history. He created the Cherokee Syllabary, a written form of the Cherokee language. The syllabary allowed literacy and printing to flourish in the Cherokee Nation in the early 19th century and remains in use today.Sequoyah completed his syllabary around 1821. When it was adopted by the Cherokee Nation, they became the first Native Americans to have their own alphabet and writing system.”- Wikipedia
The language is difficult to learn as there are no root words from Latin or European languages. It also does not use pronouns or articles, such as “he”, “she”, “it”, “the”,” an”, or “a” Nothing needs to be “qualified”.A few of our citizens participated, but interest waned after they learned a few common phrases and eventually i gave up trying to encourage learning, but continued studying on my own. I lost interest after about two years. I admit also to somewhat of a disinterest in my heritage for most of my life owing to generalized labeling and misguided beliefs. One such belief held by many is that they are descendants of a “Cherokee Princess”. FYI- there is no such thing.Another being that one is “part Cherokee”- usually not true as DNA does not lie. I still do not understand why that particular tribe is always the go-to. It’s not even the largest Native American Nation. That honor belongs to the Navajo.
In 2021, I was appointed Medicine Woman. This is not an elected position like the Chief, Chairman, vice Chairman, Secretary or Treasurer. It is one of several appointed positions that sit on council. Appointed offices are generalized in nature and do not hold the weight of elected ones. Still, we have responsibilities, are expected to vote and attend many meetings. If I am being honest, I believe my position holds the least responsibility, which is initially why I took it. I wanted to be helpful, and the seat had been open for a number of years while we had an alternative- a Chaplain, who has since retired. I figured since i was a nurse, and the Chairmans sister, i might as well contribute what little i could.My job description includes caring for the health of our citizens ( mostly in a spiritual aspect, but this does carry over into both traditional and modern medicine).
In the first few months, i was given permission to write and post articles on healing. I titled these “Good Medicine Chronicles”. They took a good deal of time and research, in addition to writing , editing and providing reliable resources.Online research is discouraged in general as a major source of information. I believe I wrote a total of 6 lengthy articles on common ailments with both traditional, alternative and modern treatments. After a while this became tedious, generated little response, and I got bored with the whole thing.
I attended required meetings which for many years were held via Facebook threads. They were also pretty boring. But finally, last January we began using Zoom which has made a huge difference ( both good and bad). Eventually, i started paying attention and learning about our constitution and bylaws, as well as various directives, proposals, and the decades of struggle for recognition as well as land acqusition. These things are way more complex than most understand. Getting county recognition comes first and we are currently recognized in 26 counties, 2 cities and by the American Apolistic Church- all within our home state of Kentucky, USA. However, it isnt simply a matter of getting “enough” counties, nor is it a certain amount of “time” as a tribe. It isnt even relative to blood %. At the time i enrolled, our tribe required DNA testing along with pedigree and documentation. There are particular markers that are present in our blood that links us to specific ancestors. At some point the tribe voted to stop requiring the DNA testing, because basically it was decided that this was a government construct and legitimacy in most federally recognized tribes is not required for membership for anything other than government subsidies.There is also an inconsistency between the U.S. Government requires and the BIA( Bureau of Indian Affairs) does, not to mention various tribal nation requirements.All require ancestral documentation , however. In other words, if you are applying just to get free money from the US Government you need meet a pretty high % and/or belong to a state or federally recognized tribe.
“What percentage Native American do you have to be to get benefits? Most tribes require a specific percentage of Native “blood,” called blood quantum, in addition to being able to document which tribal member you descend from. Some tribes require as much as 25% Native heritage, and most require at least 1/16th Native heritage, which is one great-great grandparent.”- what-benefits.com
This isnt even the tip of the ice berg, but again, i digress.
This past year, as i attended the zoom meetings it became obvious to me that there was a very noticeable lack of respect given to our female council members .At first it just seemed more like dismissals, interruptions and patronizing. But at one meeting in particular, a male member lashed out in a verbal tirade towards a female for absolutely no real reason. Nothing was done to stop him, and he was not reprimanded or disciplined. It was then that my purpose was clear. Women have always be a marginalized faction, Native women even more so. The sheer magnitude of unreported murders of our women and children is unconscionable. And it all started with an ignorance, allowance and continued disrespect and dehumanization of the female as a whole. I reached out to another female council member and we decided to form a women’s committee.
Our fight began immediately and in no uncertain terms. If i wrote down everything we’ve had to deal with and overcome in just 7 months, you would be truly shaking your head .For starters, there was opposition to the committee creating “division” in the tribe. One council member even boldly stated “Special interest groups are a nothing but a nuisance! They just wanna take over everything!” another stated “First a Women’s group and where does it end? Are we gonna have a group for people who live in this area or that? What about a group for (pet owners)? This is ridiculous and we don’t have time for it.” In the end we were able to convince a required 2/3 majority that a committee for Tribal Women’s Health, Healing and Civil Rights ( the name we adopted) would be beneficial to the entire tribe, especially since 47% of our citizens were indeed women. The final amended motion required us “discussion on the inclusion of transgender people”- which was crazy as we had already explained several times that we would not discriminate against anyone and all were welcome. But rather than continue nitpicking, we agreed and our committee was born.
Since then the fight to have our own Logo for charity drives and letterheads has been the #1 topic of conflict. Initially , we wanted it to bring unity and identity to our members and figured this would not have be a big deal.How wrong we were. The battle ensued a total of 6 months. the culmination came when i decided to forge ahead despite all opposition and hold a fundraiser for an organization that provides relief for period poverty in Native American communities. Over night i created a hoodie and a mug with our logo, created an account with 2 online suppliers, and posted the fundraiser the next day. Of course all hell broke loose.I was called selfish and irresponsible. I was questioned, accused, berated and literally threatened. One female council member ( who decided she wanted no part of our committee) actually screamed at me during a meeting that i was “destroying the whole tribe”. Another council member publicly accused me of copyright infringement and said i was committing a very serious crime.None of this was true , of course. I had done my homework, and there was literally nothing anyone could do to stop me.The fundraiser was a great success and we won the right to use our logo at this past Decembers council meeting.
Additionally we have drafted a Resolution of Civility- which addresses the expected treatment of our tribal citizens at all times, most especially during meetings.This was introduced in August 2022 and has also created debate and opposition. However, we are determined to move forward.
At the moment there are many serious matters before us as council to deal with and everything that has to go to council will be held in abeyance. The matters at hand are time consuming and complex, with lots of meetings and expected conflict. I am dreading all of it as it will be in addition to any committee work.
The whole point of this is that it starts with one person. The person who is willing to break rules, take risks, and be strong enough to look the devil(s) in the eye and not blink. It takes passion, dedication and perseverance. But it has been oh-so-worth-it. Our committee is gaining more members each month and has generated a renewed sense of identity and confidence among previously silent tribal sisters. We just held our first meet and greet, and have many plans for education, spiritual retreats and other paths to enriched vitality and recognition of the unique contributions our ladies can offer to the tribe. Women are becoming more active and speaking out when they need to rather than maintaining a passive role. There is a growing understanding of how much their participation will enhance not only the tribe itself, but the establishment of female role models for our children and future generations. My mission is far reaching, and some days seems impossible. But the rewards are greater than the obstacles.
My friends, i urge you to find your souls purpose, and run with it for all you got. Hold on to it with such veracity that no monster, no mountain, and no evil protagonist can shake you. Use those clenched fists to make a path for those who follow, and allow no quarter for those who would suppress others, would discriminate, humiliate or take advantage of the disadvantaged or weak.
I could have caved. The pressure was immense, the outcome not guaranteed ( and still isnt). I could have been thrown off the board or even out of the tribe. But worse than any of that would be to sit back and do nothing. To allow disrespect to escalate and thrive.To desert my sisters and simply hope it would go away.
Whatever your fears, remember this….
Nothing has ever changed if someone wasn’t willing to break the rules.