A few people have asked if I had any resources regarding the treaties between Native American (or First Nation) nations and the English, French, Spanish, and U.S. Governments. People want to understand what’s going on regarding land today from a historical context. I am not a historian, but I love to read, so I made this list of books that I found helpful. I also think it’s important to study issues from the inside out, and not only from dominant culture looking in. In the words of Dragging Canoe from 1775:
“Whole nations have melted away in our presence like balls of snow before the sun, and have scarcely left their names behind except as imperfectly recorded by their enemies and destroyers.”
Let’s dive in! The plan is to go from a broad understanding to a more specific area of study (Cherokee Nation, 1700s-1800s), and so get more of a first-hand perspective. This is not an exhaustive list and is mostly based on history because that is my area of study right now. Please remember that Native Nations are very much alive today and that issues over land and culture continue for each Nation. Let us know of more modern resources AND books regarding other nations in the comments!
Not every area had a courthouse, so wait times for justice were long, if justice came at all. Sometimes people didn’t agree with the judge. So what did people do when they didn’t have or trust the law? They made their own vigilante justice group.
This is my part in the Historical Writer’s Forum summer blog hop on momentous events. I think this blog concludes a momentous year after January of 1836 when certain settlements became counties and transitioned to the court system. If you want to know why I chose this topic in relation to my family saga series, scroll all the way down.
Most who knew Boudinot described him as a sensitive (in a good way) and caring man. Many later described him as a traitor to his nation. After reading this collection of writings, along with Perdu’s notes, I see that he had simply lost touch, if he even had it, with the average citizen of the Cherokee Nation.
Cherokee Editor: The Writings of Elias Boudinot, edited by Theda Perdu
He was born as “Buck” Watie in Oothcaloga (present-day Calhoun) Georgia. Those first years went by very different from his father’s growing up years. The Watie family departed from matrilineal traditions by using his father’s name, and lived and worked very individualistic lives instead of collective lives traditionalists cherished. He and his cousins John and Nancy Ridge attended a mission school, and further distanced themselves from traditions.
Not long after the first mission school, he met a man who impressed him very much, Continental Congressman Elias Boudinot. The elder Boudinot was also the American Bible Society president and pushed the theory that American Indians were one of the lost tribes of Isreal. Buck Watie took Boudinot’s name, not an uncommon practice of the day.
Boudinot joined people of many tribes and nations from all around the world and attended the Foreign Mission School in Cornwall, CT. He met his first wife and caused a great stir about marrying out of his race, to point of death threats and his fiance being burned in effigy by her own brother. He concluded that no amount of assimilation would make his nation equal in the eyes of the whites he thought he could trust.
I wanted to find a suitable replacement for Big Brother’s “name”. The term “Big Brother” has many unneeded connotations exclusive to TV show names, political statements, etc. He just needs to be a protective, though grumpy, older brother.
He will not give his actual name because he doesn’t want people, particularly ones he doesn’t like, to use it. That would disrespectful and sort of embarrassing for him. I began to put my feelers out for a new term that encompasses who he is and what he does.
Learn a new language as research? Crazy lady! I decided to learn Tsalagi/Cherokee over the next five years. Logical, since I have [almost] nobody with whom to speak this new language? No! But I have found a way to work it in and have about a week left of syllabary learning. Then it is on to the language basics.
I want to make a believable and respectful representation of people in my novel’s time period
By the late 1820’s, after George Guess (or George Gist/Sequoya) developed the Cherokee Syllabary, most of the Nation read and wrote this language. It was important to read the news and communicate at that time. Laws and treaties were being made without them being able to verify any information. At least with this written language, they could have something with which to create and preserve their own government.
I have some Cherokee characters in my series, but most are only half Native. Given the time period and circumstances, they experience a rapid loss in culture and language. What that means for me is that I need to explore what this loss entails and how to present it accurately and with respect. History books are not enough. The internet is not enough. Cherokee/English dictionaries will have me using any one of seven words for the same object, and I know I am in deep you-know-what if I choose the wrong one.
Language is the way into culture, forgotten or otherwise
I am encountering countless things every day that enrich my characters and plot, and understanding of respect actually means (it’s not the same across the board!)
I realized while researching words, meanings, traditions, etc. that some concepts in English do not exist in other languages. Take for example, “goodbye.” English uses this often. “Goodbye” for early Cherokee was too final. They would rather have said the equivalent of “be strong” or “let us see each other again.”
Another example is Aniyvwiya, or the Real People/Principal People. This is how the people used to refer to themselves. Since the nation was matrilineal, only people with Cherokee mothers were Aniyvwiya. If I had not dived right into the language, I would have used it incorrectly. Half of my characters do not have Cherokee mothers.
Even though early culture was fairly documented by both English and Cherokee speakers, there are few ways to accurately experience it halfway across the country in the 21st century. In this case, the internet, library, and databases have been beneficial to connect with material and native speakers involved in history. Not every Native American knows exactly what happened 150 years ago. Do I know what happened 150 years ago in Hungary? Nope! To put that burden on a friend or stranger just because they are Native, is unfair.
So far I have learned enough to make significant changes in my Book One narrative, family dynamics being the most changed. David and Sarah are part of a broken and blended family and they live their early years on the fringes of a dying culture (to them. Cherokee culture is alive and well today!). Having a white mother means more than being a little confused. Since bloodlines were carried through mothers, they had no clan membership. No clan membership means no protection, at least not the depth they will need.
Languages are disappearing
Very few people speak the dialect I am learning, and yes, maybe I will have to learn another to actually talk with people, but it is better than it dying out. A dialect of this language has already died. *Update! I’m switching to Oklahoma dialect with an author’s note.
Language learning is important for spelling accuracy
Not only am I learning to accurately form an image of what their lives were like, I am not going to copy and paste incorrect words into my story. More on that in my upcoming post: Chasing Aginili.
To follow my progress each weak, check out my Instagram.
Before you go
It is so important that people realize Cherokee language and culture are alive today! I encourage people to see out resources to learn about current and historical events from Cherokee perspective. Be aware also that there are and were varied politics within the Nation, so one piece of literature may not represent the entire way of thinking.
We often focus on our characters’ weakness. This is fine because everyone has a weakness and that makes them relatable, but what if we focus on their strengths? We get more defined characters. According to psychologist Don Clifton, each strength, when used at the wrong time or inappropriately, can be seen by others as a weakness.
If we can make the over-application of character strengths to work in our writerly favor, we have crafted better characters
Example: Sally has a commanding strength. This is great in tight situations where somebody needs to take charge. People listen to her when the going gets tough. It’s her best strength so it comes natural, and she sometimes uses it when she doesn’t need to. When she tells people what to do in casual situations, they think she is bossy.
Often, a person can have strengths that counteract each other or fight for dominance
This photo is from the Oklahoma Historical Society
I don’t often share themes from my stories but I will say this: they boil my blood, and they show me perseverance.
Today I had to brush up on my John Ross timeline. Can you imagine spending your life and energy in Washington to keep your people in their homes, and coming back to find that your own house has been taken? Given away, actually. Everything you built, every memory, signed away by people not authorized to speak for an entire nation. It is in somebody else’s hands and there is nothing you can do to get it back. None of the 17,000 people who backed your petition are of any consequence.
How did this come to be? Why is this important? WHO IS THIS GUY? If one is not familiar with the Cherokee Nation’s struggle, that person is probably thoroughly confused by now. Here is some background information. The entire story is so much more complex than what I have written here, and I encourage each reader to follow the links at the end of this post and also do more research.
If you spend a lot of time in writers’ groups, chances are you’ve seen this scenario. A poor, unsuspecting newbie asks the dreaded question:
“I got an offer from a publisher but not sure I can afford it! What should I do?”
Said unsuspecting newbie gets buried in proverbial excrement and feels shamed they don’t know about the difference between vanity, hybrid, and traditional publishers.
Thankfully I had spent enough time lurking in the groups to know a traditional publisher doesn’t ask for money, and a vanity press is one an author pays to get their book “published”. I was able to avoid the onslaught of “run away!” remarks.
As well-versed as I thought I was, I still hit a wall on the definition of a hybrid press. Is publishing not as black and white as I thought? If a hybrid is not as suspicious, what do they offer that a vanity press does not? I set to find out the difference between all these options.