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.
I don’t want to give away the ending but the beginning words say it all: “There is no scatheless rapture.”
The main character remembers his life as an orphaned, bound boy to a merchant who trades with the Cherokee Nation pre-removal from their homelands. As he adjusts to his new situation, he learns a great many things: who to avoid or trust, how to communicate, how to show respect, how to keep his horse from being stolen, the value of each item in trade instead of money, random coins and their values, etc. He also gained an adopted Cherokee father and learned a great deal about love and loss. I’d say that really, the entire book is about value, whether it’s people, relationships, lost love, or land. It’s also about growing up and growing old, and how perspective changes with age.
Frazier twists in good humor, foreshadowing, difficult decisions, contested stories, and masterful settings with ease. It is from a white boy’s perspective, regardless of who Will spent his life with and how his views meshed with his new family, and the author makes that clear within the story.
I found a couple of surprises in the style that I am comfortable with now, but wasn’t sure about at first. Every single thing I might consider an oddity has a specific purpose and just…works.
There are no quotation marks for dialog. At first this bothered me, but I thought about it. There is an indication that somebody has started speaking, and after that, do I care? Not really. It just kind of flowed.
I didn’t notice the shift between past and present tense until the end.
Despite a few reviews criticizing details gotten wrong, etc., I didn’t care. Yes, there were a few things I’d researched extensively and could spout off a thing or two about what “actually happened”, but in these cases did the average person in the POV character’s situation know any better? Probably not. Hindsight is 20/20, and history buffs have a lot of hindsight to help them pick apart fiction books.
I’d never read a Charles Frazier book before, and I think this one is a great first! I bought it to read in tandem with the section printed in Cherokee syllabary (Tsogadu Nvdo), but I realized I couldn’t wait that long to read it, so I will turn back when I can understand more Cherokee words.
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.
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.