What do you think of when you hear the word? If you are a member of any other tribal nation you may laugh upon hearing the word. It may make you think of blonde-haired, blue-eyed “Indians” wearing turkey feathers at powwows. It may make you think of people asking you “Are you Indian?” and when you answer yes they reply that their great-great-great-grandma was a real “Cherokee princess.”
It’s not just a joke, I’ve actually heard it before. I myself don’t think I have ever met someone who was black, white, or other, that didn’t claim to have some distant Cherokee ancestor. Growing up in the South, I would hear from the black folks the “I’m part Indian, that’s why I got ‘good hair'” legend. And of course the white people would boast about having high cheek bones and being tall due to their “Cherokee princess” ancestor.
It’s a trip to me that the Cherokee people can be so “loved” and claimed and yet so hated at the same time by other Indians. Many of the tribes out west say that the Cherokees are “fake Indians” or “paper Indians” because they have been mixing with the whites since the 1500s and have so many mixed-bloods in the tribe. Of course on the other side of things you have the non-Indians who regard the Cherokees as “magical” or “spiritual” and mythical like a leprechaun or something.
Here is where I stand on the subject basically: If you are going to claim Cherokee ancestry at least try to learn the cultural heritage of the people. Don’t go out and buy a dreamcatcher and a turkey feather warbonnet and go on websites and message boards saying “Mitakuye Oyasin” to everybody (which is Lakota, not Cherokee) and acting like some wise “medicine man” or how you think a “real Injun” would act. You look foolish.
Don’t put on some Boy Scout-made “regalia” and go to a powwow making up your own “dance style” and looking like an idiot. If you want to learn, then learn things the right way. If I had a dime for every time someone told me they were “part” Indian I would be living in a mansion right now.
Like I said before, and many other people have preached this until they are blue in the face too, Indians don’t come in “parts.” You are either an Indian or you are not. If you tell me you are “part” Indian I want to know some things. Are you enrolled with the tribe, or at least knowledgeable about your Native ancestry through some kind of documentation? Where are your Indian ancestors from? Do you know the language? Are you trying to learn? What about your people’s history and culture? The stories? If you give yourself a colorful “Indian name”, and grasp onto a group of New Age ‘medicine men’ you are disqualifying yourself from anyone taking you seriously regardless of who your ancestors were. Many of the people who fall under this category are forming fake “tribes” seeking government recognition and making real documented descendants look bad. The Cherokee Nation of Oklahoma even formed a “fraudulent tribes task force” for confronting people seeking to form tribal entities claiming Cherokee heritage. There is always the option to learn who you are without creating something that isn’t accurate and is offensive and dishonorable to your ancestors.