Wednesday, January 22, 2014

My Cherokee Connection

My great-great-great grandmother was Cherokee. 100% through and through.

For years I have wondered what to do with this information. Can I really claim this ancestry as a part of me?

From the time I was very young--before I even knew of my Cherokee connection--I held a strong affinity for Native Americans. I poured over their photographs held in timeless, old bound books I found in libraries, wishing at times, I could somehow seep into the pages. I read their stories told in childhood storybooks. And I admired their reverence for nature, and the inherent respect they held for taking care of the land. Sure, they may have fought with other tribes from time to time -- they are human, after all -- but they seemed to carve out a meaningful existence within their environment and a lived with a reverent respect for higher beings and for each other. I liked that.

It wasn't until I was in college that I found out I actually had Native American genes running through my blood; and when I learned this information, I felt guilty. After all, the other European ancestry that I carry along with me was at least in some way or another responsible for the eradication of entire Native American cultures from our country. I didn't feel worthy to hold such a connection.

A Cherokee Rose
Now that I'm older, I feel an overwhelming sense of curiosity about my Cherokee grandmother. What was she like? What made her turn back from the Trail of Tears and settle down and marry a man from Tennessee? Because according to family stories, she actually was a part of the Trail of Tears relocation. Did she bring other family members back to Tennessee with her? Did she leave the Trail to go back to others who had somehow been left behind? Did she even leave her Cherokee nation willfully and the new "home" to which it was being forced to move to? Whatever her journey, I'm sure that the path she took wasn't without loss or some kind of another, and once again that makes me feel sad. Yet, she did stay with our family. Her family, in order to farm in the mountains of Tennessee. And she had many children. The fact that some of those children went on to fight with the Union army in the Civil War leads me to believe that some of her values and insights might have had an effect on their decision on which side to stand. After all, Tennessee was part of the Confederacy. The sons that joined the war most certainly saw and knew battle before they even got a taste of it, because most of the Civil War battles took place in Tennessee, second only to Virginia. So, it wasn't like they didn't know what they were getting into. Yet, those sons of a Cherokee mother choose to fight against those who held slaves--people who were forced from their homelands, against their will. They chose to fight to help ensure the freedom of a culture that was different from their own. For this, I feel grateful. And I admire their bravery.

Someday I hope to have a clearer understanding of my Cherokee heritage and the woman who so far, has left only a few discernible footprints that are few and far between. 

If you'd like to learn a bit more about Cherokee history and the Trail of Tears, go here. It's an easy site to get around. Thank you for visiting!

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