“Before We Were Citizens”, a poem by an Okwataga descendant

by Sep 12, 2019OPINIONS


By Maleaha Brings Plenty

{Note: Ms. Brings Plenty, a member of the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians and a sophomore at the University of Iowa, is a descendant of Okwataga (1800-1900) and was asked by the Museum of the Cherokee Indian to write a poem regarding him.}


Removal and heartbreak weighed heavily on my mother’s heart

My family hid in the mountains while others were not as fortunate

Fortune is a subjective concept

We got to stay on our homelands when others could not

However, the people who removed us got to sit and laugh from their mansions

They adored the sight of the blood of those they deemed below them

Maybe that’s why 1861 was an eventful year for the country


The Confederacy seemed like a statement

A statement against the government that taught us how to hate

The glittering gold blinded us when we put on those uniforms

Eventually, I switched my uniform for that of blue

I fought for the country that sought to destroy us

Despite the overt aggression from those in charge

I wore the uniform of those who made it their mission to eradicate us

Either way I was fighting for a government that never wanted us to win

That was a hard fact I had to carry with me for decades to come


“Stalk, pursue, and kill”

That was how people would write about the Cherokees during wartime

We had mastered the art of hunting and killing

The savagery the government wanted to suffocate

Was what made us infamous decades later

Their secret weapon didn’t have the title of being American

We created the land they stained with blood


I lived through many terrible circumstances

Our people were removed from the only land we knew

11,000 years were stripped away from my relatives

I fought in the war that tore the country in half

I died before Native people were considered citizens

We did a lot for this country for many decades

1924 was the year we finally got the title we deserved

I’ve always thought American was a beautiful adjective

I wish I could have used it to describe myself