COMMENTARY: What’s in a name? We should be the Eastern Cherokee Nation

by Jul 16, 2022OPINIONS0 comments


Birdtown Community


Allow me to propose an idea…I’ve thought a lot about the history of our Tribe and our joint history with the other two Cherokee Tribes and feel like the name that we ultimately adopted (Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians) is not truly who we are.

For instance, think about this…would we ever call North Korea, the northern Band of Korea? Or how would South Carolina like to be called the Southern Band of Carolina? Or West Virginia be called the Western Band of Virginia? And I could go on….but the point is, I think our name does not give us the proper recognition of who we are. We are Cherokee and we are our own Nation. We are not a “band” of the Cherokee Nation.  We are, in fact, the “Eastern Cherokee Nation”.

I remember, as a child, we all used to refer to our Cherokee brothers and sisters in Oklahoma as the Western Cherokee. And you can find many references in historical accounts to the Cherokee Nation – West; and also to the Cherokee Nation – East.

In the late 1800s the Western Cherokee’s were totally disorganized and there was no central or recognized government. The government was “dissolved” and it wasn’t until four years after the Indian Reorganization Act of 1934 that the western Cherokee reformed in 1938 to be called the “Cherokee Nation of Oklahoma”.

In the meantime, all throughout the late 1800s and thru the early 1900s we continued to exist and to survive as a Nation of people and continued our traditions and our unique Cherokee culture and heritage that we had since time began. We were gaining communal property, fighting and winning legal battles in courts, representing our Nation during a time when the federal government was removing recognition from Tribes and dissolving tribal governments. And we survived…we survived the onslaught of land thieves and the United States and State governments trying to steal everything from us, we survived the attempted genocide from the state and the federal troops, we did what we had to do to stay in our homeland, continue our traditions, culture and way of life. And we never dissolved or quit as a government. We have always been the home of the Cherokee Nation.

The western Cherokee (also officially known as the Cherokee Nation of Oklahoma) in the 1990s changed their name to “Cherokee Nation”; as is their right to do, just as it is our right to change and correct our name and how we are recognized.

For us to continue to call ourselves a “Band” connotes that we are somewhat inferior or less than a real Tribe or a true Nation. While many years ago our tribal government attempted to correct this inferiority issue by renaming us as the “Eastern Band of the Cherokee Nation”…this only made the matter worse.

As a matter of fact, the current Principal Chief of the Cherokee Nation, Chuck Hoskin Jr., recently published an article on July 10, 2022 wherein he wrote that the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians are only a 20th century creation – that we are merely a band of his Tribe. He states that, “Notwithstanding the federally created separate bands of Cherokees in the 20th century” that the split (that happened on the Trail of Tears and those individuals who sold out the Tribe) was ‘resolved’.”

He attempts to paint us merely as band of his Tribe and insist that we are all unified under the Cherokee Nation. He states, “Because of that – most notable because of the July 12, 1839, Act of Union – a unified Cherokee Nation stands strong today.”

I strongly disagree with his comments and say it is time for us to claim our own history… and that is that we are the Nation that still remains in our homeland and will not allow another Tribe to assume our sovereignty as a federally recognized Tribe. The Western Cherokee Nation is free to exist and they need to respect that we have as much right to exist and claim the title as a Nation as they do. We are the Eastern Cherokee Nation and they can continue to be the Western Cherokee Nation. I say let us drop the name of “Band” and take our rightful position as a Nation.

I will never forget how the Western Cherokee Nation over the past several years always tries to take a position of superiority over the United Keetoowah Band of Cherokee Indians (UKB) and even try to position that same attitude with us. In recent years they did, in fact, attempt to stop us from taking land into trust over in Venore, Tenn. claiming they were the true Cherokee Tribe. And they even had one of the Congressman from their area try to block the transfer,  but Chief Lambert during those early negotiations stopped that from happening and we never played second to them.

Our name is important and should reflect the fact that we are a Nation.  We are the original Nation. Just as a country or a state would not call themselves a “Band”, neither should we.

I believe a more proper name that we should call ourselves is the “Eastern Cherokee Nation” and we should work to legally change this name in all official federal and state government documents and correspondence.

I firmly believe that our name should not signify inferiority or anything less than what and who we are, we are the “Eastern Cherokee Nation”.

This is my opinion. What are your thoughts? Should someone start a referendum petition to accomplish this? And/or should our Tribal Council step up and pass an ordinance to accomplish this? Or, does it even matter?