By JONAH LOSSIAH
One Feather Staff
Writer’s note: this a response to a commentary written by Cyndi Lambert titled ‘What’s in a name? We should be the Eastern Cherokee Nation’ published on July 16.
I agree that the name ‘Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians’ (EBCI) doesn’t seem to fit quite right. It’s a thought I’ve had before, and I find the conversation interesting.
While I agree with the concept of changing our formal Tribal title, I’m not sure I fully agree with the ‘why’ that was recently presented. I feel like the name EBCI is cluttered and confusing. Most folks outside of this region would not associate that group of letters to our people.
However, I do not fully disagree with Principal Chief Chuck Hoskin, Jr. of the Cherokee Nation. The viewpoint in question is one that he drafted as an opinion article for the Cherokee Phoenix on July 10. I don’t think this is a perfect piece of writing. I do not think he was intending to belittle the EBCI in this piece.
I feel that Chief Hoskin is trying to, amongst other things, reinforce the idea that we Cherokees are one people. In an ideal world, I would love to see our tribes reunite. Currently, that is extremely unrealistic, and I am not advocating for it. However, there is a confusing amount of disregard for our sister nation here in the mountains of North Carolina.
I’m sure my opinion on this matter is quite biased. I am as much Cherokee Nation as I am EBCI. However, I was raised on and around the Qualla Boundary, and I unfortunately have never been to Tahlequah (Okla.). My home is Kituwah and amongst these mountains. The Cherokee language I have learned is in the Eastern dialect. There is no doubt that I am part of the EBCI. But why is my Western blood not recognized by my Tribe? It’s a lineage that can be traced back to the removal. Blood quantum is a separate can of worms that I will get into on another day, but it frustrates me that some folks have a level of animosity for our own people. Especially when there are many amazing individuals in our community that are Cherokee Nation.
We all came from this place. We are separate in function, but we need to be more accepting and embracing of our sister nation.
Where I reconnect on this issue is that I believe ‘EBCI’ does a poor job of portraying our nation.
Firstly, how many people off-Boundary do we still need to explain this to? I work with a lot of individuals who have limited knowledge of our Tribes, and oftentimes they are trying to be respectful when they refer to us as ‘The Cherokee Nation’. They are trying to give us credit as a sovereign entity, but they have no clue that statement might aggravate a lot of Eastern Cherokees. EBCI does not have national recognition.
You could argue that changing the name is difficult for the sake of branding, but I would actually argue the opposite. As mentioned, we are often confused with our sister nation. Part of that has to do with the fact that we have ‘Band’ in our name and the Cherokee Nation does not. It inherently makes us resemble a subsidiary to our much more populated partners in Oklahoma.
For anyone not in this area, the term EBCI has such little significance. It’s not the simplest thing for people to remember and I don’t think that many outside of western North Carolina or Tahlequah would even notice a change.
Another gripe of mine is the use of the term ‘Indians’ in our name. Now, I have slightly amended my opinion of this word over the years. I had a stretch in my life where I was very against it. I mean, let’s be honest – it makes no sense. We are not from India. Indians are from India, good grief. But a lot of older Cherokees have found endearment in the word, as it is what they now think of as their indigenous identity. I have even adopted using ‘Indian Country’ from time to time while discussing other tribes.
However, it is still a slightly divisive term. Many folks in this country prefer ‘indigenous’, ‘Native American’, or something more specific to their own tribe. I tend to lean towards indigenous, but I honestly don’t have a severe issue with either of these options. This preference is common amongst the younger generation, but it is not limited to a tribe or age demographic. Many people choose not to be acknowledged as Indian. Given that, it seems very odd and Federal to insist it be part of our nation’s name.
I’m not stating that you shouldn’t say Indian, but I feel you should respect it if someone doesn’t want to. This is a relatively common sentiment, so I feel it shouldn’t be part of a formal title any longer. I’m also looking at the BIA (Bureau of Indian Affairs) and BIE (Bureau of Indian Education) when I say this.
I simply feel that we could have a much stronger name for our nation. It makes the most sense to run with something true to ourselves. Either using our language or culture. We also now have the mother town in trust after purchasing it back in 1996. Maybe we should recognize and represent Kituwah. We could look at something simpler and more recognizable as Mrs. Lambert suggested, such as Eastern Cherokee Nation. I’m not sure what would be best for representing our people, and I don’t want to assume at this juncture. I would like to say that I greatly appreciate Mrs. Lambert for reigniting the conversation.
It’s only going to get more difficult to rename our Tribe as time progresses. The conversation around indigenous Americans has begun to change, from my perspective. We have more representation than we have had in the past. On occasion, we have outsiders standing up for our rights. Our artists and writers are earning more recognition across the country.
If a significant change is to happen, now is the time. My focus would be not change out of spite, but to strengthen ourselves and find the best way to represent our tribe and our people in the modern day.