COMMENTARY: We know who we are

by Feb 8, 2024OPINIONS0 comments


One Feather Reporter


Cherokee has a long, detailed historical record. We have been blessed with tenacious record-keeping by our ancestors, the creation of the syllabary by Sequoyah, the continued passing of knowledge, culture and language through generations. We are even more blessed to still live in our ancestral home. How many people can say they live in the same place, swim in the same rivers, and gaze at the same mountain sunrise and sunset as their ancestors 11,000 years ago?

We know who we are as Cherokee people in a very precise way. Anthropologists use a tool known as the “peoplehood matrix” to define peoples. The peoplehood matrix includes four intersecting concepts: sacred history, language, territory/place, ceremonial cycle/calendar. We can write, in lengthy detail, about each of those points of the peoplehood matrix. I will spare you the anthropology essay, but I encourage you to think, even briefly, about the peoplehood matrix and how we fit. I’m certain you can quickly recognize where we fit as a people, specifically as Aniyvwiya, the Principal People.

Why then, do non-Cherokee historians, linguists, scholars, even laypersons, try to tell us who we are? Why do we let them? Why do we have people come into our community to tell us how we should traditionally dress, what our ceremonies are, how we should learn our language? Why do we allow ourselves to be talked down to? Why do we not stand in our knowledge of our own selves? We have Cherokee fluent speakers, Cherokee artists, Cherokee historians, Cherokee anthropologists and documentarians, Cherokee philosophy experts, and most importantly, we are Cherokee people who live everyday as Cherokee people. We know, better than absolutely anyone on this planet, what it means to be Cherokee.

We need to take our power back. We know who we are. We need to stand firm in who we are. Educational institutions are just tools for deeper learning. We can read historical documents and study fragmented pottery in a way that they cannot, with our spirit and our hearts. You are not less knowledgeable because you don’t have a PhD. You are not less knowledgeable because you’re not a professor. You are the most knowledgeable, in any academic setting studying Cherokee, because you are Cherokee. They study you. Period. They should thank you for being there, not the other way around. Stop giving them the power to say who you are. You say it. Anikituwah. Aniyvwiya. Tsitsalagi.