The Cherokee Nation has always been a very sophisticated culture that lived an organized lifestyle. The Cherokees have often been referenced as the second most civilized Indian Nation in America. Even before the influence of the white man, the Cherokee culture was quite advanced. The Cherokee had their own language, economy, education and political systems. Yet, as the influence of the white man became more prevalent, the Cherokee Nation began to adapt and integrate their ways.
Before the influence of the white man, the Cherokee people had a vast oral language that dominated their lives. It helped Cherokee embrace their traditions and remain unified, since the white men could not understand it. An Indian named Sequoyah invented the Cherokee syllabary that would allow the Cherokee to be able to read and write (as well as speak) their own language. The alphabet that Sequoyah created consisted of eighty-six characters that were based upon various English, Greek and Hebrew characters. After his ingenious creation, Sequoyah began to teach different Cherokee tribes his alphabet, and reading and writing soon became very popular within the Nation.
In an article quoting the rapid growth of interest in Cherokee syllabary, a man stated, "Young Cherokees travel a great distance to be instructed in this easy method of writing and reading. In three days they are able to commence letter-writing and return home to their villages prepared to teach others."(9)
"We've always been a nation of laws. Before the constitution we had clan law...No matter what form of the law we took, the most important thing was that we recognized the need for law and saw to its implementation ourselves. Long ago, in seven-sided council houses, the townspeople, elders, and respected clan members would gather, sometimes talking for days on end, to draft the laws that would hold us together as a unified people."(12)
The Cherokee people have always had some form of government. Before contact with the white man, the Cherokee governed themselves through a series of oral laws that were known by all of the members of the tribe. Although their legal system was not documented as the United States' is today, their system was carried out in much of the same manner; everyone in the tribe knew the difference between right and wrong, but there was no judicial system per se. The Cherokee law was based upon the ideals of perseverance and sacrifice.
As the Cherokee people were continuously exposed to the white man, they began to realize that they would need to change their form of government in order to defend their nation. Unlike the Cherokee, the white men had documented evidence of their laws and rights and could take advantage of the Cherokee if they did not have the same type of government. From this need to adapt to the white man's government and maintain sovereignty, the Cherokees created a stronger, more unified government. In 1808, the Cherokee created a legal code written in English. This was a means of solidifying their government and making their laws more official. The Cherokees continued to make amends to their legal system and strengthen their government until 1819, when Calhoun's treaty took much of their land. Following this, many Cherokee political authorities realized that the slow evolution of their government was not going to be enough to sustain the impending white control of their land and their rights; therefore in 1827, the written constitution of the Cherokees was created. Much like the pre-existing constitution of the United States, the Cherokee constitution declared itself its own nation, seperate from the USA and granted them rights separate from the US Constitution. Following this important step, in 1829, the Cherokee created the "Blood Law" that forbade the resignation of any land without full National consent. Although this law did not end up holding the white men back, it contributed to the evolution of a centralized government.
The Cherokees had a vast economy before their encounters with the white settlers. They had a trading system where they obtained the things that they needed from other Native American tribes. They also had a vast agricultural economy that sustained their food needs. The Cherokee definitely had the ability to be very prosperous economically; "By 1835, the Cherokee families in the South had over 3,000 farms with some 44,000 acres of land under cultivation. In Tennessee alone, there were about 412 Cherokee farms with nearly 10,700 acres under cultivation producing about 130,000 bushels of corn and 1,000 bushels of wheat. the estimated worth of the tillable Cherokee land in Tennessee, figured at $2.oo an acre, was $443,290. The entire Cherokee domain in the South, over 20,000 square miles, was larger than Massachusetts, Connecticut and Rhode Island combined and contained tillable land valued at more than 2.4 million dollars." (9) Thus, the Cherokee would have been quite well off economically if they would've been able to keep their land and farm it, but the interference of the white man halted that.
Before white men began taking away Cherokee land they occupied a vast portion of the United States. Spanning over most of Tennessee, Arkansas and Georgia, the Cherokee had quite a large community. Yet, as they were exposed to more white settlers who forced them to give up their land, their property began to shrink exponentially.
An article chronicling the experience that the Cherokee had with the white settlers stated, "When Tennessee entered the Union in 1796, the Cherokees [and the Chickasaw] claimed about three-fourths of the state's territory. By 1835 all the Cherokee claims in the state had been extinguished by the United States." (9) Because the Cherokee had no official land titles, the white settlers decided that they had no right to their land and thus forced them to relinquish their property. As the years went on, the Cherokee lost more and more land to the whites.The picture to the left shows the Indian Territory in 1884, after the Cherokee were removed from the South.
To find out more detailed information about Cherokee life and culture, please visit http://cherokeehistory.com/.