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Modern Day Life of the Cherokee

Cherokee Language

         There are two main dialects of Cherokee spoken nowadays. Both the Giduwa and the Otali Dialect are spoken in Oklahoma. In the past 150 years the Otali dialect has changed significantly from Sequoyah’s original syllabary. Many words have been borrowed into the language. The noun and verb roots in Cherokee, however, can still be traced to Sequoyah's Syllabary. Today, there are more than 85 syllables in use by modern Cherokee speakers.

    Efforts are currently being made to revive the Cherokee language and syllabary. This is due to the recent shortage of teachers as the most fluent Cherokee speakers continue to dwindle every year. Without enough teachers the language would surely perish as many other Native American languages have.  To address this problem the Cherokee’s Kituwah Preservation and Education Program has developed Cherokee-language video podcasts and interactive online Cherokee classes. The podcasts and online classes fulfill two purposes by increasing the popularity of the Cherokee language and introducing it to modern technology. Their has also been a revitalization of language immersion programs for children and youth. Cherokee courses are now being offered at a number of schools, colleges and universities.

    The Cherokee language has evolved and expanded tremendously since it was first created. This is evident as we experience a rebirth in its use on the Internet due to the recent addition of the Cherokee syllables to Unicode. In previous years people wrote transliterated Cherokee on the Internet or used fonts that were poorly compatible with the syllabary. However, work has yet to be done since as of June 2006 the Cherokee Nation of Oklahoma still officially uses a non-unicode font for online documents. Such online documents include the online editions of its newspaper the Cherokee Phoenix. (1)

Cherokee Education

    After the Cherokees’ “Golden Age”, education among the Nation had become almost entirely obsolete due to the devastating iron hand of the United States.  In 1928 a study performed brought to the attention of the government the deprivation experienced by Indian children attending schools. This resulted in the creation of programs for improving the education of Indians and brought about a period of change known as the Indian New Deal. Federal financial aid was provided to local districts and schools which had been established on Indian trust lands. Yet, this all ended twenty years later when relationships with most tribes were broken. Education and culture once again suffered. Following a decade of Indian activism, funding was expanded for Indian education programs in the 1970s. Unfortunately, under the Reagan Administration, this latest period of reform ended.

         Policies made by the United States government aimed at Indian education have historically been aimed at the isolation and assimilation of Native Americans. Indians today challenge these aims by wanting the educational system to reflect their tribal values and way of life, and feel they have the right to exercise control over their education.

         Studies conducted have shown that the coercive assimilation policy employed by the United States government has had a disastrous effect on the education of Indian children. It has resulted in things such as:

1.      The school system has become a battleground where a Native American child must fight to protect his integrity and identity as an individual.

2.      Schools that often degrade cultural differences and fail to recognize the importance of the Indian community which has caused them to be seen as alien institutions.

3.      Schools that blame their own failures on Indian students and perpetuate the cycle of poverty. In turn this weakens the success of other federal programs.

4.      A history of general academic failure for Indian children which is evident through excessive absenteeism, dropouts, a negative self-image, and low overall achievements.

         As a result of Native Americans’ struggles with education The National Indian Education Association (NIEA) was created which is the largest and oldest Indian education organization that exists. It was founded in 1969 to give Native Americans a national voice in their effort towards educational justice. They strive to enable Native Americans to become contributing members of their communities.

         One of the most prominent achievements of the NIEA was the passing on April 30, 2004 of President Bush’s Executive Order on American Indian Education which states that the federal government will help Native American students meet the challenging academic standards of the No Child Left Behind Act in a manner consistent with tribal traditions, languages and cultures.  It seems that the Cherokee Nation, as well as other Native Americans are finally on the road towards educational justice in a system that takes into account different cultures. Although the federal government is on the right path they are only just starting the journey. (7)
Cherokee Politics
 In ancient times the Cherokee had a very loose definition and almost no rules existed that restricted who could be defined as a member of the Cherokee Nation and who could be adopted into the Cherokee. As surprising as it may sound now, a person’s race was not relevant in deciding who could be adopted into Cherokee Society. The Cherokee were viewed as a politically based organization that had nothing to do with race. 
        Today, on the other hand, the Cherokee are usually defined solely as a racial group. Currently, to be considered a part of the Cherokee Nation of Oklahoma, the largest group of Cherokee, you need at least one ancestor listed on the Dawes Roll. The Dawes Roll is a list that was created in 1893 by the
United States of the members of the Five Civilized Tribes. The list is not comprehensive but is what is still used by the government and many tribes to determine membership. Two other prominent tribes, the Eastern Band Cherokee and United Keetoowah, determine membership differently. These tribes require people to have one quarter Cherokee blood in order to be eligible for membership.
        Many groups are still seeking recognition by the federal government as official Cherokee tribes, but currently there are only three groups federally recognized. The three tribes the government recognizes are the Cherokee Nation of Oklahoma, the Eastern Band, and the United Keetoowah Band. These three groups claim that they are the only ones that have the legal right to present themselves as Cherokee Indian Tribes. Due to this ongoing controversy on April 9, 2008 the councils of the Cherokee Nation and the Eastern Band passed a resolution that opposed fabricated Cherokee “Tribes” and “Indians”. The resolution attempts to deter the government from federally recognizing any other Cherokee “tribe” aside from those that are already recognized.
        Furthermore, the resolution calls for federal and state governments to strictly apply a federal definition of “Indian” that includes only the citizens of federally recognized Indian tribes. This is intended to prevent non-Indians from selling membership in pseudo-Cherokee tribes to unsuspecting victims and to those seeking to exploit the acts meant to help Indians. This resolution has caused a lot of displeasure and anger among many members of the Cherokee community, especially those that are still seeking federal recognition of their particular tribe.

Cherokee Economy

    The modern Cherokee Nation has experienced an amazing amount of change and expansion in economic growth and prosperity for its citizens under the current leadership of Principal Chief Chad Smith. The Nation has significant business, real estate, corporate, and agricultural interests. This of course includes the casino operations which are highly profitable. The Cherokee Nation controls the Cherokee Nation Enterprises which is a large defense contractor that provides thousands of employment opportunities each year for Cherokee citizens in Eastern Oklahoma.

    In addition, the Nation has also become a proactive part of the community. They have constructed health clinics throughout Oklahoma as well as learning facilities and universities for Cherokee citizens, and have contributed to programs that help communities develop. The Cherokee Nation is a powerful and positive economic force in Eastern Oklahoma.

    The Cherokees in North Carolina today descend from those who held on to the land they owned; they are the direct descendents of the lucky few who managed to avoid the “Trail of Tears”. They host over a million visitors a year to show the different cultural attractions in the 100-square-mile nation.  This reservation, the "Qualla Boundary", has a population of over 8,000 Cherokee. Some examples of the most popular attractions are the Oconaluftee Indian Village, Museum of the Cherokee Indian, and the country’s oldest and foremost Native American crafts company. The drama "Unto These Hills" which debuted in 1950 recently broke the attendance sales record. When all the cultural attractions are paired with Harrah’s Cherokee Casino and Hotel, the Cherokee Indian Hospital and the Cherokee Boys Club the tribe contributed over $78 million into North Carolina’s economy in 2005. (1) 

1.      http://cherokeeindians.com/

7.      http://www.niea.org/welcome/