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The Cherokee Nation: Entrepreneurship in the Native-American Community

… a podcast with Bonnie Neely

First Nations Travel

In recent years, there has been a renewed interest in, and awareness of, indigenous cultures all around the world. In the travel and tourism industry, aboriginal societies and heritage sites have emerged as distinct and culturally-rich destinations unto themselves.

To some extent the travel experiences that first nations societies provide travellers, in North America especially, can go a long way to redressing the wrongs of the past by providing more accurate information; and by giving a much fuller perspective on the lessons of history.

And today aboriginal nations, such as the Cherokee, also represent a renewed self-determination and greater level of self-sufficiency that in previous eras was denied to aboriginal people because of systemic discrimination in what was called “The New World”, a term in which is inherent a kind of historical amnesia about the real first immigrants to what today is known as The Americas.

Lessons of the Cherokee

Like indigenous people throughout the world, the Cherokee in the 21st century are in many ways role models for self-determination and cultural survival. They also embody the universal principles of the interdependence and interconnectedness of all things. As one of the principal first nations in the Americas, they also personify the multicultural nature of all humankind.

But, like so many aboriginal peoples, their successes and triumphs did not come easy.

A hemispheric clash of cultures

When the first Europeans arrived in the so-called “New World”, it was as if a monumental and endless seismic shift had begun. The lives and cultures of First Nations peoples throughout the Americas would be irrevocably changed. What ensued was, as history has shown elsewhere in the world, a clash of cultures that was especially exacerbated by the colonial ambitions of European powers, in particular British, French, and Spanish.

As one of the indigenous peoples of the Americas, the Cherokee would suffer from the effects of the incursion of this empire-building.

In their own language, they call themselves the Aniyunwiya, or the “principal people”; and even today many of the Cherokee prefer the name Tsalagi from their Iroquoian-based language. This nation of aboriginal people was also no stranger to forced migration; some historians suggest that they were displaced long ago from traditional lands in the northwest to the southern Appalachian region because of a defeat at the hands of the Iroquois and the Delaware. Linguists point to the language similarities between the Iroquois and the Cherokee; but there is no oral record of such a conflict in Iroquoian traditions.

When the the first Europeans came into contact with the Cherokee in what today is the Carolinas, they found an agricultural-based people living in well-organized villages of between 30 to 60 houses among which was the larger council house where the sacred fire was maintained. Like the Iroquois to the north, the Cherokee were also organized in clans, each along matrilinear lines. As an agricultural people, they also depended to a great extent on “the three sisters” of corn, beans, and squash. This diet was supplemented by hunting and the harvesting of wild plants.

It was the Spanish explorer Hernando de Soto who first encountered the Cherokee while leading the first European expedition in 1540 to penetrate and explore deep into what today is the United States of America. He also is credited with “discovering” the Mississippi River and ended his life on the banks of that great waterway.

Because they were relatively isolated by the resource-rich and mountainous terrain of the southeast, the Cherokee did not come into frequent and direct contact with Europeans until the establishment of the colony of Virginia in 1609 and subsequently by the founding of the Carolina colonies.

Traditionally the Cherokee traded with other indigenous people but as the European colonies grew, they also became trading partners and competitors with non-aboriginal people. And whereas the Cherokee were a highly-organized society in which priests and warriors played prominent roles, that hierarchy began to shift as the “business” of trading evolved. Before long, the Cherokee became hunters in search of material gains and profits.

As their dependency on trading increased, the Cherokee tunred to the British as allies in their conflicts with the French and the Spanish. The “imported” colonial ambitions of these European powers therefore aggravated rivalries between the Cherokee and other coastal native-Americans in the southeast and increasingly caused the area to become destabilized. The Cherokee eventually solidified their alliance with the British and British interests because the latter’s interests were not served by pushing the Cherokee into the French or Spanish camps. Colonel George Chicken was commissioned by the British government to assure the trading alliance; and at one point a Cherokee delegation was even sent to England for an audience with King George II.

And then in 1754, the Cherokee signed a treaty with the British in which they confirmed the alliance. This also led to the construction of British forts in traditional Cherokee territory which had the added advantage of defending the newly born colonies.

But given the “geopolitical” state of affairs of the time, and the soon to be new Republic on this side of the Atlantic, the Cherokee (like other Native-American nations) became embroiled in the shifting dynamics and struggles that colonialism and a new sense of self-determination were creating in what soon would be the United States of America.

When, for example, the British defeated the French in 1759 at the Battle of the Plains of Abraham in what today is Québec City, “British North America” became a major force that divided even more the allegiances and alliances of the First Nations people of North America. And for the Cherokee who soon witnessed white settlers pouring into their traditional homeland, the necessity of finding new alliances became critical. For example, treaties were signed by the Cherokee with South Carolina and Virginia, but not without losses. And as the American Revolution approached, the Cherokee strove to remain neutral, but like anyone who has been caught in a cultural crossfire knows, this was easier said than done. And when independence of the new Republic was declared, and when in 1803 France gave up that enormous tract of land ceded under the Louisiana Purchase, the inevitability of an expanded new “American” nation became even more certain as more and more European settlers poured across the Appalachians, and the westward frontier movement intensified.

By the 1800s, the Cherokee, a progressive nation of the southeast, had created a written constitution (and a written language), their own court system, schools, and a way of life that was often the envy of their European neighbours. Many were prosperous farmers with impressive herds of livestock. Although many still lived in simple log cabins, other Cherokees continued to prosper. Chief John Ross, for example, had a $10,000 house designed by an architect from Philadelphia.

Removal, relocation, and a trail of tears

When Andrew Jackson was elected President in 1828 and when gold was discovered in northern Georgia, a renewed clash of cultures began. The idea of displacement of the Cherokee was not new; the plan had been suggested by Thomas Jefferson as early as 1802. And in his final address to Congress in 1825 President James Monroe called for “Indian removal” west of the Mississippi. And that river became a Rubicon in American history and point of no return, especially for the Cherokee. And then, with Andrew Jackson’s full support, the Indian Removal Act was introduced in Congress in 1829.

Although the Act met with some serious opposition, it effectively stripped the Cherokee of legal protection; and so Chief John Ross decided that given the alternative (war), he would take his people’s cause to the U.S. courts. Although the case was won before the Supreme Court on two separate occasions, President Jackson was unmoved saying “Justice Marshall has made his decision. Let him enforce it.”

One source explains it this way:

“Chief Justice John Marshall, writing for the Court, acknowledged that the plight of the Cherokee and other Native American tribes was real: they were ‘gradually sinking beneath our superior policy.’ The Court, however, could not base its analysis on sympathy.

Marshall concluded that before the merits of the Cherokee case could be considered, the Court had to determine whether it had jurisdiction to hear the case at all. The Cherokee argued they were a foreign state, pointing out that the tribe was a distinct political society that managed its own affairs, and that both the colonial and U.S. governments had regarded them as a state. The fact that the federal government negotiated treaties with the Cherokee seemed to be good evidence that the tribe was regarded as a foreign state.

The Court rejected these claims. Marshall stated that the Cherokee tribe was not a foreign state ‘in the sense of the Constitution’ since the Indian Territory was located inside the geographical and jurisdictional boundaries of the United States. Moreover, the Cherokee had acknowledged, in the very treaties in question, that they were under the protection of the United States. Therefore, a better classification for the Cherokee and other Native American tribes was that of ‘domestic dependent nations.’”

This particular piece of the historical puzzle highlights even more the fundamental question of identity and the collective sense of self.

And despite the fact that Chief Ross travelled to Washington to protest the decision, President Jackson refused to see him. The situation seemed hopeless. But overtures were subsequently made to Major Ridge, a prominent Cherokee and other leaders all of whom deemed it inevitable that a treaty would need to be signed, the Treaty of New Echota. This treaty essentially exchanged Cherokee land east of the Mississippi for land in what today is Oklahoma. And even though the treaty was rejected by Chief Ross and a majority of the Cherokee National Council, it was nevertheless ratified by the U.S. Senate. Ross tried every political and legal strategy for two years to stop the removal but in May of 1838, 7000 U.S. soldiers moved into the Cherokee’s traditional homeland and the forced march began. For the Cherokee the Nunadautsun’t (“the trail where we cried”) was the ultimate betrayal.

History would know it as the Trail of Tears.

The conditions under which the removal of the Cherokee took place were brutal; they were marched west to Oklahoma under miserable conditions suffering from exposure to the elements, disease, adn even starvation. Over 4000 of the died en route, including the wife of John Ross.

Tragically, the Cherokee would continue to be caught in the crossfire of events unfolding in the new nation known as The United States of America. During the American Civil War (or the War Between the States), the Cherokee found themselves in conflict with members of their own native-American nation; some enlisted in the Confederate Army, others fought for the Union and what ensued was equally tragic internecine violence. The clash of cultures went straight to the heart of the Cherokee people when brother fought brother.

As playright Arthur Miller wrote, “Betrayal is the only truth that sticks.”

In the 21st century the Cherokee Nation has not only survived the vicissitudes of history but it has flourished, evidence once again of the indomitable spirit of people who are free. Today the Cherokee are the largest Native-American group in the United States.



(a) Bonnie’s story about the Cherokee on Real Travel Adventures

(b) The Cherokee Heritage Center in Tahlequah, Oklahoma

(c) The official website of the Cherokee Nation

(d) The official website of the City of Tahlequah, Oklahoma

(e) A Google map of the Cherokee Nation

(f) A map of the Tahlequah area

(g) The Cherokee Casino in Tahlequah, Oklahoma

(h) The Will Rogers Memorial Museum

(i) A timeline of Cherokee history

Books about the Cherokee

(a) For an extensive list of titles, click here.

(b) See also:

Footsteps of the Cherokee: A Guide to the Eastern Homelands of the Cherokee

Cherokee Americans: the Eastern band of Cherokees in the Twentieth century

The Cherokee people: the Story of the Cherokees from Earliest Origins to Contemporary Times

The Cherokee Nation and the Trail of Tears

Online videos about The Cherokee

(a) Cherokee History As You’ve Never Heard It: Part One

(b) Cherokee History As You’ve Never Heard It: Part Two

Other related stories about Aboriginal Peoples

(a) “The Siksika Nation of Alberta: Self-determination, Cultural Affirmation, Land, and Time”

(b) “Kanché and Puerta Verde: A Role Model for Alternative, Grassroots, and Indigenous Travel”

(c) “Worldview: First Peoples, First Principles”

(d) “Exploring the World of Indigenous Peoples, with Graham Simmons begin_of_the_skype_highlighting     end_of_the_skype_highlighting”

(e) “The Quiet Hands and Mind of Dora Tse-Pe: Matrilineal Potter”

(f) “The Hands of Juan Quezada”

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China Then China Now

… From Travel Educator Bob Fisher

Cultural and other walls

After a first-time visit to China, including of course an exhilarating day on The Great Wall of China comfortably and delightfully embraced by a Saturday afternoon swarm of citizens of this great emerging nation, I have been pondering the role, function, and meaning of walls in general in human society.

Why do we build walls? What are they really all about? As travellers, what intercultural skills are at our disposal — if we are lucky or so inclined — to transcend cultural walls? For the truly intrepid traveller a borderless world, conceptually especially, is the best of all possible scenarios.

Historically walls have helped keep the “barbarians” at a safe distance and ensure the sanctity of hearth and home. But they also have been structures that can deprive and oppress those within. However, even though walls exclude the “outsider” or contain the occupants, they can also have an inclusive function.

Notwithstanding the excesses and necrosis of feudalistic societies, throughout history walls (or borders) have also served to protect and preserve primary cultures; contain, delineate, and define a collective ethos; centre a culture; and engender introspection while at the same time providing a safe glimpse of that which is away and beyond. Personal walls, figurative and literal, can also assure privacy and intimacy; perhaps our greatest luxury in many parts of the world.

But it all depends on the nature and purpose of the wall.

Shanghai: welcoming the world… this time on its own terms

In the exponential world of travel and tourism — considered by many to be the largest industry on the planet — there is no shortage of new players. Everyone wants “a piece of the action”; and why shouldn’t they? Walls are being breached all over the planet, thanks in part to a 21st-century approach to the marketing of travel and tourism.

As one of the newest, most entrepreneurial, and multidimensional destinations reaching out to this global travel market, Shanghai is marketing its distinct history, heritage, and contemporary culture in ways that may seem paradoxical, or even incongruous.

Who would have imagined that the largest Communist state in the world would be instituting free markets (of a sort) and competitive, capitalist marketing strategies? And who would have imagined that Chinese cities would be competing with each other for foreign visitors. A colleague in China tells me that there is a joke going around that “Every taxi driver in Beijing can discuss world affairs with you, while every taxi driver in Shanghai can discuss the stock market.” He also suggests that while Beijing is more a political city, Shanghai is more a commercial one; a city in which the citizens are more “practical.” However, he also reminded me that every Chinese city has its own distinctive character. But there is no doubt that these two cities, not unlike tourism destinations in what is a whole new world of diversified travel and tourism, are competitors for tourism revenues.

At the time of my visit, the city was in mega renovation mode as it also prepared for its really big moment on the world stage — Expo 2010 Shanghai. (And by the way, it has been reported that the world-famous Cirque de Soleil, a Canadian institution and creation which was conceived in Québec, will “co-create” the Canada Pavilion at Expo 2010 Shanghai.)

Shanghai is also a city in which you sense a personal and collective self-determination you might not have expected. And if, as I did, you take the opportunity to talk to locals, many of whom speak English and are more than willing to engage in dialogue with you, you will understand what I mean.

With the Mission Statement of “Better City, Better Life,” Shanghai has committed itself to what promises to be the largest World Exposition ever. More importantly, it has committed itself to urban renewal in which I hope that people really do come first. Furthermore, it has committed itself to a greener way of life, which without a doubt will be a major challenge.

When we toured the Expo site, I must admit to wondering how on Earth they were going to get this mammoth undertaking finished in time for the opening on May 1, 2010. However, given precedents such as the Beijing Olympics, the workforce available, and the hierarchical and centralized nature of Chinese government, I’m quite sure this world exposition will go down in the record books as one of the most successful, perhaps even “the best” to date.

I say “one of the best” advisedly because, although I was very impressed with Shanghai’s ambitious and long-term strategy of becoming a major player on the world stage — perhaps even giving Hong Kong a run for its money — my only caveat to the Shanghai Tourism Department is that the “bigger is better” mindset is not necessarily in the best interests of any destination. This may sound pedantic but bigger is not always better; better is better. And of course what is “better” is open to debate; however all parties concerned (including visitors to Shanghai) will need to apply their own judgement as to the validity of the ethical conundrum of harmonizing quantity with quality. Please don’t get me wrong; I was very impressed with a lot of the initiatives I saw in the works in Shanghai, but, to be quite frank, I was also concerned that China might fall into the trap of becoming derivative, succumbing to Dysneyfication, and emulating the worst of Western civilization. And what a pity that would be given China’s thousands of years of history, cultural, art, and philosophy. But as it has been said in reference to other nations, “Judge me by my culture, not by my government.”

However as a leading destination within the booming tourism industry of “The New China,” Shanghai historically has been a familiar face and international city since the 1930s especially, a whole other story that is being told boldly and explicitly in Shanghai today. But today it is also a revitalized and enterprising city that knows what it wants and how it is going to get it.

To many around the world, this new no-nonsense business culture of travel and tourism from the People’s Republic of China may seem at first glance somewhat befuddling or even disconcerting. After all, the emergence of China as a global, political, and economic power does, at first glance, seem to turn things upside down. There may be very good reasons (of national self-interest) that make people fear a new world order. Empires do decline.

But as the old saying goes, time marches on. And if I were a hotshot marketing executive in Shanghai, I might also be tempted to throw into the media mix, the equally familiar “Everything old is new again.”

A 21st century frame of reference

According to the Shanghai Statistics Bureau, the city had a population of 18.88 million by the end of 2008. Beijing is the runner up as China’s second largest city (after Shanghai), with more than 17 million people. While travelling in China, you always have to remember that this nation has a population of 1.3 billion people, the largest in the world, and that those numbers have many implications and ramifications. On the other hand, I rarely felt overwhelmed by masses of people. In fact, as was also my experience in India, I never felt that this was a faceless nation, which can be the impression one gets “from afar.”

It is also significant that the median age in China is 34.1, and that the one child policy is still (more or less) in place. As one pundit recently said, this is a major challenge to China because “It will get old before it gets rich.” This aging society factor is something we understand well in North America, but the demographics in China are exponentially more of a challenge.

To give a little more numerical perspective, the armed forces in China (also the largest in the world) have 2.3 million enlisted members. In terms of China’s literacy rate, 90.9 of the people can read and write, an enviable achievement. And by the way, there are 253 million Internet users in China. The issue of the Chinese government’s blocking of websites, however, (including initially, by the way , yours truly the Philosophical Traveller) is just one of the major issues that the international community is monitoring. In an address to students during his recent visit to Shanghai, President Barack Obama criticized what he referred to as internet censorship, while addressing students, while at the same time praising freedom of expression and political participation.

(Readers and Internet users may also be interested in the China Internet Project’s website China Digital Times, but as is always the case in the media world, caveat lector.)

Also, in terms of the global travel and tourism industry, it is important to factor in that China’s economy is ranked third in the world, behind that of the United States and Japan with a GDP of $4.4 trillion.  And a United Nations World Tourism Organization study in 2007, found that that China will produce 100 million outbound tourists by 2020; thus becoming even more of a player in the competitive world of travel and tourism.

China would appear to be adapting to the passage of time, and other global events, such as the most recent worldwide recession. On October 1, 2009, it celebrated “Sixty Years of Brilliance”; the 60th anniversary of the founding of the People’s Republic of China.

And by the way, the Chinese Communist Party was founded in 1921 in Shanghai!

Timeless China

Whether time heals all wounds, as the saying goes, is of course debatable but time and history are also relentless. And the city of Shanghai, as a kind of New China prototype, is striving to take advantage of the 21st-century frame of reference in which it finds itself. At the same time, it is not turning a blind eye to the past; but in many ways is integrating the past with the present.

Images and Imagery of China

For visual narratives of Shanghai, Beijing, Xi’ian, Hangzhou, Suzhou, and Fengjing, visit my Flikr site using the links below.

Surreptitious Shanghai

Contemplating Four Chinese Cities

Grassroots Beijing and Environs

Video Moments in China

Classical Ballet With a Chinese Flavour

Jazz Ballet Chinese-Style

The Art of the Chinese Acrobat

Chinese Lotus Dancers

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