In Cherokee women were pushed into the background

Historical Cherokee Tribes, women held a
great deal of power due to the fact that they followed a matrilineal system (Rodning
and Sullivan 2010). As Historical Cherokees began to modernize their methods,
coupled with the introduction to European Settlers the Cherokee Peoples’ ideals and values began to change (Finger 1984).
While the Cherokee and Euro-American grew closer and began to cohabitate
historical methods and ideas were modernized and white-washed (Finger 1984). The
response by the Cherokee could be called an intermixing of
Traditional/Historical ideals and “Modern” methods which results in the
movement away from the matrilineal society upon which the Cherokee Value System
was established (Carson 2010). Aspects of the matrilineal society upon which
the Cherokee Society were founded are pushed out as Cherokee Culture undergoes
a movement into modern times; traditional duties of men and women shift within
the community, leadership roles shift, trade roles shift, and the women begin
to lose their voice (Perdue 1998). The power system of Contemporary Cherokee
compared to the Historical Cherokee changed greatly in regard to the strength
of the matrilineal system enabling women to hold positions of power within the
tribe (Perdue 1998).

What is
a matrilineal system/society? In the Merriam-Webster Dictionary defines it as,
“Relating to, based on, or tracing descent through the maternal line”
(“Matrilineal 2017). However, in traditional Cherokee clans, it is explained in a different manner,

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“Matrilocal societies, in which wives
and husbands occupied the bride’s mother’s home, developed where warfare and
conflict occurred, primarily outside a tribe. Matrilineal tribes, in which
inheritances and the family name were passed through females, often established
agricultural or other relatively settled societies” (Hill, B., Vaughn, C., and Harrison, S., 1995).

Cherokee women were pushed into the
background during the mid 1900’s, they still held on to some traditional
values, “Though Khasi women do not
generally assume the roles held by men in patriarchal societies (they do not
become warriors or hunters, for example) they always live in households in
which they or their mother have authority over most household decisions.”
(Gneezy, Leonard, and List 2008:4). Often times when
a matrilineal system is discussed men are the only contributors to the
conversation because it is believed that they hold the power in such a society.
“Men, and in particular husbands, on the other hand frequently hold
roles that seem to mirror those of women in patriarchal societies. The Khasi
husband dwells in a household in which he has no authority or property, is
expected to work for the gain of his wife’s family, and has no social roles
deemed important.” (Gneezy, Leonard, and List 2004:4-5). When the European’s
came over to the United States the shift in the power matrix is apparently
evident. “Even when women took center stage as they
did in Carolyn Thomas Foreman’s Indian
Woman Chiefs, it was in roles usually ascribed to men, because the
assumption was that only male roles were important” (Perdue 2008:6).
Matrilineal systems are often highly discussed due to the fact that not as much
information is known about them (Sullivan and Rodning 2010). “Early attempts to
explore systematically the relationships between men and women in various
cultures focused on the universal subordination of women” (Perdue 2008:7)
“…Native men, as well as women, became
marginalized in the American society that emerged following the revolution. A
broader world, in which a different conception of gender prevailed, impinged
increasingly on Cherokee men and women in the nineteenth century” (Perdue
2008:10). There, however, is a recent
resurgence and reexamination of historical accounts that dealt with the
Cherokee Indian people bringing to light what a complex culture they previously
had not been thought to poses. Gender is one of the biggest areas for scrutiny
even today, “…is
fast replacing ethnicity as a category of analysis for understanding the
frontier…reflects how the cultural process of change and persistence tore apart
one native community…” (Carson 2010:780). The gender battle began when the
European settlers pressured the Cherokee Indians to conform in all aspects of
European culture, “In part, because many
Cherokee women and men did not conform to the gender norms of the United
States, their critics branded them as ‘uncivilized’ and sought their removal
West of the Mississippi” (Perdue1998:10). The discussion of gender norms and
shifts away from their traditional matrilineal dissension lines occurs in the mid-1900’s as the Cherokee were pushed into
boarding schools and began to lose many aspects of their traditional heritage.

            The strength of the Historical Cherokee Societies is
exceptional; they found a way to grow cooperatively in the face of adversity
during the colonization of the United States of America (Finger 1984). This
being said the Cherokee People were not able to maintain each aspect of their
traditional lives; farming along with domesticated livestock became their primary
source of food and was a large shift from the previous method of traditional
hunting and gathering lifestyle. A quote from James Taylor Carson’s work, “Conquest
or Progress!”: Old Questions and New Problems in the Ethnohistory of the
Native Southeast,

saw contact as a phenomenon full of nothing but danger
for Native Americans. It had shattered their cultures, diminished their
populations, and undermined their political sovereignty. Cushman, though, saw
more in the dismal story of contact and decline than either extinction or
assimilation. Rather he saw noble people who endeavored to make the best of a
worsening situation” (Carson 2010:3).

During this time of
uprooting Cherokee Culture, The Indian Office no longer favored sending members
of Cherokee Nation west to the “concentration camps” that were the
reservations. The Cherokee People who were left began to dig in their heels and
resist removal, “Hindman’s own reports made it apparent the Indians did not
want to emigrate, and organizing delegation, or keeping Timson in the field
seemed unlikely to improve the situation” (Finger 1984:34). Cherokee history
has been covered numerous ways, shifts in this focus are likely due to the era
in which the writer focused their notes at that time. Periods from
pre-introduction/contact, pre-removal, post-removal, and into modern literature
all express the Cherokee in different lights. Thea Perdue expressed her
fondness of William McLoughlin’s interpretation of the Cherokee people in terms
of their general history, he, however,
did not shine much light on the history, strife, or struggle for the Cherokee
women in his literature (Perdue 1998:9). Her work, Cherokee Women: Gender and Culture Change, 1700 discusses difficult
issues regarding the written history of the Cherokee People, “The ‘decline’ of
Native people is embedded in contact history, largely because scholars have
focused on military defeat and land loss” (Perdue, 1998:10). No two
descriptions are the same, it can be incredibly difficult to ascertain from old
literature what information is logical and what is an extreme exaggeration of
the truth. Turning to Cherokee writers such as John Finger, or Thea Perdue
provide a greater sense of clarity for the topics being discussed, “Later
observers, including John Lawson, also describe Native ‘cacicas’ or ‘queens’. Class and hereditary rights determine the
status of these women, but with the disintegration of social hierarchy, gender
was more likely to shape the lives of Native People” (Perdue 1998:9). Authors
such as Fay Yarbrough often feel as though researchers only focus on issues of
Removal, but the Cherokee has proven they
endured more than that,

“What may not be widely known is that the Removal was only
one of several dramatic changes experienced by the Cherokee Nation in the
Nineteenth Century. The Cherokees radically transformed their political and
legal institutions early in the century; survived the internal strife which
verged on civil war, that was the result of the removal policy of the 1830’s;
weathered the American Civil War, and their own reconstruction as they
struggled to incorporate former slaves into society; and confronted federal
attempts to dismantle Indian sovereignty as the century drew to a close”
(Yarbrough 2004:385).

            Cohabitation between the Cherokee Indians and the
European settlers enabled America to take on the melting pot ideal which has
drawn so many immigrant people to this nation today. John Finger wrote on the
increased interest of Cherokee matters in Congress, “There had been widespread
allegations about corruption and mismanagement during the 1838 Removal and
Legislators were determined to learn the financial detail” (Finger
1984:35).  Reclamation of their land was
aided by William Thomas, “He used some of the funds to pay himself for the
debts the Cherokee Indians incurred at his stores and used another portion,
along with his own money to acquire more land in Western North Carolina”
(Finger 1984:44).  The culmination of the
area known as Cherokee today was fought for long and hard. The generosity of
William Thomas enabled them to reestablish their roots in the land where they
had originally resided allowing them to maintain a close connection to the
land. By 1842 over 50,000 parcels of land had been purchased and was intended to
be the reclaimed Cherokee Indian Homeland, however it was to remain in William
Thomas’s name until their debt had been repaid and became known as the Qualla
Boundary (Finger 1984:44). He also fought for their right to be members of the
United States as well as the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians, “In contrast to
Junaluska, ordinary Cherokee continued to endure an anomalous legal status.
Thomas insisted they were entitled to all rights of citizenship, including
voting, but he hastened to add that they did not choose to exercise the later
privilege because they wished to avoid the tumult of party factionalism” (Finger 1984:49). Traditional
practices such as basket making, and pottery (which were traditionally crafts
which women focused on) persisted well into contemporary Cherokee Culture, but
other adaptations such as moving away from farming and focus on manufacturing
jobs show the assimilation that Cherokee people have made. As the topic of
reclamation has grown, “The Cherokee School System begins teaching all children
traditional artisanship at the elementary school level and by the time they go
to the Cherokee High School many students are becoming accomplished artisans”
(Taylor Beard-Moose 2009:94). The resurgence
of traditional Cherokee crafts has
enabled them to connect to their heritage regardless of the original gender
that focused on that craft. The New Kituwah Academy is another example of
reclamation, Cherokee people have begun to enroll their children in this
education program that is conducted entirely in the Cherokee language. Programs
such as this fight to counteract the “Disneyfication” of the Cherokee People as
Christina Taylor Beard-Moose discusses in her ethnography, Public Indians,
Private Cherokee, “As the globalization of the Disney worldview continues…tourists-especially
American tourists- continue to expect more glitz, more special effects- more
“bling” to use the modern lingo” (Taylor Beard-Moose 2009:101-102).
Furthermore, the Cherokee people, even though they reside within the United States,
are considered a sovereign territory entitled to its own form of government,
leadership, and laws. However, it is a three-part government similar to the
United States, “…divided their government into three branches: an executive
branch embodied by the Chief; a judiciary with district and Supreme Court
systems; and a legislature that created laws for the Cherokee Nation”
(Yarbrough 2004:385).  With the
white-washing began in the mid 1900’s a huge change in the matrilineal
functioning of the Cherokee people is evident, “…the Cherokee legislature
enacted a series of laws regulating sex and marriage that reveals efforts of
the Cherokee authorities to modify conceptions of gender and race within the
Cherokee Nation” (Yarbrough 2004:385). Further changes to the functioning of
the Cherokee matrilineal system would come about in the wake of modernization
to please the European settlers, developing the system that is seen in parts

            In an attempt to save what is left of their Traditional
Cherokee Culture, the Cherokee have begun to assimilate into the European
Standard of living set for them by those
who had traveled to America. Some aspects of Cherokee Culture were modified,
enabling the Europeans to believe they domesticated the “wild Indians”, while
others were kept quietly hidden from the eye of the encroaching Europeans. Thea
Perdue discussed what changes Cherokee Indians took part in, “They attended
mission schools, converted to Christianity, and became paragons of domesticity.
These women were primarily members of the Cherokee Elite that emerged in the
late eighteenth century and shaped the Cherokee History that McLoughlin wrote”
(Perdue 1998:9-10). At this point, one can begin to see the changes that took
place within the Cherokee culture and their shift away from being a matrilineal
society in all manners of the term. “There are, however, other indices of
culture change, including production, reproduction, religion, and perceptions
of self as well as political and economical
institutions” (Perdue 1998:10). Methods used to mesh both cultures together
were focused largely on the elite members of the Cherokee community due to the
fact that they had the wealth, as well as the connections to educate their
children, and themselves. Education was believed to be the key focal point for
the Cherokee to survive in the European world, “The origins of contact as
scholarly discourse can be traced back to the nineteenth century. In response
to popular denunciations of native “savagery” and of Indians’ inability to adapt
to ‘civilization’ of Gilded Age America” (Carson 2010:779). It has been argued
by authors that the only area in which the two cultures did not meet was
gender, “…explores how natives’ and settlers’ subsistence strategies and
concepts of property converged in the hunting economy. Only in terms of gender
roles did the two cultures not meet halfway” (Carson 2010:780). Some historical
accounts recall how different the two cultures were, citing the Cherokee as
barbaric and uncultured, whereas settlers were the epitome of culture or class
and the basis of what every person alive should aspire to be. When it came to
separating duties between the European men, and the Cherokee women,
disagreements often arose, “…relatively peaceful accommodations reached by
natives and non-natives in sugaring, whereas
in lead mining Native American women and Euro-American men refused to share
either techniques or knowledge” (Carson 2010:780).  The ethnography Public Indians, Private
Cherokee by Christina Taylor Beard-Moose, further describes how the Cherokee in
the 20th Century attempted to maintain aspects of White-Washed Cherokee history
in order to maintain tourism levels along the Qualla boundary (Taylor
Beard-Moose 2009). Aspects of their culture such as roadside chiefs, or Indian
princesses were used to mystify the culture and encourage tourism,

“However, MaCannel
points to another reinterpretation of the ‘traditional’ look and reminds us
that ‘clear exploitation occurs when aspects of everyday life of formally colonized
people (their cuisine, music, or anything else that is important in the
cultural life of the community) are taken from the people and turned into
industrial products that replace the original” (Taylor Beard-Moose 2009:53).

This lack of respect
for traditional Cherokee ways is also seen later in the book when the topic of
“Tourism” is discussed with the Cherokee elders within the community, “tourism
and tourist ‘keep the Cherokee being Cherokees'”, without the aid of tourism
and tourists it has been speculated that much of the traditional knowledge not
highly practiced in this modern world would have been lost through time (Taylor
Beard-Moose 2009:4).

            What is a matrilineal society? What does it mean that the
Cherokee people followed this method of succession and acculturation for such a
long period of time? Is the introduction of European settlers the first time
there is a shift away from this social structure; or did they desist from a
matrilineal society over time, and it was merely sped up by their introduction.
Ethnographers at the time, “…couched their observations in comparative terms:
they analyzed ‘primitive’ customs, that is, Native American behavior, against
the backdrop of ‘civilized’ practices such as their own” (Perdue 1998:5). The
story of the Cherokee people is an incredible show of strength in the face of
drastic change, “…most Cherokee women are
not cultural transformation as McLoughlin describes it, but a remarkable
cultural persistence. At the same time, some Cherokee women did experience
profound change” (Perdue 1998:9). What values and morals are often time
associated with a matrilineal society? How have they shifted over time?
Matrilineal societies focus on dissension through the female line, but they
delve much deeper than that,

“There are societies that are matrilineal, and matrilocal, and
where women are accorded veneration and respect-but there are no societies
which violate the universality of patriarchy defined as ‘a system of
organization…in which the overwhelming number of upper positions are in
hierarchies are occupied by males'” (Goldberg 1993:14).

Matrilineal societies
work extraordinarily well, determining one’s mother is relatively easy unless
you were given up for adoption, paternity,
however, is incredibly complex,

“Further, women never join the household of their husband’s
family, and some men leave their mother’s household to join their wife’s’
household. In some cases, men will practice duolocal marriage (in which they
live in both their mothers and wife’s households” (Gneezy, Leonard, and List

Shifts from hunting
and gathering, to domesticated farming and raising of livestock greatly
affected the entire social makeup of the Cherokee society. Men ended up taking
over farming, and trade which was
previously dedicated to the Cherokee women, “The gender observers poses a
substantial problem for writing ethnohistories’ of Native American women
because Native American men and women lived remarkably separate lives” (Perdue
1998:3). Ethnographers encountered difficulty understanding that the women in
Cherokee society held positions of such power, because of their own personal
background and upbringings,

“Other scholars began to pay attention to the transformation
of women’s role and the changes of their status, particularly the experience of
Native American women following European Colonization. The result was a
‘dissension model’ which juxtaposed high pre-contact female status with the
subordinate women found in post-contact societies and held colonization
responsible for the decline” (Perdue 1998:)

Men who had previously been in
charge of hunting and tribal leadership through their mothers or wives’ heritage
lines began to take over farming, trade, and some domestic aspects that were
once the duty of Cherokee Women. From this point forward, a retreat of women
into more domesticated aspects of life can be seen,

“A sexual division of labor
underlay much of this separation, and tasks became largely defined by gender.
Although Native American Men sometimes helped the women with their chores-and
women helped men-men knew relatively little about Women’s work, nor were they
privy to women’s conversations, rituals, and various gender-specific behaviors
and beliefs (Perdue 1998:3-4).

The lack of knowledge that
entered into men increasingly taking over the duties of Cherokee women would
further encourage the loss of culture that remains partially prevalent today,
“The discipline of history discounted that which was not written indeed, people
of all literate cultures tend to assume that anything not written down is
insignificant. Consequently, male activities and concerns dominated
professional renditions of the past” (Perdue 1998).

Cherokee Women held a very powerful position in the
history books, they led a relatively peaceful lifestyle
and developed many tools that enabled their people to be successful in many
crafts that have made a resurgence in their culture today (Finger, 1984).
However, the power which they once held has diminished, the introduction of
European Settlers put into motion a drastic reduction in the power that the
matriarchs of the Cherokee people once held (Gneezy,
Leonard, and List, 2008). Their positions of leadership were given to
men, they lost their say in the trade,
men further domesticated the raising of livestock, as well as growing crops
that were preferred by Europeans, and were forced into the home to take care of
the children or domestic related issues (Finger 1984). The reclamation that has
occurred since the formation of The Native American Graves Protection and
Repatriation Act has allowed them to regain some of their standing within the
community and slowly begin to return to some semblance of power that they had
previously held before the introduction of European settlers (Carroll 2012).
Manners in which the Cherokee women have done this is teaching younger students
Cherokee through the Immersion schools, ensuring that the art displayed and
sold at the Qualla Arts and Crafts Center is truly Cherokee Art made by local
artists in traditional manners (Perdue 1998). Another step that they have taken
is making their way back into positions of leadership such as Joyce Dugan who
was the first woman to become Principal Chief of the Eastern Band of Cherokee
Indians (1995-1999) (Carrol 2012). Another reclamation point is that there are
two women that sit on the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians Tribal Council (Lisa
Taylor and Tommye Saunooke), efforts such as these will ensure that there is
still some fragment of the traditional pre-contact Cherokee ways alive and well
today (Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians 2017).




Carroll, Beau

2012 Indigenous
Archaeological Practice in the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians. Horizon and
Tradition: Newsletter of the Southeastern Archaeological Conference

J. T.

2000 “Conquest or Progress!”: Old
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Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians

2017 Official Government Website
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Cherokee Indians-Government.

Finger, John R.

1984 The Eastern Band of Cherokees
1819-1900. University of Tennessee Press, Knoxville.

Uri, Leonard, Kenneth L., and List, John A

Gender Differences in Competition: Evidence from a Matrilineal and a
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Goldberg, Steven

Why Men Rule, a Theory of Male Dominance.
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Hill, B., Vaughn, C., and
Harrison, S.

Living and Working in Two Worlds: Case Study of Five American Indian Women
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1998 Cherokee Women: Gender and Culture Change,
1700-1835. University of Nebraska Press, Lincoln.

Sullivan, Lynne P., and Rodning, Christopher B.

2010 Residential Burial, Gender Roles, and Political
Development in Late Prehistoric and Early Cherokee Cultures of the Southern
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Beard-Moose, Christina

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