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African-Native American Genealogy Forum

Re: Cherokee Indians - their surnames

I will try to be as gentle as the fact will allow. First, there was no such thing as an "Indian Princess." Such terminology is a part of the lore of America's past. Often, when a white man married an Indian woman, he would have to do some hefty explaining to the racist white family. What better way to improve the identity of his new found brown skinned love, than to make her into a princess. And of course, the Europeans saw things in terms of Kings and Queens, so often, when a white man would marry the daughter of a chief, even if he was a minor chief, he would call his wife a princess of the tribe. Europeans understood little of the class and social structure of the tribes they impacted.

Second, the surnames Carmicheal and Carpenter are NOT Native American surnames. They both originate in Britain. Now that doe snot mean whites with those surnames could not have intermarried with Natives. A native surname would be one like mine, Cornsilk, or like a girl I knew years ago, who was Sioux and carried the surname "Cries for Ribs." Modern tribal people have been impacted by intermarriage, assimilation and aculturation. There are multiple ways European surnames have come to be a part of our tribal heritage.

And third, if by some very slim chance, you actually do possess some degree of Indian ancestry, that does not mean you will ever be eligible for enrollment with the tribe of your ancestry. The special status of American Indians and Indian tribes is not based on race. That special status comes from the peculiar relationship that has been forged between the United States and the tribes. It is called a "government to government" relationship. Tribes that have not had that relationship are not afforded the special benefits and protected rights of tribes that do.

By the same token, individuals who have maintained, from generation to generation, their connection to the tribe, also enjoy the benefits of that special relationship. For the Cherokees, the beneficiaries of that special relationship are the original enrollees on the Dawes Roll and their descendants. There a number of individuals alive today who can prove, beyond a shadow of doubt, that they have Cherokee Indian ancestors, but who are not eligible for citizenship in the Cherokee Nation, Eastern Band and/or United Keetoowah Band. Those people either do not meet the citizenship criteria established by the people, or their ancestors abandoned tribal relations generations ago and therefore, their descendants living today cannot reforge that lost connection if tribal law does not permit it. I, and my fellow citizens of the Cherokee Nation, are the beneficiaries of the strong ties that held our ancestors together as a tribe. Like those whose ancestors let go, mine did not. And like them, who are excluded because of the choices their ancestors made, we citizens of the Indian nations reap the benefits of the choices our ancestors made. Its a twist on the old saying, "Now you must sleep in the bed you have made." We Indian citizenship is "Now you get to sleep in the bed your ancestors made."

The first steps you must take in determining if you even have Indian ancestry, whether you could ever enroll or not, is to do a genealogical survey of your ancestry. Use standard genealogical methodology (buy a book) and then start tracing your roots, starting with yourself. Once you have that framework in hand, you can then begin to find biographical data about your family, such as, "are they on any tribal rolls." Good luck in your search. Don't turn to DNA testing, its not sophisticated enough right to determine much of anything. Do the real work and learn the real truth about your family. You'll be much more pleased with the outcome in the end.

18 Dec 2002 :: 14 Nov 2008
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