Monday, January 7, 2013

White Man's Civilization and The Cherokee's Reply

 by Nomad

Native American Cunne Shote

While researching the history of early Virginia in the New York Public Library, I found this passage from and thought you might find it interesting. 

The story relates an elderly Indian leader's eloquent reply to the cultural arrogance of the white people who were effectively destroying his way of life.

It comes from the long-forgotten book, "A History of the Valley of Virginia" written in 1833 by Samuel Kercheval.
In the winter of 1815-16, the author spent some weeks in the state of Georgia, where he fell in with Col. Barnett, on of the commissioner for running the boundary line of Indian lands which had shortly before been ceded to the United States. Some conversations took place on the subject of the Indians and Indian character, in which Col. B. remarked that in one of his excursions through Indian country, he met with a very aged Cherokee chief, who spoke and understood the English language pretty well.
The colonel had several conversations with this aged man, in one of which he congratulated him upon the prospect of his people having their condition greatly improved, there being every reason to believe in the course of a few years they would become acquainted with the arts of civil life- would be better clothed, better fed, and erect better and more comfortable habitations- and what was of still greater importance  they would become acquainted with the doctrines and principles of the Christian religion.
This venerable old man listened with the most profound and respectful attention until the colonel had concluded and then with a significant shake of his head and much emphasis replied, - that he doubted the benefits to the  red people pointed out by the colonel: that before their father were acquainted with the whites, the red people needed but little and that little the Great Spirit gave them, the forest supplying them with food and raiment  that before their fathers were acquainted with the white people, the red people never got drunk, because they had nothing to make them drunk, and never committed theft because they had no temptation to do so.
It was true that when parties were out hunting, and one party was unsuccessful, and found the game of the more successful party hung up, if they needed provision they took it; and this was not stealing- it was the law and custom of the tribes. If they went to war, they destroyed each other's property: this was done to weaken their enemy.
Red people never sworn, because they had no words to express an oath. Red people would not cheat because they had no temptation to commit fraud: they never told falsehoods because they had no temptation to tell lies. 
And as to religion, you go to your churches, sing loud, pray loud and make great noise. The red people meet once a year, at the feast of the new corn, extinguish all their fires and kindle up a new one, the smoke of which ascends to the Great Spirit as a grateful sacrifice. Now what better is your religion than ours?
The white people have taught us to get drunk, to steal, to lie, to cheat, and to swear; and if the knowledge of these vices, as you profess to hold them and punish by your laws is beneficial to the red people, we are benefited by our acquaintance with you; if not, we are greatly injured by that acquaintance. 
Within less than a generation of the old Cherokee's remarks, the accuracy of his thoughts would be confirmed in full with the Indian Removal Act of 1830. By the late 1830s, his people would be forcibly removed from the South and escorted by an armed force of 7,000 to the newly-formed Indian Territory. As one source reports:
By 1837, 46,000 Native Americans from these southeastern states had been removed from their homelands.
That death march, known to historians and the Native American survivors as the "The Trail of Tears," led to the loss of around 4,000 Cherokees and confirmed the accuracy of the old Native American's doubts about the benefits of the White Man's civilizing effect.