Principal Chief John Ross
(Photo courtesy of Wiki Commons - public domain photo)
This is the first in a series of blog posts offering brief information on every constitutionally-elected Principal Chief of the Cherokee Nation since 1828.
John Ross, or Cooweescoowee (“Mysterious Little White Bird”) was born in the Cherokee settlement known as Turkeytown, Alabama, on 3 October 1790. His father was Scottish and his mother Cherokee. Schooled at the Kingston Academy in Tennessee, Ross became a prominent leader of Cherokee resistance to invading colonial influence. Federal agents spent much time trying to bribe Ross into approving Cherokee land sales, which Ross resisted and reported.
Ross became chief in 1828. The Treaty of New Echota, signed in 1835 and ratified in 1836, ceded (by a minority Cherokee faction) Cherokee lands to the United States Government. Ross led the resistance against the treaty, but to no avail. He led the western Cherokees across the Mississippi River to Indian Territory during the Trail of Tears (TOT) in 1838-39. Ross’ first wife, Quatie, died on the steamboat "Victoria," on a TOT river route 1 February 1839. When most of the Cherokees were forced to the new Indian Territory, Ross helped create a new constitution and was elected Principal Chief for the new territory in 1839, and held that office until his death on 1 August 1866.
John Ross is buried in Ross Cemetery, Tahlequah, Cherokee County, Oklahoma.
***Bryan D. Jackson’s new release, Chattahoochee Rain (ages 12 and up), is available for purchase for the holidays. It is a historical fiction account that paints a portrait of events during the months leading up to the Treaty of New Echota and features some of Bryan’s direct ancestors.
Kimberly Teehee and Principal Chief Chuck Hoskin, Jr., Cherokee Nation
(Photo courtesy of the Cherokee Phoenix)
Article 12. That the Indians may have full confidence in the justice of the United States respecting their interests, they shall have the right to send a deputy of their choice, whenever they think fit, to Congress. (Treaty of Hopewell, 1785)
Article 7: The Cherokee nation having already made great progress in civilization and deeming it important that every proper and laudable inducement should be offered to their people to improve their condition as well as to guard and secure in the most effectual manner the rights guaranteed to them in this treaty, and with a view to illustrate the liberal and enlarged policy of the Government of the United States towards the Indians in their removal beyond the territorial limits of the States, it is stipulated that they shall be entitled to a delegate in the House of Representatives of the United States whenever Congress shall make provision for the same. (Treaty of New Echota, 1835)
These two articles from Cherokee Nation and United States history demonstrate that the Cherokee Nation does, and always has had— since the treaty’s ratification—the right to a delegate to the United States Congress. Recently-elected Cherokee Nation Principal Chief, Chuck Hoskin, Jr., put the wheels in motion for this to happen, and Cherokee Nation citizen Kimberly Teehee has been nominated for this vital position. Ms. Teehee, among her many accomplishments, is an attorney who served in the Obama administration as a senior policy advisor for Native American affairs. Cherokees have the right person equipped for this task, ready to go.
This is about doing the right thing. Congress, simply, needs to do the right thing here.
I have collateral ancestors who helped develop the Treaty of New Echota, and two of them were signers. The Treaty of New Echota was essentially a resignation by members of what became known as the Ridge Party. They eventually developed in opposition to the Ross Party, named for then Chief John Ross and his followers, who were set against any relinquishment of Cherokee lands under any circumstances. The Ridge Party members were not always in favor of giving in to the U.S. Government, but, as more Cherokee begin to perish due to colonial encroachment, Cherokees like my great, great, great uncles, Robert Rogers, William Rogers, and Johnson Rogers, began to understand the futility of battling the government, fearing that the entire tribe would fall victim to genocide. For men like Major Ridge (who was murdered for his role in the treaty) his son, John, and William Rogers (a victim of attempted murder for his role), tribal sovereignty was more important than tribal location. This will, understandably, always be a source of tension and debate among Cherokees. I cover some of this history in my forthcoming novella, Chattahoochee Rain.
I think my ancestors would be pleased that Chief Hoskin has taken this step and no doubt proud of Kim Teehee for accepting the nomination. The House of Representatives needs to do what’s right. My hope is that the Great Spirit will guide our congressmen and women to consider the massive scope of what is at stake here.
Do you suspect that you have Native American ancestry?
Does your DNA “prove” that ancient family story?
Are you “part Cherokee?”
Was your great, great-grandmother a princess?
With the rise of DNA testing companies mirrored by a hostile political landscape, one way that some organizations have lined their pockets has been to play to a person’s emotions regarding fragmented family stories of Native American (especially Cherokee) ancestry. With the 2020 election looming, the continued caricature, mocking, misunderstanding, and ignorant dismissal of our people and way of life is certain.
Here are some thoughts on genetic testing that I hope will stimulate intelligent thinking on the subject for the genuinely curious.
1. Does DNA testing or blood quantum verify Native Identity?
No. DNA testing is irrelevant to tribal affiliation and blood quantum is a colonial invention, having little or nothing to do with how most reasonable Natives view themselves within the context of their tribe or communities. Granted, a host of tribal persons still use race (despite centuries of race-mixing) as a pretext for their own arguments regarding “we versus them,” which is essentially reverse discrimination, but most recognize and acknowledge that Native identity is less about race and more about common relations.
FYI – the United States government classifies only three entities by blood quantum: Equestrians, canines, and Native Americans. Now, I am at one with the animals so I don’t mind being compared to horses and dogs, but the criminality in this is the obvious distinction between Native persons and other humans. There is a long, complicated, and emotionally unforgiving story behind this concept that has to do with genocide and patriarchal governments.
2. Is there a difference between race and ethnicity?
Yes. Race, for the most part, has to do with a person’s physical traits—especially skin color. Technically speaking, I am of mixed-racial origin. My pigmentation, however, is white; therefore, my race is white.
Ethnicity is about ancestry and the culture with which one identifies. I am of Caucasian and Cherokee Indian ancestry. I claim both. From a spiritual and communal perspective, I identify more with my Cherokee ancestors. They reached out to me. I am not “part” Cherokee; I am Cherokee.
3. So, DNA is not relevant to tribal affiliation?
Again: no. I am not qualified to go into detail regarding DNA and genetics. Yet, in simplest terms, individuals receive one-half of each parent’s DNA. Mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA) comes from our mother, the Y-Chromosome (YCh) from our father. These are the two main genetic markers used in Native American DNA analysis. Essentially, due to race-mixing over the past couple of centuries, mtDNA and YCh’s sometimes do not get past the generational lines to show up in Native American (in my case, Cherokee) DNA analysis. They get “washed out,” depending on the gender and geographic location of the ancestor(s).
Moreover, Native identity is more about fidelity than biology. True, one either has Native ancestors or one does not but fidelity and adherence to relationships typifies Native kinship. With respect to genetic markers, a person with a single Native ancestor has Native ancestry, yet, others with numerous Native ancestors (as in my case) might possess no recordable Native DNA. Absence of evidence does not indicate evidence of absence. Furthermore, tribal fidelity means understanding and appreciating from whence one came, being of service to one’s people (Native community or society), and participating in an ethic of care, which indicates one’s desire to leave things better than one found them for the next seven generations. None of that has anything to do with DNA testing; therefore, DNA is irrelevant to being truly Native.
4. What are some other specifics of being Native?
Values – the honoring of and participation in, shared values of one’s Native society
Enrollment – tribal enrollment or citizenship when eligible; enrollment in legitimate heritage organizations when possible; and, at the very least, knowing which ancestors were enrolled and when (perhaps the most important because we "stand on the shoulders" of our ancestors)
Traditions – maintaining the integrity of sacred traditions such as language, beliefs, the honoring of ancestors, medicine, diet, and others
Seventh generation gifting – passing on all of the above for future generations
So, remember: It is not about the markers. It’s about birthright and fidelity. Seeking to classify persons in terms of parts rather than the sacred whole only breeds misunderstanding and confusion. Furthermore, the whole "great-grandmother princess" idea infuriates Natives (and Cherokees in particular) because there was no such thing and it deminishes the hard-won reality of our ancestors' experiences. If you suspect Native ancestry but are still having a hard time unearthing specifics, seek the assistance of a tribal genealogist or historian specific to the tribe with whom you think you might be affiliated.
SPRING IS FOR SOARING
Bald eagles, catching the winds above our home on Friday, April 12, 2019
Bald eagles. A creature that knows how to soar. Do you? In the above photo, four bald eagles glide on the winds above our home. There were actually five but I was only able to capture four with my iPhone camera. Wonderful things happen to me in spring. Eagles, for example. My wife, forever in tune with nature and the animals and birds, who are our brothers and sisters, alerted me to this scene. The times that I have soared in life—they have almost all been kicked off by a mild, lovely spring.
If you’re a young person, I would encourage you to be like these bald eagles: Find some wind, hop aboard, and ride. School will be out soon. How will you soar this summer? Perhaps you will find a job that really winds your watch. Or, maybe you’ll discover a volunteer opportunity that becomes a life-long interest. When I was a dog trainer, I was a senior trainer, meaning that I trained other trainers. One of my favorites was a young man still in high school. He learned from me and began earning part-time money during the summer, doing something he loved! Stranger things have happened. Be open to the possibilities. Let spring glide you toward a useful summer.
It’s also a great time to curl up with a good book. Okay, I admit: For people like me, almost anytime is good to curl up with a good book. Speaking of books, I have one coming out sometime this year. Chattahoochee Rain is about a 13-year-old girl, Annie, who lives in the old Cherokee Nation. She is trying to soar; that is, she’s trying to grow up in a way that will make her and her family proud. Are you doing that? Don’t grow up too fast! (It’s overrated, adulthood).
Take your time this spring. Learn to soar. Most important of all, be you. Don’t let others guide your thinking. And don’t forget to read!
Seattle Sunset, 2010
Reflection. It's something I do, partially because it is who I am but partially because my health status forces it. I have reflected lately more on what I have than what I don't, a rarity for me. See, I'm a godforsaken pessimist. I set out to be as different from my father, may he rest in peace, as I could be with respect to outlook, but life has gotten the better of me more times that I can count. Despite this reality, I can always see the sun peeking from under the thick, burnt volumes of clouds. If I could not, I would have been dead long ago.
In the photo above, an eagle is taking flight (upper right, one o'clock). The pic was taken from the ferry to Bainbridge Island almost a decade ago, before my wife and I moved out here. Speaking of Penelope, she and the American Bald Eagle have a sisterhood. It is powerful. I would advise the curious to question that sisterhood only at their own peril. Like the eagle, my wife soars, and for that I am grateful. When she's not riding the breeze, surveying the landscape, she's swooping in to manage her roost.
To her misfortune, my declining health clouds her roost. I am currently in the midst of yet another challenge. As I bob and weave, I am cognizant of how the beauty of life
- represented here by a seraph who never lets me down and dear friends that appear when most needed - belies the ugliness of my constant and significant physical breakdowns. I am reminded of the Seattle sunset and how blessed I am to have seen so many.
I have had a lot more yesterdays and tomorrows than I deserve.
Despite it all, I celebrate the peace and mystery of this holiday season. And I cherish the one with whom I have ridden the breeze during my more robust days, as well as those friends who, both two and four-legged, extend the kindness and compassion that Jesus of Nazareth and those like him professed.
As a seminary professor said in the vesting room at my graduation so many years ago, "These are great days!"
The Call to Listen
My wonderful friend, Rebecca (Becky) Goss, Cherokee Nation
My excellent friend, Becky, is called to listen. More than once, she has helped me negotiate some complicated Cherokee “stuff.” Each time, she listened without a single interruption. An enrolled member of the Cherokee Nation, Becky is good at listening for the key points of your struggle. We need more listeners like her.
Listening involves a presence; we are either present for the other person or we are not. Becky generates a real presence, and the lucky talker knows that he or she is being heard. How can more of us be like Becky? The art of listening involves the emptying of the self, enough that the other person is validated. Becky validates because she responds from a place of love and empathy.
I have another dear friend who has invested significant emotional time and energy over the years in someone that, as long as I’ve known him, can’t seem to stop talking about himself. He is his favorite all-time subject. He cheats the oxygen in the room. Unfortunately for all concerned, nobody has ever bothered to tell him that he talks too damn much. He refuses to shut up, especially if he might be called on to demonstrate the slightest intimacy skill. His self-adulation prevents any meaningful dialogue for my friend, and it has been hard to watch. Due to this man’s behavior, my friend can never fully share, and almost always comes away feeling shut down.
It is often said that listening is a skill. I think that it is just as much a choice. It is a choice that we make, to be available for the other person in a way that so many today are unavailable.
Be like Becky. Please, oh please, don’t be like my other friend’s emotional investment. Replenish the precious oxygen in the room by answering the call to listen.
A Calling to Respond
With my good friend, Todd Byrd, 2013
Are you in the “responding” business?
A friend and colleague, Todd, is in the responding business. We are roughly the same age, and have a few things in common. Years ago, when we worked together, Todd and I expressed a mutual desire to maintain interpersonal relationships only if they meant something to the other person. That is, reciprocity was important to both of us. We both confessed frustration regarding persons who seemed to enjoy initiating relationships and, at some point, dropping off the radar, as if the relationship meant nothing to begin with.
I am blessed in so many ways, and one of them is the knowledge that Todd continues to respond, to hold our friendship in high regard. I think we are called to respond; that, yes, I see it as a calling in and of itself. Being called to respond is a sign of an educated heart. Whether we are responding to another person or a situation, the measure of our integrity is often revealed in how we acknowledge or reciprocate.
Are you being called to respond to someone or something? It’s important to know that we always have the choice not to respond. We have the right to remain silent. If that is the choice, let us hope that we know exactly why we’re not responding, for our sake and for the sake of others.
For those to whom we wish to respond, and who choose to respond to us, let us be thankful.
The Most Rev. Michael Curry, courtesy of www.episcopalchurch.org
During the recent royal wedding, the Presiding Bishop of the United States, The Most Rev. Michael Curry, did what he was called to do. He did, simply, preach the love of Jesus as he understood it. Despite rather pathetic efforts to alter perceptions, Bishop Curry honored God, the bride and groom, and the church he represents. It is unclear to me how he might have made things less than they should have been.
Now, I never thought I would be one to defend an Episcopal bishop; not by a long shot (not that this gentleman needs it). The Episcopal Church and I have had our battles. There was a time when elements (two bishops, especially) of this entity of the Christian church treated me with unfounded disrespect, and in ways that shut me down as a human being. That was a long, long time ago.
Since those days, I was invited to be a staff member at a wonderful Episcopal parish in North Carolina, one with which I had been intimately familiar since childhood. During that incredible period of my ministry, I had the pleasure of meeting Michael Curry and visit with him—clergy to clergy, listening to his thoughts about how Jesus enters our lives and empowers us to bring the sacred to the lives of others. He did this with humility and positive exchange, being more than open to one ordained in another tradition. We laughed together that day, and I realized he was in possession of something frequently absent among those in the ordained ministry: a wonderful sense of humor.
One of the things that impressed me was how different Curry was—in the ways of the heart—than some of those bishops I had previously encountered. Bishop Curry struck me as genuine, loving, and he expressed a gift in the pulpit uncommon to most that I had witnessed in the Anglican way. That is to say, the man had soul.
There has been an interesting array of responses to Curry’s message at the royal wedding. Some have been negative; condescending. Listening to preachers critique other preachers is a bit like watching the little boy peeing into the hurricane: The self-imposed splash-back is entertaining enough; it just doesn’t qualify as serious scholarship. “There but by the grace of God, go I….”
In this age where so many strive to be “correct,” particularly in their respective theologies, I can’t help but wonder what has happened to the concept of perspective. All points of view are valid, and it isn't always about being right, but being faithful. I am reminded of how far we have yet to go. Believe it or not, some folks aren’t always harboring an agenda. Some do what they do for the sake of the Gospel, despite the wretchedness of others.
CALLED TO SERVE
With my mother, Jean, college graduation, May 1985.
Service to our higher power and to one another promotes well-being. It is usually through service that we find our calling. I would not presume to speak for my mother, no longer with us, as to her primary calling. It was evident to me, however, that she was called to serve at different junctures in her life. Her witness to my life, and to the lives of others, is well-remembered.
In 1872, the Board of Missions in the Episcopal Church created “The Woman’s Auxiliary,” which later became the Episcopal Church Women, or ECW. Mom was a member of the ECW for many years and developed friendships with some of the greatest women ever. Mom and her fellow ECW members contributed a great deal to the world, and being with them always gave her a sense of that well-being that I mentioned. She was dedicated to God and to her parish.
My mother was known as “Nana” to my sisters’ children. She had the ability to give each grandchild the sense that he or she was special. Mom enjoyed her grandchildren immensely, just as she did her own children. She was the matriarchal “glue” that helped hold our family together. If you wanted to know what was going on with a particular family member, you just had to ask Jean; she had the scoop. Part of my mother’s servant ministry was being a loving presence for us and others who were fortunate enough to have crossed her path.
My sister, Carol, reminded me on this year’s Valentine’s Day (by sending me a “Superman” Valentine card) of how Mom, during my pre-school days, transformed a pair of my pajamas into a homemade Superman costume and pinned a red towel on me for use as a cape. Every day at 4:00 p.m., when the original “Superman” series aired, I would lie prone over our cushioned footstool and pretend I was flying. Now, if that isn’t service for the sake of a child, I don’t know what is! February 14, 2018, marked what would have been my parents’ 65th anniversary. It’s a bittersweet day, made even more so as I reflect on my mother’s service to the world.
May 14, 2000, was a special day for me. It was Mother’s Day, the day I was ordained. It marked another progression in my spiritual relationship with my mother, who died the previous year. I recall contemplating, as the congregation laid hands on me (beginning with the children, a personal request), how a year earlier, as my mother lay dying, I had promised her that I wasn’t through—that I was just getting warmed up. It was an emotional moment, for sure, yet one laden with conviction. I think my sense of service and restoration came from her.
In what manner of service are you called this year? This month? This week?
“Come, follow me,” he said, “and I’ll show you how to fish for people.” Jesus (Matthew 4:19; CEB)
“The most respected people in our community are the elders who have spent their life in service to others.” Wilma Mankiller, former Principal Chief, Cherokee Nation
CALLED TO PLAY
The bridge at Freedom Park, Charlotte, NC. April, 2017
DID YOU KNOW?
Did you know that in the mid-20th century, particularly during the Vietnam War, Charlotte's Freedom Park was used as an occasional training area by Special Forces (Green Beret) reservists? They would "track" in the woods, and practice crossing Little Sugar Creek upside-down using line training.
Charlotte was a great place to learn to play. When I was a kid, the Nature Museum (now Discovery Place Nature) was my favorite “get out of jail free" (school!) card. The mammals, reptiles, birds, and bugs liberated me from the musty classrooms of my youth. The animals were always easier to relate to than other people. Ask almost any native Charlottean over 50 about their favorite childhood haunts and the Nature Museum is bound to be one of them. Of course, it was (and is) a place of learning, but it called me to play.
It was the same type of thrill going to Freedom Park in those days. We would run around the big train, and climb on the engine. The park had a couple of old fire engines, an army tank, and a fighter jet and we had great fun climbing those, too. We would play in the creek, and do the things that children did in the carefree manner that reflected the spirit of the times. Likewise, Veteran’s Park, on Central Avenue, was another popular park that in earlier days had the classic pump-action swings, where, the harder one pumped the handles, the higher one would go. Play would come, but we were forced to use our imaginations to create our circumstances, which were not dictated to us by technology as it is today.
Moreover, I can still smell the musty hard and softcover books at what was then the Commonwealth Branch of the Mecklenburg Public Library. When I was a small child, my mother would reward me by taking me to the library for two or three books. Fortunately, the love of books stuck with me. Aside from being part of my work, they will always be a source of play for me.
Another favorite was the Saturday morning visits to the “uptown” (as my dad called it) Sears. The aroma of roasted nuts permeated the place, and I loved the model train that seemed to run the entire length of the lobby when we walked in. I think the trips to Sears may be part of the reason why Saturday became my favorite day of the week. Saturday was sometimes the day that brought new football cleats, a new baseball glove or basketball from places like Sears, the Collins Company, and B & R Sporting Goods.
Later, I would be called to “play” when my father would take me to lunch at Hardees (a big deal in those days) on Eastway Drive. It was next to the post office and had one of the original “witch hat” roofs. After lunch or “supper” there, we might go to a Charlotte Checkers hockey game (I still have an authentic puck from 1973) at what I now like to think of as the “old” Charlotte Coliseum.
Dad and I would go to Charlotte’s Park Center so that I could see Mid-Atlantic Championship Wrestling. This was my first exposure to the likes of Johnny Valentine, Paul Jones, Super Destroyer, Andre the Giant, and of course, “Nature Boy” Ric Flair. Early in his career, Flair lived up the street from us in Parkview East. I think the Nature Boy was called to play (though it was also part of his professional image as a “heel”) when he would stroll down his driveway, flex his muscles, and stare at us as we drove by. I’m delighted to see that Flair’s daughter, Ashley (“Charlotte”), continues the family tradition in the squared circle. Sorry, Ric; she’s a heck of lot more fun to watch: Your Figure-Four Leg Lock may have made the world stop, but when Charlotte does her Corkscrew Moonsault, the world reverses, starts, and then backs up again before restarting. Chick power with "flair." Woooooooooh!
My first job, believe it or not, was at the movies. The remains of the Capri Theatre rest at 3500 E. Independence Boulevard, and I had more fun working there—and got into more trouble—than any teen should be allowed to have at work. Sometimes, when the matinee sold out, they would send me across the road to The Ramada Inn, so that the Capri would have cash and coin for the next show. I had fun playing “chicken” with the cars on the way back. Charlotteans were forgiving in those days. During last year's visit to Charlotte, I smiled as I drove past the old Capri, because East Independence is now a highway divided by two, three-foot-high medians, and I doubt I would try crossing it today without the assistance of a Ranger platoon or a SEAL Team.
At least some of life should be fun. Are you called to be at play at times?
This will be excruciating if you spend your days around people who are so uptight that they must unbutton their collar to use the restroom. You know the type: the ones who can’t see their reflection in the mirror.
Have a little fun; be at play. You deserve it!
Help others to play from time to time. They deserve it, too.
"YOH-nuh" (yonv) means "bear" in Cherokee. Thanks for visiting!