Individuals from multiple racial backgrounds are the fastest growing minority groups in the United States. In the 2000 census, over 7 million were found to be from more than one ethnic group. The growing visibility and the political activity surrounding the creation of a group of multiracial people has forced public acceptance of multiracial culture and the rights of this minority people in the States. In the late nineteenth century, some thought that group differences were inherited and that race was a result of cultural differences carried in blood (Sturm). Individuals were categorized into cultural types based upon physical appearance, such as body size and pigment color (Sturm 2008: 222).
The Cherokee nation has a multiracial population of more than 175,000 members, of which as many as 87,000 have less than 1/16th of Cherokee ancestry. The Cherokee population is the second largest American people. People with mixed ancestry fell between the cracks of the racial system classification that existed in the Indian Territory at the turn of the century. This process forced individuals into the categories that did not reflect their own personal experiences or their familial connections. It was composed of mixed-race whites, mixed-race blacks, and full bloods.
The rules of hypodescent played out in such a way that people with any level of the African American heritage were classified exclusively as blacks. In a similar vein, those with the Native American and European ancestry were often classified as Indian in part because “whiteness” was seen as a barren cultural and racial group. The people of mixed European and Indian ancestry, who were phenol-typically and culturally ambiguous, were generally considered as mixed-bloods. However, the majority of individuals with multiracial identities were pushed into a single-ancestry classification.
Racial shifters are people who have altered their racial identification from non-Indian to Indian. Many racial shifters are individuals who, while looking for their heritage, have recently discovered their American roots. Despite their differences, racial shifters share a belief that they have the Indian heritage when asserting claims of indignity. The Cherokee tribal law merely requires that an individual be a lineal descendant of a tribal member. Informants use the metaphor blood as the most important thing about the Cherokee. To Native Americans like the Cherokee, the metaphor blood is a measure of racial, cultural, social, and national integration (Sturm 2008: 11). The Cherokee have conflated ideas about blood, race, and culture, with blood becoming an extremely potent substance for the Cherokee identity. The ultimate Cherokee character is rooted in traditional religion and culture as opposed to the ideology of race.
Before the arrival of Europeans, the Cherokee had a class of slaves who were taken prisoners during the intertribal warfare. If they were adopted, they became full members of the tribe; otherwise, they were individuals in bondage. Today, multiracial individuals, some of whom are black and the descendants of former slaves and others who are white, maintain tribal membership. Slavery among the Cherokee society mirrored that of a white slave-owning society. Owning slaves was less common among the full blood and most popular among non full-blood Cherokee families. This is because the mixed-blood families were wealthier because they engaged in plantation agriculture.
The question of what it means to be a Cherokee was perhaps the key issue in the Civil War within the Indian Territory.
“After the end of Civil War in 1865, federal officials ignored the factionalism that existed among the Cherokees and treated Union and Confederate Cherokees alike in the reconstruction process” (Sturm 2008: 74).
Afterwards, many of the Cherokee accepted civilization and began to redefine themselves in the terms of European society and its corresponding values. They adopted some of the ideologies, culture, and practices of the dominant white culture. For example, they educated their children in Christian missions, acquired slaves as their workers, and adopted plantation agriculture (Sturm 2008: 74).
Cherokee slaveholders relied on their black slaves as a bridge to the white society. However, acts of cruelty, degradation, and physical abuse were linked to the Cherokee slaveholders, like James Vann, who held a large number of black slaves in captivity. Clearly, this is the effect of Euro-American racial formation practices and policies on Cherokees. Some became assimilated as “white” culturally and sometimes biologically due to the mixed-race marriages between the whites and Cherokee. Others clung to the time-honored culture and values, traditional religious practices, and inherited social structures (Sturm 2008: 55).
From the beginning of the 18th century to the mid-19th century, these values were held in a subtle tension by the inclusive nature of the traditional society. Cherokees appeared to be divided on the slavery question, as some accepted to assimilate into the Euro-American culture and cultural formation. Other Cherokees resisted and opposed this approach. Just like the American society, tensions among Cherokees went across racial lines and class, but not because of different racial groupings. These cultural and ethnic divisions were further complicated by the mounting hostility between the North and the South of the United States. But nevertheless, most of Cherokees stayed sensitive to the South for the entire period of the war (Sturm 2008: 18).
The Southern group advocated for the removal of the freedmen from the Cherokee people at the US expense. The Northern Cherokees urged the United States to adopt the tribe and allocate a tract of land for their personal use. However, federal officials did not stop on this. They proposed to adopt the Cherokee freedmen into the tribe, giving them benefits commensurate to members of Indian tribes. The Cherokee freedmen are the offspring of black American slaves owned by affluent Cherokee members. This exacerbated tribal factionalism between the slaveholding and non-slaveholding Cherokees. After 1863, economic and social inequality in the Cherokee nation endured along the political divide of that period (Sturm).
In 1866, the Cherokee approved an agreement with the US government giving Cherokee nationality for the freedmen and their kin. An article of the agreement designated the Canadian district for the freedmen who wanted to live there. Another article gave them citizenship and the freedom to choose their own politicians. In addition, they could impose their laws which are consistent with the laws of the Cherokee nation. Contrary to the provisions of the 1866 agreement, the freedmen were not entirely assimilated as a full-fledged Cherokee citizen. The nation’s opposition to incorporate the freedmen was motivated primarily by economic factors.
In 1974, the Cherokee nation considered the freedmen as its citizens, and they were eligible for the same benefits as other enrolled Cherokees. However, these federal benefits came with strings attached to federally imposed, racially discriminatory policies. Between 1975 and 1983, the Cherokee nation increasingly began to administer to its own members. However, when the country began processing applications for tribal membership, it had to adjust to federal standards. Thus, in its own blood-based policies of administration, the Cherokee nation reproduced many of the racial ideologies that were the basis of the federal Indian policy.
The civilization in the United States was built upon the practice of racial codification. Consequently, the consequences of such for the Cherokee people were certain. They began to abandon their own culture, traditions, and teachings. Many facets of Cherokee customs and other Indian tribes in United States were modified and adapted from white methodology. Some Cherokees adopted American practices on their own free will, others were forced to do so, and some had already been in place in their traditional culture.
The notion of blood quantum has since become central to the administration of the Bureau of Indian affairs. In most states, a blood quantum of a quarter is required in order to gain access to targeted services. Moreover, Indian nations themselves imported the idea of blood quantum as a criterion for citizenship and access to resources and services. The Cherokee requires some Indian origin but have set no minimum level (Sturm 2008: 86).
Racial understandings have become central to the construction of the Cherokee identity partly because of the nation’s unrestrictive blood quantum. Since the removal of the restrictions in the 1970s, the Cherokee nation has quintupled in size from a less than 40,000 in 1982 to currently more than 200,000 (Sturm 2008: 149).
“Since their of Cherokee tribal citizens is now near 200,000, this rough estimate implies a more certain demographic trend- while the traditional Cherokee population has increased in number in the past several decades, the overall percentage within the tribe has decreased dramatically (Sturm 2008: 149)”
As their number grows, they also become progressively whiter and more vulnerable, up to a withdrawal of the federal recognition. Within the Cherokee nation, there is, understandably, a greater support for a more restrictive blood quantum requirement among the culturally conservative citizens with higher proportions of Indian blood. Many of these do not vote in Cherokee elections because they feel that their country does not represent them or their interests. Most Cherokee, however, do not want a restrictive blood quantum because it would exclude them from membership.
Recently, native descent policing has been extended to the creative arts in the United States following the signing into law of Indian Arts and Crafts Act. The Act protects Native Americans engaged in the arts and crafts business from the non-Indians who might try to sell the items falsely. Indian artists’ producers are now required to prove their authenticity in order to continue with their work. The act requires these artists be members of federally recognized tribes. Those unable to meet the required blood quantum and descent requirements are excluded from participation, as Indians, in the art market.
History reveals United States administration attempting to reject the Cherokee’s right to self-administration. The most famous case is the 1838 ethnic cleansing, a march that saw the death of a quarter of the Cherokees and an unspecified number of their salves who marched with them. The Cherokee constitution was dissolved at the turn of the century. This went on as the federal government chose men to serve as chiefs in order to sign treaties. Through all this, the Cherokee nation was left dormant. The United States government also forbade the Cherokee language in its wider efforts to kill off the Native American cultures (Sturm 2008: 56).
In 2007, Chief Chad Smith, an opponent of freedmen citizenship, arranged a referendum. He sought the amendment to the constitution of the Cherokee nation. The Cherokee Supreme Court then upheld a referendum. More than two thousand freedmen lost their citizenship including their food aid, medical care, and services. Some freedmen activists blamed the country’s stance for a number of factors, including racism and unwillingness to allocate federal funds or profits accruing from the recognized tribal status.
Today, the descendants of Cherokee freedmen rarely identify as Cherokee in any fashion. They may have a dull awareness that the Cherokee masters enslaved their ancestors, but the details are unclear. There is a sense of disconnection from their Cherokee history. Other than vague memories, contemporary descendants of the Cherokee freedmen have retained little knowledge of their specific, historical rights to Cherokee citizenship. Young Cherokee descendants are often reluctant to seek tribal membership, even if they are entitled by virtue of their documented blood lineage. The Cherokees have adopted governing Euro-American racial ideologies that negate multiracial identities. Fewer Cherokees are purists in their approach to race and nationality than the other tribes, where it was essential for one to have a quarter Indian heritages for him or her to be a member. Their use of lineage descent meant there are citizens whose ancestry was less than 1/2048 Cherokee. Many Cherokee people with African or American roots have permanent citizenship.
The fundamental statement of hegemonic concept is that a governing country sets up a hegemonic structure of itself on other countries (Sturm 2008: 213). The supreme power determines the basic principles, norms, rules, and decision-making procedures on the system. The power and influence of the supreme country are essential prerequisites for other countries to adopt the international regimes it establishes. The supreme power maintains its hegemonic process and makes maximum profit by exploiting those regimes. However, the establishment of regimes is indeed an arduous process. United States, for example, has been making great efforts to maintain its international regimes. Hegemonic theory wholly denies the ability of countries to take part in extensive collective action (Sturm 2008: 107).
American hegemony over the eastern United States became more or less complete after the battle of 1812. This was after the British in the Treaty of Ghent ended their military and formal political relations with their first Indian allies in the eastern part of the interior. The British had not intentionally attempted to modify the Indian societies. Rather they were pleased to recognize the Indians’ freedom so long as they were a labor force for the British. On the other hand, Americans believed that they should promote economic and social change to the Indian nations. At the beginning of the period of American hegemony, the Cherokee federal government exhibited little internal differentiation or political unity. Clans continued to run personal and legal matters as local political loyalties took precedence over national matters.