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David Cornsilk

An Open Letter to Defenders of Andrea Smith: Clearing Up Misconceptions about Cherokee Identification

David Cornsilk
7/10/15

It appears the Andrea Smith apologists are doing everything they can to divert attention from the one thing about her that is important right now, whether or not she is Cherokee. They want to make it about her work, not so. They want to make it about her complexion, not so. They want to make it about blood quantum, not so. Some have even suggested it is about jealousy, not so. The factual basis of all grievances against Andrea Smith, and others like her, begins and ends with whether or not she can prove Cherokee ancestry.

These people don’t know real Cherokees, our history, culture, language and genealogies. They cannot speak intelligently to the question of her authenticity because they have no baseline, which is why they use diversionary tactics. Why would they know real Cherokees when all they see are fakes?

In the 1990s, Andrea Smith sought me out as a Cherokee genealogist, on two separate occasions, to see if she had any connections. My research into Smith’s ancestry showed that her ancestry was not connected to the Cherokee people. In the subsequent years, many have challenged her identity including representatives of the Cherokee Nation. In those ensuing years, she has had ample opportunity to come forth with proof of her Cherokee claims. Instead, she has admitted to not being Cherokee or promised to stop claiming Cherokee; but perhaps because the foundation of her work as a ‘woman of color’ depended upon making others believe her claim she would back paddle and like a drug addict, fall off the truth wagon. As far as I can tell, nothing has changed in the evidence of her ancestry that would lead me to believe she is or even might be of Cherokee descent.

Smith’s supporters don't like to be shown so lacking in knowledge of all things Indian; unwilling to admit they got duped by Smith. They are fully invested in her web of lies that they are willing to throw tribal sovereignty and self-determination under the proverbial bus. If they adore Smith's work, more power to ‘em. But do not let your love of one person's work blind you to the dangers false claims of Indian identity carry within it. Andrea Smith and all those like her are nothing more than the latest incarnation of settler colonial violence. Their apologists and collaborators are nothing new either.

Cherokees are among the best documented people in the world. We probably come in 3rd after royalty and Mormons. Very likely, we are claimed by many more. Our blood quantums range from 4/4 to 1/8192. All are embraced as equal, though not 100% Indian, they are 100% Cherokee. What all real Cherokees have in common is proof of ancestry whether they can enroll or not.

Some have attempted to make this issue on par with the struggle for citizenship by the Cherokee Freedmen whom I support. There is no comparison. The Freedmen appear on the Cherokee Dawes Roll with no Indian blood quantum, whether they were Indians or not, due to virulent racism against blacks of that era. There are today 2800 Freedmen descendants enrolled at Cherokee Nation. They too, whether they have Cherokee Indian blood ancestry or not, are also 100% Cherokee and share a common heritage of proof of their rights with Cherokees by blood.

Most people are not aware that there are 30 rolls made of Cherokees between 1817 and 1914. There are thousands of linear feet of records created by colonials, missionaries, U.S. officials, schools, travelers and newspapers that trace our ancestries to the mid-1700s. Much of this paper trail was created by the tribe itself. The Andrea Smiths, Thomas Kings, Ward Churchills and Rayna Greens out there rely on the ignorance of the general public and even Indian Country regarding how well documented Cherokees actually are. On a sadly comical note, if there were enough Cherokees to produce all the wannabes now claiming to be us, we would have never lost the war!

Wannabes like Andrea use the myths of Cherokees hiding in the hills, passing for white or being saved by righteous whites, to perpetuate their lies. These myths did not originate with Cherokees. They are the product of two centuries of non-Cherokees trying to lay claim to our lands and treasury, if not by force, then by subterfuge. There was no reason for Cherokees to hide from the Trail of Tears when the Treaty of New Echota that caused it provided for voluntary separation from the tribe so those who wanted, could remain in their homes by simply swearing an oath to the U.S. and the state in which they lived. Those Cherokees are well documented on various rolls dating from 1851 to 1924.

When I say someone has no Cherokee ancestry, it's not just that they or their ancestors are not enrolled. It's much more complex than that. In my past job as a Cherokee genealogist, I would look at the rolls and documents of course. But I also examine the wider extended family to see if there is any kinship to Cherokees on the roll during the ancestral time frame and in the tribe now.

When Cherokees left the tribe or chose not to enroll, that was a decision at a specific moment in time. They would be on previous rolls. And most importantly, other members of the extended family, aunts, uncles, siblings, parents, grandparents and cousins would be among the tribal members and on the various rolls and records. Just like white Americans find kin in Europe whose ancestors remained, real Cherokees who can't enroll today have relatives in the tribe. Andrea doesn’t. Not a single Cherokee citizen living today claims her or her family. Either she emerged as a fully formed Cherokee Indian and we must recalibrate our creation story; or the reality is, she isn’t Cherokee.

Andrea Smith isn't just missing from our tribe, but every generation back to the genesis of America, all of those relatives I mentioned are also MISSING.

That fact speaks loud and clear that not only is Andrea Smith not enrolled, SHE IS NOT A CHEROKEE!

David Cornsilk, 56, is a citizen of the Cherokee Nation and member of the United Keetoowah Band of Cherokee Indians in Oklahoma.  He has worked as a professional researcher specializing in Cherokee records for the past 30 years.  He has been employed by the Cherokee Nation as a tribal enrollment Research Analyst and the Bureau of Indian Affairs as a Genealogical Researcher; as well as owning his own research firm styled Cherokee Genealogical Services.

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tmsyr11's picture
The problems and issues with sitting at the top of the "indian" food chain. Everything sort of trickles down (Navajo Tribal/Nation take notice to what the Cherokee Nation is encountering). The chickens always come home to roost when blood quatum that 'qualifies' as tribal registration (for the sake of federal funding) is watered down. The Cherokee (in my opinion only) have always been watered-down in terms of what qualifies to be enrolled member. I can understand the difference how 1/8, 1/16, 1/32 can determine who is enrolled or not. However there are still 800,000 plus people that are "Cherokee" but not nessarily enrolled. There are potentially 800,000 "andrea smiths" out there depending how public and renowed they become and whose "native toes" they step on - particularly the indian edukators, riters, arthurs, artists. Much to the dismay of the Andrea Smith haters, this is 'progress'. "Progress"doesn't just stop at being invited (getting a picture) to a White House Conference , attending a Redskin game (on the otherside), or being told your "American" even if illegal, "progress" is breaking down of long-held traditions and practices of American (and now American Indian/Native/Tribal). Acording to the SCOTUS ruling, every American now has the right to call themselves what they want to be called - boy to girl, white-black, man-woman marriage to man-man partnership. Unfortunate to the haters, the SCOTUS ruling is now steam-rolling any attempts to stand against enrollments, determinations of who belongs and who doesn't. When you hold hands with the Devil (progress), he comes back prepared for his dues! Where were YOU when our indian pioneers and indian elders told us of these things to come? Did "WE" listen then?
tmsyr11
kopczyn's picture
Andrea Smith just published in her blog that she "always been, and will always be Cherokee". She believes in it. We shifted from identity imposters to social, cultural, ethnic and any other imposters. Everybody can what s/he, it, thinks or believes or wants to be and modern state with its justice system will allow it and then force the rest of "nonbelievers" to accept it as fact. Unfortunately terms like "Cherokee, man, woman, marriage, etc" are not nothing more than public domains. Civilizations which approached that point are sometimes called to be in the stage of decadency. Let then guess what will be called next stage of evolution for Pax Americana?
kopczyn
Chooj's picture
Excellent post, kopczyn.
Chooj
jgburke2000's picture
It can be very difficult to research one's genealogy when it comes to Cherokee heritage. I tried researching my own and asked for help with tribe members in North Carolina. They were very antagonistic. I was looking for nothing more than to know where I come from. I don't need government preferences, free stuff, or anything else. But you'd have thought I was a child molester or something. So, if someone has a family myth or story or whatever you want to call it about Indian heritage, I can certainly understand how they just go with what they've been told. I know my grandfather was at least 1/2 Cherokee, but I'll never ask anyone for help in researching it again. I'm sure if someone fails to find proof, I'll be called a liar as well.
jgburke2000
Kevin Conner's picture
The Cherokee Nation was in the practice of excommunicating members who disobeyed the tribal council. This happened to my great great grandmother. They destroyed ALL records of her birth and involvement in the Cherokee Nation. You literally cannot trace my grandfather's mother's family because of those assholes that you claim kept impeccable records. These actions of expulsions can be directly traced to the Stand Watie rebellion, as that attitude of "You're either our kind of Cherokee or you're no kind of Cherokee" has completely, and utterly, screwed the Cherokee Nation up ever since. In fact, within the last decade, they expelled THOUSANDS of members from their records in a great purge, denying government compensation to those who were less than 1/4 Cherokee. In doing so, they also destroyed thousands of records. I don't know about these women claiming to be Cherokee, but I do know the Cherokee Nation is one of the most despicable tribal councils in this country, and has been so for the last 150 years. I trust their "independent research" as much as I trust Russian Communist Historians, and I suggest no one else give the Cherokee Nation anymore credit than this. They destroy and falsify documents far too often to suit their needs.
Kevin Conner
Kevin Conner's picture
The Cherokee Nation was in the practice of excommunicating members who disobeyed the tribal council. This happened to my great great grandmother. They destroyed ALL records of her birth and involvement in the Cherokee Nation. You literally cannot trace my grandfather's mother's family because of those assholes that you claim kept impeccable records. These actions of expulsions can be directly traced to the Stand Watie rebellion, as that attitude of "You're either our kind of Cherokee or you're no kind of Cherokee" has completely, and utterly, screwed the Cherokee Nation up ever since. In fact, within the last decade, they expelled THOUSANDS of members from their records in a great purge, denying government compensation to those who were less than 1/4 Cherokee. In doing so, they also destroyed thousands of records. I don't know about these women claiming to be Cherokee, but I do know the Cherokee Nation is one of the most despicable tribal councils in this country, and has been so for the last 150 years. I trust their "independent research" as much as I trust Russian Communist Historians, and I suggest no one else give the Cherokee Nation anymore credit than this. They destroy and falsify documents far too often to suit their needs.
Kevin Conner
joninsc's picture
I have lived outside the Eastern Band of the Cherokee Nation all my life. My ancestors are traced here in several ancestral roles including the Genealogical Ancestry that is kept at Sylva. My Great Grandmother and my Grandmother whom as a child I used to comb her long hair were Cherokee( my Grandmother is listed on the 1924 Baker Roll) married a blond haired-man with blue eyes. I was well acquainted with my Grandmother who was full blood Cherokee, she sewed my clothes and I was emotionally very close with her. She lived with us until I was 18 years old. I have been friends with and met the Medicine Men of both the Eastern and Western Band and have a brother-in-law who was on the Eastern Band Tribal Council and have nieces whom he is their Natural Father. My family has known about our Cherokee ancestry all my life. My Dad looked more Cherokee than some I see in the Eastern Band. My brother-in-law's niece was Wilma Man-Killer. I should never have to explain who she was and what a wonderful woman she was to me and everyone. Our family is well educated and professionals, but because of our Father's linage even though we can trace them back to the original white settlers of Western North Carolina, Northern Georgia and Eastern Tennessee and also have family buried in the cemeteries, we have never listed our names on any type college or business applications or interactions in order to gain advantage. I am proud of our Cherokee ancestry but my personal and business life has been successful based upon my own merit of who " I am" not attempting like some of the other persons to gain Faculty Admission or other advantages now that there is incentive to do so. . I will say this in traveling and meeting persons, reunions of families, and my assisting in the genealogical surveys personally, that I have met persons and families that would appear to qualify from some of the information that I have seen that did not or would not for various reasons chose not to pursue the claim. I am glad there are strict rules that apply because since the financial incentive is there, many people who do not have historical records but think or someone told them or they may have seen something in a Bible record think that maybe they should be made to avail themselves of some type of recognition. It is well possible that some persons in some of the lesser known colleges or who are not in the public eye may or may not have used the ancestral advantage. We may never know unless there are strict measures in place for those who claim that heritage and a Federal rule that is strictly enforced in order for someone to complete or gain advantage by just claiming or checking off a block claiming Indian Ancestry and rules are not in place and enforced for the institution for which they are claiming that to verify that person's claim.
joninsc
sweetgrass777's picture
Ok....Well said Cornsilk. My question is what proof does she have??? Hell at least do a DNA test or provide some records. I meet people everyday that say they are Cherokee when they find I am of Native Roots. My whole block came to me to introduce themselves and said they also had Indian Ancestry. When I asked from where or the surnames they hadn't a clue. Come on people. Claiming Cherokee ancestry with no proof at all is getting kind of lame. Although I don't agree with some aspects of Cherokee history I have to say Cornsilk has to be giving credit here.
sweetgrass777
Walkthataway's picture
From the other side of this fence: My mother's parents were at the Haskell Boarding School. During World War II, my grandfather joined the Navy, my grandmother became a seamstress. After the war, they came to Oregon and raised their children to 'fit in' to the point that my mother does not remember them ever saying what nation they were originally from. She vaguely remembers her uncles coming to visit when she was young. That is as far as it goes. She, my sister and myself have all tried to track record of my grandparents down, but have met with hostility and run-around each and every time. Letters and emails to Haskell are never replied to, and when my son went there personally he was referred from office to office until after six ours he ran out of time. Over and over again I have been told "You look white, so go be white." Now I freely admit to my ignorance here. I have never been part of the culture. I am more than willing to learn, and am actually eager to, but what I have seen ore than anything else is doors closed against me. So I have Indian ancestry, but no clue as to nation, tribe, or culture, and I may never have. In a way I sympathize with Andrea Smith, for that desire to belong when you are excluded.
Walkthataway
Old Lady's picture
Excellent article. The question of who is or is not has to be answered by whatever tribe that person is claiming, and it is abundantly clear that the Cherokees do not count this woman as one of them. So in the interest of the sovereignty of any and all tribes to determine who is qualified to be a member, can we not just respect this tribe's decision, and let their word on this be the last?
Old Lady