Cherokee and Creek Indians Culture Changes Native American facts

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This essay illustrates the Indian lifestyles before and after the Indian Removal Act.

Contact with both missionaries and traders overtime changed the Creeks and Cherokee life style. In the struggle to survive, the Cherokee and Creeks compromised their customs and traditions by conforming to the white man’s ways. The acculturation process began with the children.

Missionaries found it a difficult task to convert adult Cherokees to Christianity. Although a few Cherokee converted, many more held on to their beliefs in Spirituality. They found it far easier to convert Cherokee children than Cherokee adults. To accomplish this task, Cherokee children were sent to mission schools or put with white families away from their culture. This arrangement was agreeable with the Cherokee who thought it would be beneficial for their children to learn to read and write but more importantly learn the ways of the white man. The Cherokee could gain power from knowledge. Moreover, Missionaries felt it necessary to change the living environment of the children in order to convert them to Christianity and Christian ways. To become a true Christian one must live the faith. Missionaries thought the Native American Indian life style was that of a heathen complete with conjurers, idolatry and superstition. They believed it was their duty to God as Missionaries to convert the heathen.[1] Elizabeth Taylor, a missionary who lived among the Cherokee, observed “this nation assembled for dances around a fire …. Dancing around in a ring around the fire …. When they wish it to rain they will send for a conjurer who will throw a black cat into the water.”[2] These common practices among the Cherokee would have been interpreted by the missionaries as devil worship or at the very least the actions of a godless nation who very much needed God to save their immortal souls. However, the Cherokee saw no wrong in their lifestyle. Yet they did allow their children to go to the mission schools. Their intent was not to change their children, but to acquaint them with the white mans ways. The Cherokee most likely felt that in order to survive it was necessary to know thy enemy. Missionaries did gain converts but what emerged from the missionaries’ efforts was a mixture of Christianity and Native American Spirituality. The Cherokee children did not fully give up their heritage but instead merged the two religions together.[3]

The mission schools taught the Cherokee children the ways of the white man. They were taught reading, writing, arithmetic, geography and sewing. In addition, the children were taught to dress and act white.[4] Slowly the Cherokee ways changed. When the children who were educated in the mission schools became adults, they incorporated their learning into Cherokee society. The Cherokee no longer depended on hunting as a livelihood. They farmed. The missionaries introduced new crops to plant which they thought were more civilized. Wheat, rye, oats and cotton were planted in addition to the traditional corn crop. These crops were planted in surplus to be sold at market. Plantations with slaves emerged. Houses were built out of brick with shingles instead of the traditional cabin and resembled the houses of the Americans. Livestock was introduced. Women sewed and made dresses from homespun. They ate off of plates using utensils.[5] John Ridge was Cherokee who attended a mission school in Connecticut. While at the school, Ridge married a white woman. He completed his education and later became a statesman for the Cherokee in Washington DC. He was a successful intermediary. During Ridge’s reign of power, the Cherokee wrote their own constitution modeled after the United State’s.[6] They formed a legislature and wrote new laws. These laws were designed to protect the Cherokee people. For example, laws were made against the sale of alcohol which caused many problems within the Cherokee nation. Another law forbade the sale of Cherokee land to any white man. In addition, the Cherokee wrote their own alphabet and established a written language, then established a printing press which published their own newspaper. [7] The written language represented power to the Native American Indian. Treaties were written and signed. In the treaties, Native American Indians most often gave up their land and therefore relinquished some of their power. John Ridge stated the benefits that the influence of Christianity had upon the Cherokee to be life changing, he noted “his uncle who was given to the vises of savagism in drunkenness, fornication and roguery & he is now tho’ poorer in this world’s good but rich in goodness [8] The missionaries did their job well.

Another factor that contributed to the changes that Native American Indian tribes ceded, was the whites who intermarried into Native American Indian society. White traders married Native American Indian women to help them in trade. The women became intermediaries, teaching the white traders the customs and language of their tribe. This made trade more profitable. Moreover, wives had a personal interest in the trade. Her family ties and status in the tribe kept pressure on her to keep trade fair. Her husband and her own personal interests depended on her to make a profitable trade. Children who came from the marriage benefited from both worlds as well. The children’s knowledge of both cultures would be used to their advantage making these children as adults grow powerful and become wealthy intermediaries.

Children from mixed marriages were exposed to both the Native American Indian and the white man’s ways. These children used both cultures to their own personal gain. White fathers taught by example. In the white man’s society, a man worked for himself and family. He did not share with others. However, the Native American Indian worked for the tribe, sharing all. If the harvest was good, everyone ate. If the harvest was poor, all did without. The chief’s distributed gifts that they received from the whites and so forth. All that changed over time, as the white man’s culture became more and more influential. Native American women, who married White traders, grew accustomed to having wealth. Likewise, so did their children. In time, others Native Americans Indians followed suit. The Creek began to raise cattle and other livestock. They made good profits. They did not share with others less fortunate in their tribe. Soon it became a nation of those who had and those who had not. In 1804, a food shortage arose. Many families starved yet there were many that prospered too. In an earlier time, the food would have been distributed equally.[9]

Alexander McGillivray was the son of Creek woman and a wealthy white plantation owner. He dressed as a white man and spoke English well. McGillivray was an intermediary for the Creek nation, Spain and the United States’ government. However, he used his position to his advantage and became incredibly wealthy. At a young age, McGillivray went to live on his father’s plantation. McGillivray was tutored in Charleston and learned the white man’s way. Because of his position, he received gifts from the British which he distributed among the Creeks and became the “most Beloved man,” a title of importance in the Creek nation. [10] McGillivray used his position as commissioner with Spain and the United States to cement trade deals that benefited him. . Even though most of McGillivray’s diplomacies benefited himself, many of his deeds benefited the Creek nation as a whole. For example, in 1783, McGillivray opposed land cessations to Georgia. He believed the United States government would be less aggressive than Georgia. Therefore, he traveled to New York and signed a treaty with the United States to cede all remaining Creek territory claimed by Georgia to the United States. [11]

These changes began before the Indian Removal Act and continued after the Indians were removed to Oklahoma Indian Territory.

The Creek and Cherokee nations ceded more than their lands in their struggle to maintain power. Missionaries and interracial marriages had a major influence on the Creeks and Cherokees. Overtime customs and traditions changed to conform to the white man’s world.

for more information, see Native American Indian History