Sustaining the Cherokee Family: Kinship and the Allotment of an Indigenous Nation
By Rose Stremlau
University of North Carolina Press | 320 pp | $21.97
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Throughout United States history, American Indians have lost a lot. American Indians have been stripped of their much of their land. Even with the insurmountable losses, American Indians have held onto their deep sense of kinship through their families.
The endurance of Cherokee families is the subject of "Sustaining the Cherokee Family: Kinship and the Allotment of an Indigenous Nation" by Rose Stremlau, who is an assistant professor of history and American Indian studies at the University of North Carolina at Pembroke.
Stremlau has written a well-researched book. She drew on material from several resources, including Cherokee and United States census records, tribal records, newspaper accounts, county probate records, family histories and contemporary oral history.
Cherokees make up the second largest tribe in the United States today. They have a long history of struggle and endurance. Cherokees will find much to be proud of in "Sustaining the Cherokee Family." Non-Cherokee people can gain a new and perhaps better understanding of a strong people.
The reader will not be disappointed by her treatment of the Cherokee history of retaining as much of culture as possible even in the wake of inevitable change through and after removal from the southeastern part of the United States to Indian territory in northeastern Oklahoma.
Stremlau cites anthropologist Albert L. Wahrhaftig, who conducted research during the 1960s on Cherokee families, "Cherokees innovate when it is necessary to do so in order to keep their way of life intact. Not unchanged, but intact."
To a large degree, that statement sums up "Sustaining the Cherokee Family." Cherokees have faced horrific times since Euro-American contact, yet have been able to survive, adapt and sustain themselves.
One interesting section of the book is the treatment Stremlau provides in "Assimilationists and the Critique of Indian Families." The section discusses how non-Indians measured the conditions next to their Euro-American belief systems, which still deemed American Indians as savages and uncivilized. All part of the colonization process, the critiques were always negative assessments when presented to policy-makers.
Stremlau provides quick history lesson on the so-called "Friends of the Indians," a group that began to meet in 1883 in Lake Mohonk, New York, She writes: "Here, advocates of assimilation met to strategize and commend one another on victories in their shared struggle. The Friends of the Indians were no voices in the wilderness; they were powerful people with important allies among the most influential Americans of their time."
The Friends of the Indians did not like the communal lifestyle in which Indian families existed. Here again, the Euro-American belief system was more familiar with nuclear families that broke away from their extended family. Stremlau writes: "They recognized that Indian people had families and places to live, but not the right kind "
So during the assimilation period, Cherokees brought along their cultural values, social and economic practices that allowed them to adapt to private land ownership. Fortunately, the Cherokees have sustained their family structures through all of the change they faced and yet their family structures are still intact.
posted October 1, 2011 11:00 am edt
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