Change in Attitudes Beliefs and Practices Regarding Gender

Europeans and their culture impinged upon the Cherokee in the 18 th century when traders came into Cherokee country and eventually established year-round trading posts. Also, the crown and colonial governments called upon the Cherokee to form political alliances that became military alliances. Soon, Cherokees found themselves embroiled in wars. These developments impacted gender roles of the Cherokee, with trade and war elevating men above women. As hunters, the men provided the deerskins that become the currency of 18th-century Indian trade, and as warriors, they made the war alliances with Europeans. In addition, Europeans had their own construction of gender, which Cherokee women did not fit. They came to conduct men's business and expected women to remain on the periphery. This relationship between Cherokee men and the Europeans threatened to undermine the status of Cherokee women. As a result, Cherokee men became more central to life and livelihood, and women became more dependent on men for items wanted such as metal tools, pots, and fabrics. The focus was more on individual prowess than communal productivity. This shift in gender relationships grew out of the need to meet the challenges of European contact. Economic and political life moved toward individualism, hierarchy, and coercive power rooted in male culture. The status of Cherokee women was jeopardized with the rise of warriors as a governing body delegating authority and power. Foreign policy was dominating Cherokee politics, and gender not kinship determined participation (Perdue, 1998).

By the end of the 18th century with a new government (United States) in place, the task was to civilize the Indians culturally into Anglo-Americans. The federal government led the effort to change Cherokee men into industrious republican farmers and women into chaste orderly housewives. It was the belief of the government that women in civilized societies belonged to men who headed the household and nation. This did not go well for Cherokee women as the remaining traditional divisions of labor were threatened. To civilize Cherokee men from hunters to farmers required the transformation of gender. Another motive for civilizing Cherokees was the notion that farming took less land, which would make land available for use by non-Cherokees. Some Cherokees believed that civilization was the best protection against removal. According to Perdue (1998), these Cherokees were the minority but they dominated Cherokee economics, political life, and history, with women mentioned incidentally.

In practice, the civilization program was adapted to the Cherokees' own expectations of men and women. The program was used to embellish the culture but it did not transform it. New crops such as cotton were added and new skills (spinning and weaving) learned. Yet, Cherokee women continued to farm, keep house, and tend children just as they always had. Hunting and warfare continued to be the basic ethic of men's culture. What the emerging civilized economy generated was native wealth, internal inequality, and problems never confronted before. As the 19th century ended, Cherokees were forced to face issues of individual ownership, state protection, legitimate enhancement, and inheritance (Perdue, 1998).

Some Cherokee men and women embraced change while others continued to adhere to traditional beliefs though they were impacted. Trade and war disrupted Cherokee lives in the 18th century, and the United States civilization programs restructured their lives in the 19th century.

Cherokees needed a more formal legal system in order to protect their holdings. Yet these laws of the new Cherokee Republic usurped the prerogatives of clans and undermined the principle of matrilineal kinship, especially those regarding property which replaced maternal blood ties with paternal material ties (leaving a husband's possessions to his wife). The Cherokee government also assumed responsibility for punishing murder and protecting a person's life by establishing a national police force. A sacred duty has passed from the matrilineal clan to a male council (Perdue, 1989).

A true national government was created which made the traditional town council obsolete. The town council was the venue for women's participation in government. These actions renounced blood vengeance. In 1827 the Cherokee wrote a constitution which provided for a General Council, a legislature, a National Council, and a National Committee. The Cherokee directly elected members of both houses but neither women nor descendants of African slaves could vote (Perdue, 1989).

The Cherokees established a national police force, reordered inheritance patterns, abolished clan vengeance, extended citizenship to descendants of intermarried white women, disenfranchised women, and made polygyny and infanticide illegal. Yet the evidence shows remarkable cultural persistence by some Cherokees, including women.

In 1838-39, the Cherokee were removed to Indian Territory in present-day Oklahoma. On the two journeys about 4,000 Cherokees died and others died upon arrival because of epidemics and a shortage of food. Other Cherokees hid in their homelands and were not removed. Women protested this removal as well as men. Allotment was forced on the Cherokee at the turn of the 20th century and Oklahoma became a state in 1907. Piece by piece, Indian lands were taken. In 1934, the policies of assimilation and allotment ended and tribes began to rediscover their cultural heritage. The 1950s brought termination, and Cherokees and other tribal peoples were encouraged to move to cities and join the economic mainstream. Since the 1960s, the federal government's policy has been self-determination which means Indian self-government and tribal identify (Waldman, 1999). All these federal policies have impacted the Cherokee and their gender identification.

Today, the Cherokee people are diverse, with some embracing traditions and language and others choosing a different path. The roles of men and women continue to be important for the survival of the Cherokee Nation.

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