(In many circles, the term "Native American" has become politically correct. While it is actually more accurate than the term "Indian", I have heard and read that many American Indians themselves do not favor using it. I will generally refer to the tribe , use the term "American Indian" or just "Indian" here.)
I belong to the Florida Wolf Clan of the Overhill Nation of Cherokee Descendants. I am exactly that - a Cherokee descendant. I do not claim to be anywhere near "full-blood" Cherokee. (As near as I can determine, I am only about 1/8 in the hereditary sense.)
The Cherokee branch of my father's family left the Overhill Cherokee country after the treaty of 1819 gave away their land in present-day Blount County. They left the United States and went to Florida (then still a Spanish territory). This was almost 20 years before the Trail of Tears.
This means none of the ancestors in that part of the family appear on any rolls of the Cherokee Nation in Oklahoma, or the Eastern Band in North Carolina.
When I was a kid, I was told about being part Cherokee by my father's grandmother .
This whet my interest to learn about the Cherokee. One of the first things I learned was that the proper name was Ani Yunwiya or, as used among outsiders, Tsalagi.
In the early years I didn't find out much else.
It wasn't till I was able to visit the Qualla Reservation in North Carolina and buy a few books, that I learned more.
If you haven't read James Mooney's book History, Myths, and Sacred Formulas of the Cherokees , I highly recommend it. Although if injustice bothers you, you may find it to be a difficult read.
In recent years, I have done geneological searches to find out as much as I can about my Indian roots. I learned some, but to a large degree, the research actually muddied the waters! Now it seems that the same Great Grandmother that told me about my being part Cherokee was apparently part Seminole herself (descended from Osceola, no less!) though this grandmother herself never mentioned that to me.
I had suspected (from the geographical area) that the Indian heritage on my mother's side was Creek. However, I now have indirect evidence that she was in fact Cherokee too, but who really knows for sure?
Way back in the 1970's, there was a popular bumper sticker which said "Indian is not a blood line - it's a way of life."
I took that to heart when I read it because by that time I had already realized I embraced the close ties to nature, the strong spiritual ties, and respect for other people that I had learned were characteristic of American Indians.
Granted, I did not live in a tribal setting. Living in an Indian community, on or off reservation, is a part of Indian life I have not experienced and do not mean to minimize in any way.
I was never teased by other kids for being Indian. I never lived under the harsh conditions of many reservations.
I did feel indignant when I heard and read about how my Cherokee ancestors were treated. I deeply regretted the loss of Cherokee culture in my own family.
While I did not grow up a card-carrying Cherokee, Seminole, Creek, or Other, the most important ideals that they held are held by me as well. (A couple of years ago I read some of T.J. and Michael Garrett's books and was amazed at how Cherokee my ideals and philosophy were. I was hoping to gain new insights, and instead my own views were confirmed and reinforced! These books are Meditations with the Cherokee, and Walking on the Wind.)
I have a book on American Indian clothing titled Traditional Dress by Adolf Hungry Wolf. One of the ideas that comes across in this book is that clothing designs were not rigidly dictated. A "style" of clothing was fairly broad. There was not a "right" or "wrong" way to dress, particularly. An individual largely wore what he or she liked. Some designs tended to be common in this or that tribe, but that didn't mean they all dressed alike.
Applying this concept more broadly, I am an individual. I am part Indian, part Scotch-Irish, part English, part Negro, etc., but what I actually am is me. The ideals I identify with most strongly are Indian ideals.
Some of these ideals include:
1 A profound respect for the natural world. Not just as a resource to be exploited, but as something of inherent worth in itself.
2 The acknowlegement of my Creator as an intimate part of my daily life. Not some distant entity to pay homage to on special occasions.
3 Respect for the other creatures my Creator has made, human and non-human. While I would eat an animal for food, I would not waste its life for fun or sport. I recognize other people as equally important to my Creator as I am. There are no "inferior" people.
4 I recognize the inherent value of the life experiences of my elders. No one becomes obsolete with age.
5 I do not willingly waste anything. Our Creator gave us everything we need. It's up to us to take care of it.
I am more comfortable in the wilderness than anywhere else. I have spent weeks at a time alone there.
I have also jumped out of airplanes for fun (over 1,000 times). I work with LASERS for a living (at an amusement park). I have built and maintained communications systems that enable a person to talk around the world from a handheld radio using less power than a penlight - with no airtime charges. My vehicles have always been mobile worldwide communications posts.
I "invented" a practical item of American Indian-style clothing that I later found had already been in use long ago in the Eastern woodlands. I make my regalia with materials from Wal-Mart.
While I have a close relationship with the Creator, I live among a largely ungodly, wasteful, and disrespectful culture.
I have chosen to embrace a very Indian outlook to life. Though genetically, I am more European than American Indian, I identify most strongly with my Indian heritage.
My son Jonathan however, is half Cherokee. (He is the dancer in the background of this page.) It is my sincere hope that I can pass along to him the best of both the European and Native American worlds.
Jonathan is still young, and grasps the concrete much more readily than abstract ideas. For this reason, I keep the philosophy to a minimum and concentrate for the time being on Indian activities we can do together, such as attending pow wows, practicing archery, and doing native crafts.
Eventally, I hope he picks up the more important stuff through my example and teaching.
Early in 2005, Jonathan and I took part in a Lenni Lenape naming ceremony. He was given the name Pony Bow, and I was given the name Grey Eagle.
In October of 2005, The Overhill Nation of Cherokee Descendants formed the Wolf Clan here in Central Florida. My wife Patty and Jonathan and I joined the clan. Jonathan asked for a Cherokee name. He was named Dancing Hawk in a Cherokee ceremony. Patty also received a Cherokee name, Spirit Butterfly. Check out the Wolf Clan website.