Feedback from Michael Perelman and Hunter Gray on Cherokees

Louis Proyect lnp3 at
Sun Feb 24 15:19:23 MST 2002

The Cherokees happened to be in the way of the expansion of cotton,
which was booming at the time.  Of course, the US overplanted once
the lands were "cleared", causing a severed depression and smashing a
nascent labor movement, making way for the Irish to come in and
replace earlier waves of immigrants.
Michael Perelman
Economics Department
California State University
Chico, CA 95929


A bit pressed at the moment, I will follow Sam's thought and make a
few brief comments on the attendant matters emerging from Louis' very
good post [and related discussion] concerning Anthony F.C. Wallace's
"The Long Bitter Trail: Andrew Jackson and the Indians." I should add
that, long ago when it initially appeared, I purchased and read
Wallace's "The Death and Rebirth of the Seneca" [New York: Knopf,
1970] and have always found it excellent.

While it's certainly possible that several of the Southern tribes --
and others further up the Mississippi Valley -- had origins in and
around what is now Mexico or even further south, that's probably
still somewhat speculative. Since there was always a good deal of
migration in the Western Hemisphere -- only recently recognized
widely by anthropologists -- it's certainly quite possible.
Linguistic relationships, art, and "mounds" do point to possible

I'm presently involved in helping my very sharp one-half Mississippi
Choctaw grandson get started on a school paper which I, frankly,
consider a meaningless assignment in relative twaddle. But since
Thomas grew up in our particular Native setting [and not in his
father's], I can't use Tom as an informant on this question of, say,
basic Choctaw origins. But I'm not sure any contemporary Choctaws --
Mississippi or Oklahoma -- could provide definitive insights into
that one at this point.

I do believe that all of the Native peoples of the Western Hemisphere
were and are basically tribal people -- and this would certainly
include, for example, the Toltecs and the Aztecs and the very, very
old peoples of Teotihuacan. I've always been very cautious about
efforts to impose European concepts of "social development" on Fourth
World peoples anywhere -- including, very basically, the matter of
"social class." I'm not sure there is any really basic disagreement
among discussants of this in our List family -- save for a few
qualitative and degree quibbles.

Certainly, we are all socialists!

To this moment, and after hundreds of years of exposure to frequently
hostile European and Euro-American influences and actions, Native
tribal societies and cultures [where their people have survived the
genocidal holocaust] certainly remain quite intact. I'd certainly
argue that tribes are each, from one perspective, "One Big Family"
where everyone is related, some way, by blood or by marriage -- and,
from another, inherently sovereign national societies each of which
has its own origin, vision, history, and destiny and culture. I'd
say, too, that tribes are fundamentally egalitarian and democratic --
essentially classless. The basic ethos of any tribal society in the
Americas is communalistic and characterized by the fundamental
principle of tribal [mutual] responsibility: i.e., the tribe has an
obligation to the individual and the individual has one to the tribe
-- and, if these two dimensions conflict, that of the tribe takes
precedence -- but there are always clearly defined areas of
individual and family autonomy into which the tribe cannot intrude.
It's an ancient and solidly viable balance between collectivism and
individual liberty [from which the large urban/industrial societies
of the world might well learn some very worthwhile things.]

Personally, I avoid linear ranking and terms like "primitive" and
"civilized" -- all of which too easily veer into cultural
ethnocentrism. Hunting peoples travel seasonally with the game and
thus necessarily travel light as far as material things are
concerned. But, for example, the migratory Wabanaki hunting bands of
the Northeast -- out of which I partly come -- featured [and
feature], as all human societies anywhere do, very complex
non-tangible cultural dimensions [e.g., philosophy and religion,
always inseparable in Native cultures]. The more sedentary
farming/hunting Iroquois [out of which I partly come]featured and
feature more material things and featured and feature very complex
non-tangible cultural dimensions. And so with the town-dwelling and
mostly farming Hopi and Pueblo people of the Southwest -- and so,
too, with the builders of city states: Toltec and Aztec. Whether
light or heavy on the matter of material culture, the non-tangible
religious/philosophical dimensions are always very, very complex. I
can't use "primitive" and "civilized" as concepts.

If formalized class structures of some sort [not European!] were
indeed developing in the large Meso-American city state situations --
e.g., Toltecs and Aztecs, or certain others further south, it seems
clear that their existence was clashing in an internally sharp -- and
very possibly mounting -- fashion with traditional tribal

There is plenty of evidence, for example, that the Toltecs -- whose
capital, Tula, in the present Mexican state of Hidalgo, was
physically bigger than Rome -- walked away from all of that,
abandoning it for a return to the wild, free life. Oral and some
indigenous written history, such as we have, indicates that the basic
sociological reason involved a recognition that the city state
structure would, after a certain point, destroy tribalism -- and the
Toltecs chose the latter. The Aztecs, who built heavily on Toltec
culture, may have been undergoing the same structural strains and
facing the same emergent questions when Cortez and his bloody legions

The Anglo-termed "Five Civilized Tribes" -- Cherokee [Iroquoian, BTW,
but never a Confederacy component], Choctaw, Chickasaw, Creek, and
Seminole [a Creek break-away] -- did not have traditionally, as far
as is known, any class structure or tightly centralized leadership.
[The Creeks were a very far-flung confederation.] The first four of
these nations, however, did become substantially involved early on
via intermarriage and national alliances with Scottish entrepreneurs
who frequently married -- legally from Native and Anglo perspectives
-- into the tribes. The emergent mixed-bloods certainly served as a
channel for fairly rapid acculturation -- but Never assimilation. The
Seminoles served as a refuge for canny and very knowledgeable runaway
African slaves who frequently married into that nation, became full
citizens, and served as a channel for some [but not a great deal in
the Seminole situation] acculturation. The leaders of these
particular Five tribes were almost always patriots in every sense --
whether full-bloods or mixed. It's worth noting that one of most
zealous legal antagonists of Andrew Jackson et al. was the Cherokee
leader, John Ross, who was between 1/4 and 1/8 Cherokee. The
much-feared Creek war chief, who completely destroyed Fort Mims and
fought Jackson at the Battle of Horseshoe Bend, was Billy
Weatherford, 1/8th Creek.

In any event, the Anglo goal was land -- no more and no less.
Although under any surface scratch, the Cherokees by the 1820s were
still very much traditional Cherokee, they had made a surface
accommodation to Anglo-American culture: log houses, farms, a school
system, a newspaper -- and outward conversion to Presbyterian
Christianity. Didn't matter to the Anglos one whit: Cherokee land was
the goal -- and, at great cost in life, most Cherokee Nation people
were forced westward into Indian Territory and, ultimately, more
nefarious adventures with land hungry Americans. The Seminoles made
few cultural concessions -- and most were forced westward. In the
Southwest, Geronimo -- who made virtually no cultural concessions of
any kind -- fought with super courage and tenacity to the end but
finally was forced to the ground in 1886.

Wabanaki Indians in Maine and the Maritimes are among the very oldest
Catholics in North America [via the French Jesuits] and this made no
difference whatsoever to the hungry Anglo-Americans and

Racism and cultural ethnocentrism have been used consistently for
centuries to attack Native peoples in an effort to break treaty
rights and to secure remaining Indian land and mineral and water and
other resources. Whether "Christian" Indians or "pagans," it's made
no difference when Native land and resources are coveted. It's a
constant fight -- and right to the wire always.

Again, on the issue of "class:" Even now, with bureaucratic
structures developing in many Native nations -- directly and
indirectly stemming from involvement with the "larger societies" --
the egalitarian, classless ethos is still very primary in all tribal

In any case, of course, we all agree, I'm sure on this: Assuming that
the Native societies and cultures and lands and resources and
self-determination and sovereignty are fully respected by the
development and emergence of bona fide socialist democracy , that
arrangement offers -- far more than capitalism ever can or would --
Native tribal nations and people [as it does all people] the best and
very, very good shot at a full measure of bread and butter and a full
measure of liberty.

Ramblingly yours,

Hunter Gray [Hunterbear]

Louis Proyect, lnp3 at on 02/24/2002

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