By ROBERT JUMPER
ONE FEATHER EDITOR
The Cherokee people were a proud people. Known as one of the “civilized tribes”, we were known for our intelligence and industry. Cherokees survived one of the most brutal invasions in modern history. And, the Cherokee people not only survived, we thrived.
Still today, we fight for our place in modern society. On this new battleground, we use contracts, negotiation, and financial savvy as our weapons. The Cherokee people have always been experts at holding on to our culture while taking and integrating the best of other cultures when it comes to innovation. Adaption has been one of our strengths.
Over time, some of our Tribe have lost the spirit of our ancestors. The term most used for the current mentality of some is called “acting like crabs in a bucket”. The term comes from watching the behavior of a bucket of crabs. In their effort to escape the bucket, crabs will jump on the backs of other crabs to lift them higher to reach the top of the bucket. Others will attempt to scale the sides of the bucket, attempting to climb out on their own power. As these crabs make progress up the sides, the ones down below grab their back legs and pull on them in an apparent effort to either pull the enterprising crabs down or to depend on the power of the motivated crab to carry them out of the bucket. The actions are instinctual. I haven’t seen any credible research that the bottom crabs have an intent to pull the other crabs down because of jealousy. After all, scientists say that the brain of a crab is smaller than the tip of a pencil lead. It takes a much larger brain to navigate the complexities of complacency and jealousy.
As natives of this continent, we were put on reservations and isolated on trust lands with an intent of taking away our independence as indigenous individuals and cultures when invading peoples decided they needed the land and resources.
According to History.com, “In 1851, Congress passed the Indian Appropriations Act which created the Indian reservation system and provided funds to move Indian tribes onto farming reservations and hopefully keep them under control. Indians were not allowed to leave the reservations without permission.”
In this case and during this time, the government of those who took Cherokee and other Native lands was attempting to take away our spirit and identity. We were to be assimilated. But, there were those among the tribes who continued to fight against losing our cultural independence until many laws were changed and indigenous peoples were celebrated instead of punished for pride in themselves and their unique heritages.
While all this was going on, long term damage was done to many of our past and present generations of Cherokee people. Many of us bought in to the message of “be quiet and be happy with what the government gives you” that the government perpetuated during those early years. Many lost their will to fight for a better life, resigning themselves to a life of subsistence living; some turning to alcohol or drugs for fulfillment in life. They would still talk about native pride, but they didn’t practice or understand it. They were happy in the bottom of the bucket and were fearful that anyone attempting to crawl out might make things worse for them or make them look bad. So anytime someone tries to make a life beyond subsistence, there are those there waiting to “grab a leg” to drag them down.
Within our community, we have many people, particularly among our millennial generation, who are ready and moving to crawl out of the bucket. Many of our tribal members have taken advantage of the educational opportunities that the Tribe offers through the EBCI Education Division, working toward a better, independent life. Twice each year or more, the EBCI Enterprise Development program and the Sequoyah Fund, train and graduate between 10 and 20 aspiring Cherokee entrepreneurs. They have hopes and dreams of creating a better life for themselves and their families through their own ideas, inventions, work, and resources. Like our ancestors, they don’t want to look to the government, federal or tribal, to provide for their needs and wants. And, as they build businesses of their own, they are giving others an opportunity for independence with job opportunities within their organizations. Cherokee pride is alive and well in these entrepreneurs.
When our tribal members dream and then fulfill their dreams, it is something to be celebrated. When our people try to crawl out of the bottom of that bucket, instead of reaching to grab and pull them back down, let’s get behind them and push them forward and out of the bucket. It is a better than even bet that once they make it out, they will reach back to offer us help to get out of the bucket too. That is a Cherokee way of life-helping others with what you have. It is a Cherokee value worth keeping and applying to our lives.