What Parts of White Culture did the Cherokee Adopt?

From the time the first explorers came to America, the new arrivals had a great impact on the culture of the native people. For example, they introduced the natives to new crops such as rice, wheat, and coffee which could successfully grow and benefit the natives. Although the immigrant and native cultures influenced each other at first, as the years passed one culture, often referred to as Anglo-Saxon, eventually became dominant. The early native people chose to adopt elements of white culture which complimented their former way of life.  

After coming in contact with whites, the Cherokee gradually adopted some aspects of Christianity. The nineteenth century religious revivals and the government’s plan to make Native Americans more civilized resulted in missionaries being sent to the Cherokee Nation. In 1800 the Cherokees accepted the Christians’ desire to build a school. Apparently satisfied with their own religious beliefs, however, they remained uninterested in Christianity for many years. Missionaries eventually had more success with the younger generations which came to regard the old traditions such as singing and dancing around the fire as “unenlightened.” These later generations believed that this new religion would help them to become more civilized and would make them superior to their elders.

The Cherokee also adopted the American system of government. By 1827 the Native Americans began to centralize their government, dividing it into a bicameral legislature like our Senate and House of Representatives, several chief executives known as head chiefs, and a judiciary. Though the American system does not include more than one chief executive, the Cherokee’s new government is strikingly similar. The Native Americans did not imitate US government just because it was American. They had a specific purpose in mind when they eliminated the village meetings where everyone would argue until an agreement was reached. The Cherokees wanted to centralize their government to protect their nation whose land was in danger of being bought out by the whites. By centralizing the government and giving only officials authority to sell land, Cherokee leaders were attempting to ensure the Nation’s survival.

Native Americans also took advantage of the opportunity to learn how to read and write English through missionary schools. By 1824 Cherokee statesman John Ridge stated that one-third of the Cherokee Nation could read and write in English. Creating a fervent desire in the natives to create their own language, the introduction of the English alphabet led to the invention of the Cherokee written language by Sequoyah during the 1820s. Although the missionaries sought to civilize the Cherokee by using the English language, they unwittingly helped the Cherokee to develop their own language and sense of national pride. This pride was shown in the newspaper, the Cherokee Phoenix.  The articles were printed in both English and Cherokee, and served two functions: to inform the people about US plans to relocate the tribe to Oklahoma and to bring the people together in protesting removal.  Throughout the removal crisis, the newspaper became an important factor in uniting both Cherokee and some white people against removal.

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