Friday, June 10, 2011

Principal Chief

Being back in Oklahoma reminded me that the Cherokees are in the middle of an election for their Principal Chief.  I don't know if other tribes elect their chiefs but the Cherokees have been doing it for years.  Originally there were 3 tribes of Cherokees, the eastern, the Keetoowah and the western.  All 3 groups selected their principal chiefs.   Then in 1839 the Cherokees were forcibly moved to Oklahoma and were made to live on a reservation.
In the early 1900's the American government wanted to break the power of the chiefs who controlled the tribal lands so they divided the land up among the tribal members and reduced the power of the chiefs to just administrators.
Wilma Mankiller
Chadwick "Corntassel" Smith
But over time that changed and the western Cherokees wrote their own Constitution and the chiefs regained a measure of power as the tribe grew wealthier through casinos and oil leases.
I belong to the western Cherokees now known at the Cherokee Nation and it has its capitol at Tahlequeh, Ok.
When it was reorganized after World War II it's chief was appointed by President Harry Truman, but since then they've elected their chief as they did in the old days.   The first chief I remember was Wilma Mankiller, the first woman chief of the Cherokees, she was a great chief and easily won reelection in a landslide each time she ran.  She brought a lot of federal money to the tribe, helped develop their health system, brought redevelopment money in, brought running water to many small communities and revitalized the tribe.  Under her the tribal membership went from about 55,000 to about 154,000.
Bill John Baker
The election this time is between Chadwick "Corntassel" Smith, the present principal chief, and Bill John Baker.
I don't follow tribal politics, but my sister Susie who lives in Oklahoma says that Corntassel has not been a good chief and that she wants me to vote for the other candidate.  I guess I'll follow her recommendation because she's the one who'll be affected by the outcome.

2 comments:

  1. Am I right in thinking that the Cherokee and other Indian tribes have always - well not exactly elected I suppose - but chosen one considered to be both wise and a good war leader as their Chief? I know it isn't an inherited position but earned on merit. I've bookmarked the site you mentioned and will spend some time reading it soon.

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  2. I don't know about wisest, that was probably their medicine man, usually their best warrior was the chief. The Cherokees have a very interesting and sad history, but typical of the dealings of our government with native tribe. But with all the casinos, and in the case of a number of tribes who have large oil and mineral deposits on their land, they may end up with the last laugh! They're one of the few groups in this country with their own medical care at no cost to tribal members. My sister spent more than 3 weeks in the hospital this winter and had to be medivacted in a helicopter from one hospital to another and the Cherokees took care of the bill.

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