Thursday, August 21, 2014

When the Past Meets the Present - Part 6

The Conclusion

Principal Chief Bill John Baker is Cherokee. There is no doubt about that. He has the ancestry through his paternal side and he is recognized as a registered member of our nation, so he IS Cherokee. That is not the issue explored in this series. This series addresses the fact that there are a lot of things in Baker's maternal family history that have been passed down and possibly led him to form the opinions he now has. By showing many of the things Baker probably heard his entire life are not true, we've shown he likely has some misconceptions about Cherokee history and genealogy and therefore, he is going soft on the defense of our sovereignty when he, as chief, should not be doing so.

In a March 2014 interview, when asked who inspired him as a mentor, Cherokee Chief, Bill John Baker, said, " mother, Dr. Isabel Baker, is and has always been my moral compass in life." This shows what a strong influence she's played in his beliefs.

Isabel Keith Baker believes she has Cherokee ancestry but can't prove it.

According to Dawni Mackey, Cultural Officer for the Cherokee Nation, the chief has said his mother has Cherokee heritage, which verifies he believes he has Cherokee heritage through her side of the family.

We all have family stories and those are fine for discussing around the dinner table, but when untrue and influence the decisions we make, they can become problematic. The problems are multiplied when the person who believes them becomes the leader of a nation.

The documentation clearly shows Isabel Baker's ancestors were rejected time and time again. The family had no proof they were Cherokee because they weren't Cherokee. It is that simple. They showed up in Indian Territory making a claim of Cherokee blood at the same time many other white families arrived --- when they thought the United States would be taking over Indian Territory and land would open up. Many frauds attempted to file false claims of Cherokee ancestry, as shown in this clip from an article that appeared in the Cherokee Advocate, March 7, 1874:

The Cherokees of the day spoke of the suspicion the Nation had due to the many false claims that were being made. They were cautious due to the desire for self preservation. SELF PRESERVATION! It has always been part of our heritage and continues to this day. The most important thing we Cherokees should demand from our leaders is that they protect our sovereignty and our identity. If Bill John Baker is going soft on fakes, then he is not fully defending our sovereignty.

There are only three federally recognized Cherokee tribes in the United States, the Cherokee Nation of Oklahoma, the United Keetoowah Band of Cherokee Indians and the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians. There are over 200 fake Cherokee tribes masquerading as authentic Indians. These fake tribes are often composed of people who have no documented connection to the historical Cherokee Nation. Despite this, these people claim to be Cherokee and start their own "tribes". By doing so, they not only attempt to revise our history, but challenge our sovereignty.

When Baker came into office in 2011, our nation had many things in place to fight fake tribes and false claims. Not only did we have joint resolutions with the Intra-Tribal Council of the Five Civilized Tribes to oppose state recognition of Indian heritage groups and culture clubs seeking state recognition, we also had one with the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians to oppose fabricated Cherokee "tribes" and "Indians." We had a task force in place to fight against fraudulent tribes and false claims made by individuals. Baker did away with our task force despite resolutions the Cherokee Nation had with the the Five Civilized Intra-Tribal Council and the Eastern Band.  Although many Cherokee Nation citizens have sought to reaffirm our nation's commitment to the protection of our identity and sovereignty by reviving the task force, Baker has yet to budge on the issue.

In 2012,  Chief Baker was interviewed and asked his opinion of now U.S. Senator Elizabeth Warren, a fraud who appears to have claimed to be Cherokee in order to further her career. Chief Baker said:

It's clear Chief Baker had no problem with Warren's false claim and refused to publicly denounce it, almost encouraging it, despite this section included in the resolution the Cherokee Nation had with the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians;
Be it further resolved that any individual who is not a member of a federally recognized Cherokee tribe, in academia or otherwise, is hereby discouraged from claiming to speak as a Cherokee, or on behalf of Cherokee citizens, or using claims of Cherokee heritage to advance his or her career or credentials.
Baker should have denounced the claims of Elizabeth Warren, but he chose not to do so although members of all three federally recognized Cherokee tribes (the Eastern Band, the Cherokee Nation and the United Keetoowah) were speaking out, as well as members of the Democratic Native American Caucus, including a descendant of Geronimo, who called Warren a disgrace.

Early in the year, 2013, and then again early in the year, 2014, the state of Virginia considered giving state recognition to two fake tribes that claim to be Cherokee. Cherokee Nation citizens took it upon themselves, along with citizens of other tribes and numerous concerned individuals, to make phone calls and send emails to the Virginia legislator who sponsored the bill in an attempt to get the recognition stopped. Chief Baker and the Cherokee Nation as a government did nothing. Due only to the hard work of individuals from many tribes and organizations, the vote was tabled. A promise has been made that the legislature will vote on the issue next year in 2015. The Cherokee Nation has no one formally working on the issue so that it can be addressed when this eventually does come to a vote.

Chief Baker has established a pattern of ignoring false claims of Cherokee ancestry, even though false claims require a distortion or revision of our history. When Baker was sworn in to office, he took an oath to defend the culture, heritage and tradition of the Cherokee Nation.

Our heritage is based in our history. That history is fixed. It cannot be changed just because someone tries to rewrite it, water it down or destroy it. Why would our chief fail to defend it despite the oath he took? Could it be due to the myths he was told by his mother, his mentor and moral compass?

Chief Baker's false claims of Cherokee ancestry on his maternal side are not harmless. These claims seem to have influenced his beliefs.  His record suggests these beliefs have played a role in his decision making process in regards to leading our nation and defending our sovereignty. This is an important issue. It doesn't matter how many houses Baker builds or what improvements to health care are made or how many jobs are created, because if we lose our sovereignty, these things will no longer exist anyway. 

The basis for all we have as Cherokees is rooted in our sovereignty. That, above all else, should be defended. It is selfish for Chief Baker to cling to family lore that benefits no one other than his own family, while failing to defend documented Cherokee history that benefits the nation as a whole. Our ancestors "fought and died to maintain their tribal relations, through hard times, and preserved their language, cultures and other ways..."* Chief Baker's mother's ancestors were not there with our ancestors. Instead, they were among those who tried to take what our ancestors fought so hard to preserve. Each Cherokee citizen should evaluate the way in which our sovereignty is being protected. In my opinion, we should be utilizing every piece of documented history to defend and protect it. The sacrifices of our ancestors deserves nothing less than that.

What do you think? Share your thoughts in the comment section below.

Those are my thoughts for today.
Thanks for reading.

* From the original draft of Cherokee Tri-Council Resolution #00-3 (2014)

copyright 2014, Polly's Granddaughter - TCB

Friday, August 8, 2014

When the Past Meets the Present - Part 5

Changing stories and Ancestor Stealing

In the 1896 claim that was appealed to the US courts, in the case known as RM Walker v the Cherokee Nation, the maternal ancestors of Chief Bill John Baker claimed descent from a Cherokee citizen named John Rogers. They were very specific about which John Rogers they claimed.  He was white and well documented. They don't descend through him. 

By the time of the Eastern Cherokee applications, approximately 11 years later, Chief Baker's maternal ancestors were still very specific about which Cherokee John Rogers they claimed, but this time, it was a different John Rogers. He was a chief and also well documented. They don't descend through him either, but ironically, Cara Cowan Watts, Cherokee Nation council woman, does. (Yes, you read that correctly. Chief Baker's  maternal ancestors falsely claimed to descend through Cara Cowan Watts' ancestor! And yes, this is the same Cara Cowan Watts who is running against him for chief in the election next year.) 

A letter written to the Guion Miller Commission at the time of the Eastern Cherokee Applications follows. This letter can be found in the rejected Eastern Cherokee Application for William Boyd (#7759), great grandfather of Chief Baker. It was written on behalf of Boyd by his aunt. The letter exposes the fact the family had no understanding of Cherokee society or history.

  • Rebecca Walker claimed an ancestor, John Rogers, was found on the Census of the Cherokee Nation in 1835 as living in the east (therefore an Emigrant Cherokee), yet also claims the same ancestor was the Chief of the Old Settlers, John Rogers, who was living west of the Mississippi in 1835. Cherokees knew the difference between Old Settler and Emigrant Cherokees. Chief Baker's ancestors didn't.
  • Rebecca Walker stated her ancestors were ALL Old Settlers (those who removed before the Treaty of Echota) and that her ancestor was the chief of the Old Settlers, yet she was trying to get money due the EMIGRANT Cherokees, i.e. those who removed after the Treaty of New Echota.
  • When asked why she thought she had a right to the fund due Emigrant Cherokees, Rebecca Walker said she felt one Indian had as much a right to the fund as another. In other words, she felt because she claimed to be Indian she was entitled to Indian money. She never mentioned any ancestor being forcibly removed or traveling the Trail of Tears, yet she felt entitled to Cherokee money simply because she said she was an Indian. She and the rest of her family never proved Cherokee ancestry (no matter what she claimed others had determined) and was repeatedly rejected on every application she made, yet she still felt she had a right to Cherokee money.
The maternal ancestors of Chief Baker changed their story as it suited them. They couldn't decide if they wanted to claim to be Old Settler or Emigrant Cherokees. They couldn't decide if they wanted to descend from one John Rogers (a white guy) or a different one, the Old Settler chief. It's obvious by Rebecca Walker's letter to Guion Miller that she was in over her head as a witness to their purported Cherokee ancestry. She didn't know anything about Cherokee history and only said what she thought should be said. The ever changing story is so ludicrous, I'm actually embarrassed for the family.

If they would have dropped their false claims, this story would have ended with the Eastern Cherokee applications, but unfortunately, the family continued to perpetuate the myth of Cherokee ancestry,  passing it from generation to generation. While some may believe it was harmless, it isn't. Now the chief of the Cherokee Nation, Bill John Baker, wrongly believes he has Cherokee ancestry on his maternal side. By clinging to the lies his ancestors told, he by default, claims to descend from a man he doesn't descend through, therefore making him not only part wannabe, but also an ancestor stealer.

According to an article in Indian Country Today, Cara Cowan Watts, candidate for chief in 2015, descends through the Old Settler chief, John Rogers. This is the same man the maternal ancestors of the current chief of the Cherokee Nation, Bill John Baker, falsely claimed they descended through! Did you get that? Over 100 years ago, Chief Baker's maternal ancestors tried to falsely claim Cherokee ancestry through the ancestors of Cara Cowan Watts! Oh my gosh! You can't make this stuff up, folks!

They say the past always catches up with us and I guess it's true. Our chief, the chief of the great Cherokee Nation, was raised on a "Cherokee ancestry myth" that apparently continues in his family to this day. My my my............when the past meets the present, it can be not only embarrassing, but harmful. Stay tuned for the conclusion of "When the Past Meets the Present" where we'll explore why the Chief's false claim of Cherokee ancestry matters and why it is potentially harmful to the Cherokee Nation as a whole.

Those are my thoughts for today.
Thanks for reading.

copyright 2014, Polly's Granddaughter - TCB

Friday, July 11, 2014

When the Past Meets the Present - Part 4

Motivation: Is a good deed really a good deed?
While we don't always get to learn a person's motives in his own words, this time we do. The words of William Boyd, Chief Baker's great grandfather, were recorded by his daughter and shared in an Indian Pioneer Paper interview. In this post, we will dissect that interview to learn why Boyd moved into the Cherokee Nation and what motivated him to advocate for changes in the Cherokee Nation.

William Boyd, Chief Baker's great grandpa, was born in Arkansas, not the Cherokee Nation. He moved to Indian Territory in 1893, just before the family started trying to gain citizenship into the Cherokee Nation. His family had lived in Arkansas for 64 years and never moved across the state line into the Cherokee Nation. They always lived as white people. Nothing in any record shows any indication of Indian ancestry or that they considered themselves Indian. As soon as they crossed the state line from Arkansas into Indian Territory they started claiming to have Cherokee ancestry and they haven't given up the claim since. Notice Boyd didn't even say he was Cherokee or Indian. Instead, he said his mother was. It's a peculiar way to say something when one believes they are entitled to rights as an Indian, isn't it?

Boyd's first task after arriving in Indian Territory was to make friends with the full blood Cherokees he refers to as "these natives." He said he made friends with them by treating them as his neighbors. Whether Boyd realized it or not, his comments not only indicate he was white, they also had negative undertones. His words suggest he thought he was better than the Indians, but he treated them as his equal in order to gain their friendship.

It's important to understand what "claim" meant to U.S. citizens in the 1800s. They would settle on a piece of land they had no legal title to and "claim" it. This appears to be the type of claim Boyd was referring to because he didn't establish a claim to citizenship in the Cherokee Nation. He was repeatedly rejected and never gained the right to live legally on Cherokee land. Of course, that didn't stop him from illegally squatting there and using Cherokee Nation assets (land) to benefit himself and his family. He readily confessed that in 10 years time, he had cleared and cultivated about 40 acres of (Indian) land. He also admitted he used a lot of (Indian) land for his livestock, taking advantage of the free range available.

According to Nancy Hope Sober in the book, "The Intruders: The Illegal Residents of the Cherokee Nation 1866-1907", white citizens of the U.S. who falsely claimed to have an ancestor of Cherokee blood entered the nation presumably under the pretense it gave them the right to be there. Sober also wrote, "It was a common belief among intruding whites that "residence alone [would] give them a title to land in the Nation in the event it became a United States territory." "

We know Boyd falsely claimed to have an ancestor of Cherokee blood and that he squatted on Cherokee land, making his "claim." In my humble opinion, his actions were the same as many others who illegally moved into Indian Territory - it was an attempt at a land grab. He didn't move there to help anyone other than himself and his family.

Does it get any more clear than that? "As there were few whites in the neighborhood" the white teachers usually boarded at HIS house. Why? Because Boyd was white too!

This is where it is important to pay close attention to what William Boyd said. His motivation for his family doing "good deeds" starts to be revealed. He said the Indians did not want to change from their ways of living to that of the white man, but his greatest ambition was to do all he could do to bring about that change. Clearly he didn't care about what the Indians wanted. His greatest ambition was to change things to the way HE wanted. And what was his motivation for wanting things to change?

He wanted things to change because he was raising children in the Cherokee Nation. If a parent, one might be able to forgive a person who wanted change so their children could have a better life, but if able to forgive Boyd for that, it would be short lived. Immediately after he said he wanted improved social conditions because he was raising his children in Indian Territory, he followed with:

I don't think an explanation is needed but in the event someone missed it, William Boyd's greatest ambition was to see that the conditions in the Cherokee Nation changed from the Indian ways to the ways of the white man because he lived there with his children and it was, apparently, in his opinion, a place so abominable that it was a sin to raise those children there. If that doesn't scream that he thought Indians were "savages" or "heathens", I don't know what does!

Does anyone still believe this family was Indian? If you do, then either you are thick headed or living in a fantasy world. William Boyd's words expose him as a white man who thought he was better than Indians. Any good deed he did was clearly motivated by his desire to have a less "sinful" environment for his children.

Since this series began, it's received both positive and negative reactions. One of the most common negative responses comes from Cherokees who claim Chief Baker's maternal ancestors have done much work to improve the Cherokee Nation, therefore they should be given a pass on their false claim.  While I disagree with anyone getting a pass on a false claim, let's stay focused on the "deeds". At face value, those "good deeds" might seem like a positive thing, but on closer examination, when the true motivation is revealed, one  might begin to question whether those "good deeds" were truly good deeds. 

What do you think? Share your thoughts in the comments below. (And stay tuned for Part 5, coming soon!)

Those are my thoughts for today.
Thanks for reading.

copyright 2014, Polly's Granddaughter - TCB