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Blood Politics

Blood Politics: Race, Culture, and Identity in the Cherokee Nation of Oklahoma

Circe Sturm
Copyright Date: 2002
Pages: 267
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  • Book Info
    Blood Politics
    Book Description:

    Circe Sturm takes a bold and original approach to one of the most highly charged and important issues in the United States today: race and national identity. Focusing on the Oklahoma Cherokee, she examines how Cherokee identity is socially and politically constructed, and how that process is embedded in ideas of blood, color, and race. Not quite a century ago, blood degree varied among Cherokee citizens from full blood to 1/256, but today the range is far greater--from full blood to 1/2048. This trend raises questions about the symbolic significance of blood and the degree to which blood connections can stretch and still carry a sense of legitimacy. It also raises questions about how much racial blending can occur before Cherokees cease to be identified as a distinct people and what danger is posed to Cherokee sovereignty if the federal government continues to identify Cherokees and other Native Americans on a racial basis. Combining contemporary ethnography and ethnohistory, Sturm's sophisticated and insightful analysis probes the intersection of race and national identity, the process of nation formation, and the dangers in linking racial and national identities.

    eISBN: 978-0-520-93608-9
    Subjects: Anthropology

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-viii)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. ix-x)
  3. List of Illustrations
    (pp. xi-xii)
  4. Acknowledgments
    (pp. xiii-xvi)
  5. Note to the Reader
    (pp. xvii-xviii)
  6. CHAPTER ONE Opening
    (pp. 1-26)

    In a back room outside a bar stand two men estranged by chance from one another, a grandfather and his grandson, tentatively speaking their first words. Otis Payne, the elder of the two, is an imposing African-American man with intense eyes, a wide girth, and a round, soft face. His grandson barely resembles him and is bookish, shy, and uncomfortable. Otis literally owns the space, a bar he has lovingly tended for twenty-five years. But he also owns the space with his presence, which floods the room like warm summer light. He is standing with his grandson in a shabby,...

  7. CHAPTER TWO Blood, Culture, and Race: Cherokee Politics and Identity in the Eighteenth Century
    (pp. 27-51)

    It’s nearly midnight at the Cherokee ceremonial grounds in the backwoods of Adair County, not far from the border of Arkansas. She and her Cherokee friends have been dancing all night around a sacred fire, and they have every intention of continuing until the early hours of the morning. But it’s late July and the midsummer’s night is hot and still, and they need a moment to rest, catch their breath, and cool down a little. Standing beside the Bird Clan arbor, the anthropologist and her two companions, both men in their thirties, laugh and tell jokes as they watch...

  8. CHAPTER THREE Race as Nation, Race as Blood Quantum: The Racial Politics of Cherokee Nationalism in the Nineteenth Century
    (pp. 52-81)

    The activities of Euroamericans in the early nineteenth century ensured that Cherokee nationalism—and, by extension, racialism—would take hold. Between 1808 and 1835, Cherokees were increasingly confronted with U.S. expansion into their territory in the Southeast (McLoughlin 1986: 146–67). Historian William McLoughlin argues that as they “wrestled with the question of their own identity and future,” the Cherokees concluded “with unerring logic . . . that national identity rested upon a cultural heritage imbedded in history, language and culture and a distinct and identifiable ‘homeland’ ” (McLoughlin 1986: xvii). For the first time, Cherokees also came to believe...

  9. CHAPTER FOUR Law of Blood, Politics of Nation: The Political Foundations of Racial Rule in the Cherokee Nation, 1907–2000
    (pp. 82-107)

    Turning onto Muskogee Avenue, the narrow main street running through downtown Tahlequah, she begins her journey from the old Cherokee capital to the new. As she drives by Cherokee square, she is impressed, as always, by the elegant lines of the two-story red brick building at its center. Built in 1870, the former Cherokee capitol is one of many old Cherokee buildings dotting the landscape. The 1845 Cherokee supreme court building, the oldest governmental structure in the state of Oklahoma, lies just to the south of the capitol, across from a modern bank with Cherokee script etched into its windows....

  10. CHAPTER FIVE Social Classification and Racial Contestation: Local Non-National Interpretations of Cherokee Identity
    (pp. 108-141)

    Henry James said a century ago that it was a complicated fate to be an American. He had no idea, of course, about the future complications of being Native American. Today, whether or not someone is Cherokee has different answers depending on who is being asked and within what context. National and local definitions of Cherokee identity are often in tension, particularly in regard to race. Due to the historic interplay between various racial ideologies and legal codes, the Cherokee Nation has come to define its citizens on the basis of blood ancestry, a policy that fosters a widespread tendency...

  11. CHAPTER SIX Blood and Marriage: The Interplay of Kinship, Race, and Power in Traditional Cherokee Communities
    (pp. 142-167)

    As we have seen in the past several chapters, blood is a polyvalent idiom of Cherokee identity. Blood can stand for shared biological, racial, or cultural substance, as both Cherokee national identity and individual social identities are manipulated along a race-culture continuum. Recall, for instance, the full-blood Cherokee medicine man with the green eyes, or how Cherokee citizens have elected national leaders with increasingly greater degrees of Cherokee blood as the tribal population has become less blooded since the mid-1970s. This trend toward more blooded political, social, and religious leaders shows how Cherokees have internalized various blood hegemonies and how...

  12. CHAPTER SEVEN Challenging the Color Line: The Trials and Tribulations of the Cherokee Freedmen
    (pp. 168-200)

    Point. Click. The newly arrived messages roll across her computer screen. In her small room in Tahlequah, Oklahoma, she sits on the edge of her seat, squinting at the rapid-fire procession of names and subjects. She takes a deep breath, feeling anxious and impatient, as she experiments with her research methods, trying to use electronic mail to correspond with Cherokees outside of Oklahoma. As she lets the shades down to get rid of the glare on her monitor, she wonders if anyone will respond to her survey, if they will feel comfortable with the format, if anthropological fieldwork via the...

  13. CHAPTER EIGHT Closing
    (pp. 201-212)

    Five minutes before grand entry at the Tahlequah powwow: a Cherokee man in his mid-thirties fluffs the neon pink feathers of his bustle. Tired of the vibrant Disney colors popular among fancy dancers a few years ago, he now wishes he had the money for new regalia. At least with a home crowd, they won’t care if he’s a little behind the times. As he gently shakes himself loose, warming up muscles and tendons, he takes in all the family and friends, the people from his home community and church, who have come to watch tonight’s events.

    Carla, a pretty...

  14. Notes
    (pp. 213-230)
  15. Bibliography
    (pp. 231-244)
  16. Index
    (pp. 245-249)
  17. Back Matter
    (pp. 250-250)