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Does Elizabeth Warren Know What ᏣᎳᎩ Means?

Hope K

Senator Elizabeth Warren got tired of being called “Pocahontas” for claiming to be Cherokee and took a DNA test. I’d like to give her a test. What does “ᏣᎳᎩ” mean?

Last summer my mother and aunt asked me if I felt like a Cherokee. It’s a valid question. I haven’t lived in the Cherokee Nation since I was a toddler. My father is of European descent, so my skin is white. I thought about it for a moment and said, “Yes, I do.”

In order to officially be a member of the tribe, you must have one of these cards:

But being Cherokee is more than just having the bloodline to me. It’s memories of spending summers at my grandmother’s house surrounded by baskets, pots, and turquoise. It’s having a mother who talks about the Little People and space travel as well as the Bible. It was that time I stayed on the bus during a school field trip to the Hermitage, Andrew Jackson’s home, in a silent protest my classmates didn’t notice. It’s being surprised and unsure how to feel when the president of the United States thanks you for telling the truth about a senator he doesn’t like. It’s that homecoming feeling I get, not at ball games or dances with chrysanthemum corsages, but when I cross the border into the Cherokee Nation.

I asked my friend what makes me Cherokee. She said, “It’s your obsession with crows, duh.”

I began my journey into the Cherokee Nation Thursday by exploring a traveler’s pit stop. It had a casino, a smoke shop, and a gas station. But what held my interest were the crows. They were bathing in a pool of rain and squawking, happy. I took this as a good sign.

My next stop was Sallisaw, where I got directions from a Cherokee Nation citizen named Billie. I asked Billie what she thought of Elizabeth Warren.

“When you’re Cherokee, you’ve got that white card,” she said. “I think it was wrong of her to claim she was Cherokee to get ahead. And that DNA test? I don’t trust those things. She shouldn’t use it in her platform.”

I have to agree with Billie. I don’t think Warren should have used her nonexistent Cherokee card to get a plum job at Harvard. I believe she needs to apologize to the Cherokee Nation for her behavior. I also wouldn’t trust her on anything else if she’s dishonest about who she is. That’s a fundamental lie.

It’s about a 15-minute drive through hay fields to Sequoyah’s Cabin from I-40. That’s another thing — when you’re Cherokee, you hear the word Sequoyah and think a man first, instead of a tree or a park. Those were named after the man.

Sequoyah, or ᏍᏏᏉᏯ, or his European name, George Gist, invented the Cherokee written language based on syllables. Previously, North American indigenous tribes had used pictographs. Sequoyah, whose father was European, learned to read and write his name in English, and the written word fascinated him. So he figured out that Cherokee is a language that uses 86 syllables and created characters for each. Here is his restored writing desk in the home he built in 1829:

He invented the written language in 1821 and was immediately ridiculed by his people for his “talking leaves.” They put him on trial for witchcraft. After he proved his innocence in court, Cherokees learned the language. This helped them start their own newspaper, The Phoenix, preserve their heritage, and defend themselves in US courts. In 1825, he moved to Arkansas to teach the Western Band the language. His last home was his cabin in Oklahoma. His creation of a written language put him in league with the ancient Sumerians and Greeks. Sequoyah’s talking leaves inspired the creation of 65 more written languages all over the world.

While I was visiting Sequoyah’s Cabin, I wondered if Elizabeth Warren had ever been there. I didn’t have to pay the small fee to get in because I’m a tribal member.

I asked Zach, one of the museum’s curators, what he thought about Elizabeth Warren.

“Who’s that?” was his reply.

I gave him the rundown on the Warren situation.

“Oh, yeah. We get people like that in here all the time. You wouldn’t believe how many. They say they have Cherokee ancestors, and maybe they do. They always have excuses for why they don’t have the paperwork. The real reason they don’t have the documentation is because their ancestors were ashamed of who they were and wouldn’t openly declare themselves Cherokee. Now there are benefits to being Cherokee, and so some people want those.”

I took out my white card and showed it to him. “I don’t need to see that,” he said. “We never ask for that. If somebody lies about being a tribal member, then they’re sick. It all has to do with this.” He held up a US dollar bill.

“Some people will do anything for this, but it’s just a piece of paper. You can’t take it with you when you go. And it would be better left on the trees. The trees give oxygen to you and me.”

This got me thinking about Sequoyah’s talking leaves. I took some children’s Cherokee alphabet blocks and spelled out “ᏣᎳᎩ.” In English, it means “Cherokee.”

Some sources:

Winner of my high school's citizenship award.

15 Comments

  1. Thomas Prentice says

    IS there any evidence at all whatsoever that it was the “Cherokee Card” that got Warren that “plum job” at Harvard? None of her other credentials and experiences, JUST THE CHEROKEE CARD?

    Based on a lifetime of academic form filling outing, it is my guess that she was presented by a tick box of some sort of heads they win tails you lose question in the affirmative action section in which she could have lied no matter which way she responded: Yes I am or No I am not. Like those questions in HS history “Is this that. Explain.”

    Yes, but not certified according to (WHITE SUPREMACIST) law controlling Indian tribes or No, not certified but has Cherokee and family lore — and NOW DNA test which some ignorant everyman Cherokee doesn’t trust bec like Trumpfies, it is science and doesn’t conform to a pre-existing belief system..

    STUPID SENTENCE: “I don’t think Warren should have used her nonexistent Cherokee card to get a plum job at Harvard”

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  2. Thank you Hope K for your writing about Cherokee. I hope you write more and more. There is so much the worls doesn’t know about real history.

  3. The Chilean MSN media in general and El Mercurio newspaper in particular usually report on the “Mapuche problem” (i.e. the Mapuche vs. State of Chile conflict) leaving out its long and complicated history, the vast cultural differences (e.g. views about money that Zach mentions) and the trauma of assimilation which often resulted in internal shame and external bullying. Independent media such as the online Mapuexpress provide an alternative perspective but struggle for survival in the current environment of anti-terrorism measures (only Mapuches have been charged under the law) and extractive mega-projects (Mapuexpress was sued for slander by the World Bank, one of its consultants and the Chilean government in relation to an article about a proposed hydroelectric project – the legal fees alone would have put them out of business had it not been for free legal services). Forty-five years after the Pinochet coup and 28 years after the return to democracy we are seeing an increasing recognition of the Mapuche people as the long-time (18,500 years) custodians of the environment with a rich culture and other human rights which need protecting. Thanks Hope for an inspiring piece of real news.

  4. Fair dinkum says

    First things first.
    We are born beings.
    We are female or male.
    We are sons or daughters.
    We are sisters or brothers.
    We are nephews or nieces.
    We are (insert race here).
    First things first.

  5. George Cornell says

    Great to hear from a real Cherokee. Warren who surely will be the Dem candidate is an angry self-righteous woman but she is able. She needs desperately to develop a sense of humour and if she does, she should win. But she and Harvard both tried to play the Native American card in an unattractive sel-serving way, the American way.

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    • Denis O'hAichir says

      She hasn’t a snowflakes chance in hell of beating Trump, if memory serves she was an advocate for weapons manufacturers in her state, so she had already polarised her side, Sanders would be a much better pick.

  6. Denis O'hAichir says

    Good article, reminds me of Obama claiming Irish heritage. Zach’s observation is right on the money.

    • Admin says

      One of our editors has a friend who lived in the little town in Ireland Obama’s PR team decided he came from. I believe he turned up there and went to the pub.

      • Denis O'hAichir says

        Moneygall County Offaly, that comment was dripping with delicious, delightful sarcasm. That little village has a service station called wait for it the ‘Obama Plaza’, souvenirs the works. Every Yank president that visits drinks the landlord upper class manufactured pint of Guinness, that said if Trump comes over officially I’m not sure what he’ll do as he don’t drink. I live near his golf course the north end is built on an illegal dump. Most people in that locale love the guy, interesting enough Pence’s grandfather is from a mile away from the course.

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