Working Together for the Good of All

John Ross, chief of the Cherokee, seven-eighths Scottish
John Ross, chief of the Cherokee, seven-eighths Scottish

I just sent a Facebook message to Bill Dwight, whom I have never met, but I was a great fan of his radio show, and I know he is a friend of Rachel Maddow. I’m hoping the Warren campaign can use this information:

Dear Bill,

Do you know any strategists in Elizabeth Warren’s campaign? I have some bits of information that, taken together, might help her campaign. First of all, membership in the Cherokee nation was never based on parentage. Sam Houston went there after his first marriage, about which we know nothing, and became a full-fledged member of the tribe.

The Cherokee chief who fought the Indian Relocation Act all the way to the US Supreme Court, and won, was a Scot named John Ross — one eighth Cherokee. Sadly, President Jackson ignored the court’s decision and gave the orders for the Trail of Tears. In Jackson’s defense, I can only say that there were lots of even nastier rednecks in government who had a solution to the ‘Cherokee Problem’ that didn’t involve relocation.

After the United States stole their ancestral lands, people of Cherokee ancestry were entitled to compensation, so now Cherokee ancestry has a monetary value, based on the Dawes Rolls, which are admittedly flawed, but they use them anyway because they’re all we have. Over the years it has also acquired a prestige value — it’s very cool to claim Cherokee ancestry — but historically the Cherokee tribe always had a policy of open membership.

Today you might hear someone speak of being one eighth or one sixteenth or one thirty-second Cherokee, but for thousands of years, parentage meant nothing to the Cherokee. If Elizabeth Warren is proud of one Cherokee ancestor, who can blame her. Will Rogers was proud of his Cherokee ancestry. America’s most famous cowboy was actually an Indian.

I had the opportunity to meet Chad Corntassle Smith, the principal chief of the Cherokee, and while he would probably be reluctant to get involved in a political campaign, I’m sure he would verify these historical facts, especially if he knew, as we do, that of the two candidates, Elizabeth Warren has a deeper commitment to the Cherokee concept of gadugi, ‘working together for the good of all.’

If this information could help make this a teaching moment for the citizens and voters of Massachusetts, that would make me a happy man.


Stephen Hartshorne
Associate Editor