A Letter To My Daughter

Photo by Leslie Frempong

By Cara Forbes

December 15th, 2015

Dear Naomi,

I want you to know that you are not an Indian.

You are something so much more refined and profound than Indian. My dear, you are Cherokee. Tsalagi. Keetoowah. One of the Real and Principle People.

You see, Naomi, an Indian (at least to your mother) is a falsehood. Indian is a stereotype. Indian is a definition that does not reflect who you are, who I am, what your tribe is. An Indian is not human. Indians are either savage or noble. Indian is a caricature. No, my dear, you are not an Indian. You are a Real Person, a Cherokee.

You are not just any Cherokee, though. Don’t ever call yourself part Cherokee (no matter how fair your complexion may be). Oh! By the way, you’re also White. Yes, you are bi-racial, but you do not come from two partial worlds. You are not two parts of a whole, but two wholes of a part. The world around you may not always or may not ever see you as such, but try not to let yourself feel split. Find your center and always think about what your identities mean to you. But no matter what anyone says, no matter what you look like, no matter how confusing your dual identities are you are Cherokee. There is no partialness to it. You either are or you are not.

Be proud that you are a member of the Deer Clan and that you are a woman. This means that you get to carry on your clan’s legacy, since it is matrilineal. You are Deer Clan – just as I, just as your grandmother, just as your great-grandmother, just as the other women in our lineage across the span of time.

Furthermore, be sure to declare your belonging to the Eastern Band of the Cherokee Nation with certainty and pride. That is your band. Be proud of that fact. You have bountiful reason to be.

Cherokee. Tsalagi. Keetoowah. One of the Real People.

You are a real and wholesome human being.

As far as what it means to be Cherokee, Tsalagi, Keetowah, Native, or Indigenous, that is something that I nor anyone else can give you a definitive answer on. Those identities have cultural and historical implications that make navigation complex and confusing.

It becomes especially difficult when you are also sifting through the blanche world where your people have been assimilated. America takes pride in calling itself a melting pot, but it has yet to solve the enigma of how to live within it with clarity.

From my experience, there are days when you feel very much a part of both of the worlds from which you descend. Then there are days when you feel a stronger relation to one over the other. And then you’ll question who you are and wonder whether you will ever fully feel like truly belong to either. Don’t ever stop asking yourself hard questions – no matter how impossible finding a concrete answer may be. This will help you evolve in ways that, while difficult, can be rewarding.

I promise that your journey will not always feel so lonely. Make friends and find mentors along the way. Engage yourself in your communities. Learn to find the appropriate times to listen intently and speak confidently.

In the meantime, check your privilege (it does exist) and recognize where you fall on the Indigenous spectrum. You need not only navigate what it means to be Cherokee, but you also need to learn what it means to be white. Conceptualize what it means to be Cherokee in the white world and white in the Cherokee world. I’m not asking you to be ashamed of the advantages and disadvantages that your dual identities afford you. I just want you to acknowledge. There’s a fine difference between the two. But that is another letter for another day.

Always remember that possessing a tribal enrollment card is not enough. I do not care how much weight anyone puts on their or your blood quantum. If you are not involved into your Indigenous community in some way, shape, or form, that piece of plastic is meaningless in terms of your standing within the Eastern Band of the Cherokee Nation, the Cherokee Nation, Native America, and the Indigenous world. You are a part of those communities by means of both birth and participation. So if you want to call yourself Cherokee, Tsalagi, Keetoowah, or one of the Real People, then you need to find the gift that can help you serve your people. You cannot call yourself a member without involvement. Not being involved only makes you enrolled. This is the difference between being an enrolled Cherokee, a member, and an enrolled Cherokee member.

Speaking of which, there will come a time when you’ll begin to understand that your being a part of the Eastern Band of the Cherokee Nation is all a racial, cultural, and political identity. Sometimes these sub-identities will intersect. There are other times when they will seem to stand on their own. It varies depending on the situation, location, and person that you are faced with. There have been multiple times throughout my own life where I have been frustrated with this knowledge. It made me wonder whether I should look at my tribe – our tribe – as a family or a business. I have come to realize that it all just depends.

I know you probably want a clearer direction than that, but trust me when I say that I would give it to you if I could. I don’t have all the answers and I most likely never will. I suspect you won’t either.

Knowing that you will carry on the cultural backgrounds that I have makes me both pleased and worried as your mother. I know that you will experience both great joy and heartache. I just hope that I can teach you enough to where you will be able to hold your head up high through all of your trials and triumphs.

Just always remember, my dear:

Cherokee. Tsalagi. Keetoowah. One of the Real People.

You are not an Indian. Don’t you dare let them call you Indian.

You are a real and wholesome human being.

Real. Wholesome. Human.

With all of my love,

Momma

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One comment

  1. Beautiful. Raw truth and knowledge. I myself am an enrolled native but soon to be a member. I live a ways away from my tribe and I guess that is an excuse. Thank you for reminding me of who I am and who I need to be. A Proud Native Human Being!

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