Finger, John R. Eastern Band Of Cherokees: 1819-1900. Knoxville: Univ Tennessee Press, 1984.
The Eastern Band of the Cherokees is the story of the eponymous tribal remnants that resisted Indian removal and struggled to maintain their culture against the United State’s federal government and the dramatic shifts brought on by the twentieth century. While often ignored in the study of Amerindians, the Eastern Band of the Cherokee are a fiercely self aware group who have maintained a large part of their culture despite the pressures of the modern world. Finger depicts the Eastern Band of the Cherokee as self aware in politics, culture, and economics. While Finger’s narrative covers the various injustices done to the Cherokee by the United States Government he never presents the Cherokee as powerless or broken. Throughout The Eastern Band, Finger alludes to the dogged nature of Eastern Band culture. Finger’s work is organized chronologically, beginning with an overview of Cherokee history up to 1819. Here Finger explores Cherokee culture and Cherokee/American relations. European, and later American, relationships with the Cherokee were based around trade, land, and war. Through these relationships the Cherokee were quickly and drastically altered. This is where Finger separates himself from typical Cherokee scholarship. Finger is interested in how Eastern Cherokee culture survived post-removal. This is a story of endurance.
In The Eastern Band Finger develops two arguments: That the Cherokee were able to endure the constant threat of removal and harm brought upon them by their nebulous legal status, and that despite this threat the Cherokee were able to maintain their identity. This is what allows The Eastern Band to me more than “ simply another Cherokee book”. Finger’s work is an important contribution to the study of The Cherokee and Amerindian history. While many scholars follow the Trail of Tears westward, Finger resists the move. His focus is on the Eastern Band of the Cherokee, a tribal remnant known as the Qualla Indians that had escaped removal. According to Finger it was a peculiar legal status that allowed them to resist removal while the rest of the Cherokee were forcibly escorted West. Anxiety over this legal status haunted the Eastern Band. Finger cites many examples of how fear of removal and the uncertainty of their legal status affected the Eastern band as well as those assigned to represent them legally. These Amerindians, Finger argues, changes the typical Amerindian/America relationship from one of trade and warfare to a legal one. Despite the encouragements, bribes, and threats to move west the Eastern Band remained, fighting back with lawsuits and legal actions. Despite persistent stereotypes many Amerindians won rights through subpoenas rather than tomahawks.
Finger also details how the Eastern Band retained their Cherokee identity despite the numerous changes their culture endured. While scholars such as Braund and Calloway have explored the acculturation of Amerindians through the deerskin trade, warfare, and cultural proximity, Finger focuses on how this particular band of Amerindians handled acculturation as a minority culture. Finger’s research continues where Braund and others left off. Of particular importance in Finger’s research is the role of women. While women had once played a important role in Cherokee society, as Christianity and acceptance of American life began to dominate Cherokee life the “petticoat empire” many early Europeans had mentioned was gone. As men took to farming women were relegated to domestic tasks of cooking and producing goods for sale. Cherokee women were fairing no better in terms of social status than their white counterparts. Beyond gender roles, Cherokees began to adopt more American styles of housing and dress. While their life was changing the Eastern Band never ceased to be Cherokee. Their religious leaders were pastors one day and shamans the next. Their religious services were a blend of fire and brimstone preaching and traditional singing. Finger also explores the roles state and Quaker schools played in Americanizing the Cherokee. Despite all of these changes Finger closes The Eastern Band noting that all the changes the Cherokee had endured had been filtered through their own cultural context. No matter their language, religion, or manner they were and had always been Cherokee.
The Eastern Band offers a new perspective on New Indian history. While most New Indian histories look eastward, The Eastern Band is focused differently. The perspective is both internal and external, as they stubbornly resist the forces of relocation and Americanization. The Qualla adapt to hardship and changes while maintaining a sense of self. Finger focuses on the sacrifices made by various Cherokee and how their fellows remembers them. He closes with Mooney’s work with Swimmer, in many ways the beginning of a new legend.
Finger relies a great amount of Cherokee materials. Many of his sources are collected from archives and manuscript collections from the federal government and private collections of Cherokee materials. These materials allow the Cherokee’s history to speak for itself, unfiltered by European/American bias. While he does utilize a host of Cherokee sources in comparison to other scholars he is writing of a time of greater Cherokee literacy, his use of these sources is expected and their presence does not damn the research of previous eras. Finger utilizes a host of legal publications as well as periodicals that detail the reactions to the various treaties. Finger’s population statistics are grounded in census materials Also present are classic works in the study of Cherokee history. Adair’s as well a Mooney’s works are present.
Over all The Eastern Band of the Cherokees is an excellent narrative of a nearly forgotten people. Finger cares about the Cherokee but does not let his affection for the subject cloud his research. His presentation is believable, allowing the actions of the Qualla people to speak for themselves. It is refreshing to encounter a study that features Amerindians that managed to hold on to a solid identity throughout the pressures of poverty and cultural shifts. Finger gives a voice to a people long misunderstood and forgotten. Considering that this work is over twenty years old, it is deserving of an updated edition. One suggestion for a future edition would be more mention of the modern Western Band. While the focus of the study is on the shift to the twentieth century, a mention of the current Eastern Band of the Cherokees would be a pleasing addition to a foreword or epilogue. Contact information as well as an update would allow readers some insight on the current state of the Qualla people.