"Osiyo, dohijo?" Is A Cherokee Greeting
November 1, 2015
"Osiyo, dohijo?" is a Cherokee greeting equivalent to the English, "Hello, how are you?" If you were in good spirits and feeling well, you might respond, "Osdv, senina?" or "Good, and you?"
Our Cherokee people are the second largest tribe in the United States, with our Tribal Capitol in Tahlequah, Cherokee County, Oklahoma. Our tribe is not native to Oklahoma, where most of us reside, and we are not even native of the Appalachian Mountainous region where the Europeans first made contact with our ancestors. We are members of the Iroquoian linguistic stock and are believed to have moved south from the Ohio River country as long as 3500 years ago.
The Spanish explorer, Hernando De Soto was the first white man to come in contact with my people, around 1540. He had been told by other Indians of a people that lived in the mountains and was told that we were called "Chalaki" which has evolved into the present day word, Cherokee. We had always referred to ourselves as 'A-ni-gi-du-wa-gi' or more commonly referred to as Keetoowah. (1)
Before the arrival of the European settlers, the Cherokee had lived in towns on the slopes and in the fertile valleys of the Appalachian Mountains in Georgia, Tennessee, North and South Carolina. Our towns were permanent settlements, each with a large area where games like lacrosse were played. A community grainery and a seven-sided domed townhouse were typical structures in each of our towns. We also had communal gardens. The townhouse represented the seven clans of the tribe, and they are: A-ni-gi-lo-hi (Long Hair or Twister); A-ni-sa-ho-ni (Blue or Blue Paint); A-ni-wa-ya (Wolf); A-ni-ga-ta-ge-wi (Wild Potato or Savannah); A-ni-ka-wi (Deer); A-ni-tsi-kwa (Bird) and A-ni-wo-di (Paint of Red Paint). The townhouse often held as many as 500 or more. It was here that important meetings, religious ceremonies and winter dances were held. The houses were gable roofed and all were made of stripped logs plastered with clay and roofed with bark.
Our ancestors were an agrarian people who raised the basic 'three sisters' of corn, (maize), squash and beans. Game, fish, greens, and wild fruits were plentiful in the mountainous region. The men did the hunting and protected the villages. The women did the gathering and tended the crops. Family life was important to our people, just as it is today. The grandparents and the elders taught the skills, legends, traditions and history of our people to the young ones. The society was for all intents and purposes a matriarchal one, with the property being handed down through the Mother. When young couples were to marry, they never married within the same clan, and they lived with the clan of the wife and in her town. Polygamy was practiced, but it was not the usual custom. During times of war when many of the warriors had been killed, one warrior might marry an entire family of sisters. It was his duty to protect the women. Either party could dissolve marriages, without ceremony.
There were no rigid laws, although there were taboos, such as marriage between two people of the same clan. Each town had its own leaders, but there was not one chief with dominion over the entire tribe. This didn't come about until the 1820s.
Each town had two factions, much as we in America have different political parties. The Red, or war, Party represented courage and bravery; its symbols were the wolf, fox and the owl. The White factions were the healers, people who could invoke the spirits and these leaders were considered sacred. They conducted the ordinary, day-to-day, affairs of the town except in time of war, when the Red Party took control. Then, as now, life alternated between times of peace and times of war with other tribes. During times of peace, grueling games kept warriors fit and prepared.
We were a spiritual people, who believed in a kinship with all living things and prepared for major events with prayer and fasting. Healers, or shamans, worked with the ill or wounded both physically and spiritually.
We would do well to follow their conservative practices, today. No game was killed unless necessary. Every part was use, either for food, clothing, shelter, tools, utensils or weapons. Before shooting a deer, the hunter would ask its permission and forgiveness; otherwise the deer spirit would follow the trail of blood to the man's home and strike him with crippling rheumatism. Crops were shared equally, both in good times and in lean.
Now that you have somewhat of a picture in mind of a harmonious life in a beautiful mountainous countryside, in which all needs were abundantly met, I will proceed to tell you of life after the advent of the white man into Indian country.
The first European settlers were English, Scottish and Irish who settled in the Piedmont area - a level, fertile coastal area and well suited to farming. At first there was no cause for alarm. The settlers found the Cherokee to be intelligent, handsome and adaptable. Soon a brisk trade developed. The Cherokee brought furs and skins, much in demand in Britain. The settlers traded metal goods i.e. pots, tools, utensils, guns, cloth and blankets. Unfortunately, they also brought diseases with them to America, against which the Indians had no immunity. In 1738 a smallpox epidemic wiped out nearly half of the Cherokee people and it struck again in 1761 with about the same devastating results.
More settlers came to the 'new world' and they moved westward into the mountain land of the Cherokee. The first treaty with the colonists of South Carolina was signed in 1684. The Cherokee nation was recognized and its sovereignty was guaranteed in this and all subsequent treaties.
In 1785, the first treaty with the new federal government of the United States was penned. This treaty ceded a large portion of the Blue Ridge Mountains and the Cumberland and Wautaga River Valleys of western North Carolina. The U.S. government hoped to transform the Indians into farmers, much in the style of the settlers. To some extent, they succeeded, however between 1721 and 1828 some 2000 Cherokee had moved west, beyond the great Mississippi River. One Red Faction was so incensed by the treaty that it seceded from the Cherokee Nation and formed the Chickamauga tribe.
In all, 37 treaties between the various states and the National government were signed between 1721 and 1835. Almost all began with the words, "in consideration for a tract of land..." Over ninety percent of the original Cherokee lands had been relinquished to non-Indians who wanted it all. Sovereignty of Indian Rights had always been restated, but in reality the white man's government did more to protect the invaders than the invaded.
The difficulty in communicating precise information between distant communities was one factor making these treaties possible. A number of Cherokee people, especially those of mixed blood were well educated and could read and write the English language. They could understand the complex, legal language of the treaties. However, the majority of the people had always depended upon an oral tradition and could not tell other distant town what was happening in their region.
In the early 1800s a Cherokee silversmith by the name of Sequoyah had begun work on a syllabus, which was to change the course of Cherokee history. Sequoyah, a half German and half Cherokee was also known as George Gist or 'Guess' had been crippled in a hunting accident, could neither read or write English, but he realized the importance of his people having a written alphabet or more accurately, a syllabary. It took him twelve years to complete a workable syllabary. He created 85 characters with each representing a specific sound or syllable of the Cherokee language. Once, about mid-way through his work, his wife thinking he'd lost his mind and was doing some form of witchcraft, destroyed his work. The only person that held faith in him was his young daughter. It was with her help that he completed the work in 1821 and convinced the elders that this was a workable means of communicating with each other. It was the first time that the Cherokee could read and write in their own language. Within six to eight months of completing his work over 80 percent of the tribe became literate in their own tongue. Thursday, February 28, 1828 was the first printing of the Cherokee Phoenix this newspaper was only four pages in length and published the laws of the Cherokee nation in both English and Cherokee. The Phoenix was published up until the removal in 1838 and was re-started in the west in 1844 as The Cherokee Advocate and remains so today as the tribal publication.
It has always been said that a child could learn to read and write in a matter of a few weeks versus the months or years that it takes the average non-Indian.
The Cherokee at council adopted a constitution (that was based on that of the U.S.) on July 26, 1827. Through this new constitution the Cherokee government hoped to be able to negotiate with the U.S. government on a more equal footing.
One provision of the new constitution called for the election of a Principal Chief by the people. John Ross, a prosperous entrepreneur of only 1/8 Cherokee blood was elected and took office in 1828. Ross, an educated man was familiar with the political figures sympathetic to the cause of the Cherokee. From 1819-1835 he had successfully opposed the ceding of any additional Cherokee lands. He served as a major and adjutant during the war with the Red Stick Creeks under General Andrew Jackson. He, Ross, had been successful in getting Jackson to return 4,000,000 acres of Cherokee land 'mistakenly' seized after a war with the Red Stick Creek Indians. That experience led to a healthy distrust of Jackson, with whom he would later deal with when Jackson became President.
In 1829 a petition for redress of grievances was presented to the Secretary of War. Four months later, President Jackson declared that sovereignty could no longer be recognized. During the Revolutionary War, most Cherokee had sided with the British as the lesser of two evils. Further, any land (Cherokee land) held by the British had been confiscated and the Cherokee, as allies of the British, were 'taken into protection as a dependent people.'
Citizens of Georgia were especially eager to have authority over the Cherokee because gold had been discovered on Cherokee land near Dahlonega, in northeast Georgia. This was a land where the Georgians were technically not permitted to be with out permission of the Cherokee government. The State of Georgia proposed that the Cherokee land be seized and disposed by lottery to citizens of Georgia. In 1829, the Georgia Assembly passed a law stating that 'No Indian, regardless of degree of blood should be deemed a competent witness in any litigation involving a white person.'
The federal government was of no help to the Cherokee. President Jackson said, "Build a fire under them and they'll move." The Indian Removal Act was signed in 1830. Two years later the U.S. Supreme Court ruled the act illegal. Georgia increased its harassment, and with the aid of the U.S. government encouraged factions in the Cherokee nation to oppose the Cherokee government's position. The government campaign to persuade Cherokee to trade Appalachian land had been successful with a few people, but their position was not secure until Eastern Cherokee had ceded more land to pay for land taken from Indians already living in the western country.
In 1834, Georgia surveyed Cherokee land and opened it by lottery to settlers. John Ross' home was one of those lost. The Georgia Militia smashed the presses of The Cherokee Phoenix.
The federal government sent Indian Agent John F. Schermerhorn to negotiate with Chief Ross to cede the remaining Cherokee territory for $5,000,000. After six months of negotiating, and Ross continually refusing to accept this offer, the Georgia Militia crossed over into Tennessee and arrested Chief John Ross and his houseguest, John Howard Payne.
Once arrested, they were taken to the Vann home at Spring Place, Georgia, where they were kept in the basement for a week. They were released on Dec. 14, 1835. John Ross went, immediately, back to his home in Tennessee to check on his wife, Quatie. He then gathered a delegation to go to Washington to protest the actions of the Georgia Militia. It was while he and his delegation was in Washington that Schermerhorn put together the midnight meeting at New Echota to finalize a fraudulent treaty. About a hundred Cherokee were in attendance but only twenty Cherokee signed this 'treaty.' Under the terms of this treaty the Cherokee were to give up all ownership of lands east of the Mississippi River and were to receive about 7,000,000 acres of land in Indian Territory (what is now Oklahoma) and receive $5,000,000 from which the Cherokee were to pay the cost of their own removal.
Foremost among the signers of this infamous, "Treaty of New Echota" were Major Ridge, his son John and nephews Elias Boudinot and Stand Watie. Major Ridge a planter and Cherokee patriot, was responsible for the enactment of the Cherokee law known as the Blood Law, which decreed that the death penalty for any Cherokee who signs away any Cherokee land without the consent of the Cherokee Council and the Principal Chief. In fact in 1808 when Chief Doublehead had ceded a portion of tribal land, The Ridge (as he was known) was one of his executioners, and as he signed this treaty of 1835, he was heard to have said, sadly: "I am signing my own death warrant."
His nephew, Elias Boudinot, was the former editor of the Cherokee Phoenix had lost his position when he disagreed with Chief Ross about presenting a united front against removal. Ridge's son, John, was in Washington when he learned of the signing of the Treaty and he returned to the Nation to support his Father. Stand Watie, Boudinot's brother was a strong supporter of removal and continued in his hatred for Chief Ross until Ross died. Watie was to become a general officer in the Confederacy during the waning days of the War Between the States.
This group and their supporters were to become known as the "Treaty Party." They were sincere men, who honestly believed that removal was inevitable ad that they should proceed in moving west without further delay. They felt that the best hope for their people was to secure the best settlement that they could and move on out west.
The Commissioner of Indian Affairs and the majority of the U.S. Senate ignored a petition that had been circulated by the elected Tribal officials, which gathered 15,655 signatures a/o marks of adult Cherokee stating that the 'Treaty of New Echota' was not the will of the populous. On May 23, 1836 the Senate of the United States ratified the treaty by a single vote. The Cherokee people were given two years to settle their affairs and make the move voluntarily or find themselves subject to being forcibly removed by the Army of the United States. The Cherokee were granted 13,800,000 acres of land in what is now Oklahoma, Kansas and Arkansas. They were given $5,000,000, which was to pay in full for any depredations, or claims they had and the expense of moving themselves.
In early 1837, the Treaty Party members, about 1200 left by land and by flatboat for Arkansas. The remaining people about 18,000 refused to honor the treaty, which they maintained to be fraudulent. Newspapers and state legislatures, especially in the North also agreed that it had been unlawfully obtained and executed. The Ross Party still believed that the treaty would be overturned and therefore they made no preparations for removal.
The State of Georgia, under the guise of disarming hostile Indians, confiscated all weapons. These were necessary hunting rifles, not military weapons, which had previously been seized. Homes were looted, stock and wagons stolen; even those Cherokee now attempting to leave through Kentucky were harassed.
On May 23, 1838, the orders to begin the round-up of the remaining Cherokee were implemented. 7,000-armed soldiers under the command of General Winfield Scott entered the Cherokee Nation and commenced rounding up every Cherokee man, woman and child. They were marched/driven into hastily build stockades scattered throughout the Cherokee nation.
Immediately after the Cherokee were removed from their property, the white-trash of the civilian 'society' followed stealing and destroying everything they could. They even attacked army wagons carrying Cherokee possessions to the stockades. On rich plantations graves were dug up in search of gold or other valuables, believed to have been buried there.
By June 5, 1838 over 8,000 people were in Georgia stockades though many had escaped to the mountains or Tennessee. About 3,000 were to leave by flatboat in June, but the rivers were too low, due to a severe drought, and the fever season had begun. Many escaped, but more died along the way. Of the original 3,000 only about 1,800 arrived in the west. It was then agreed to suspend the removal until fall when the travel conditions would be more favorable. The Cherokee had at long last resigned themselves to the fact that their future lay in the western territory and urged the U.S. government to permit the to take charge of the removal and supervise their own removal.
In the stockades of that dreadful summer, a lack of sanitation, insufficient food, water and medical supplies caused the deaths of literally hundreds of our Cherokee brethren.
The drought continued and the removal was postponed until October. The emigrants were divided into fourteen partied of about 1,000. Each with its own Cherokee leaders called conductors. The cost of removal was now to be $66.00 per man, woman and child for the entire journey. This was considerably more than had been estimated. It had anticipated that more than half would have been able to make the trip on foot, but by October there were so many that were so weak from malnutrition and various diseases, that more wagons were needed. This added expense was deducted from the dwindling funds originally paid for their homelands. The drought finally ended with steady downpours of drenching rain. The wagons were mired in mud over the axles and there was no shelter from the cold. Exposure and lack of adequate clothing and blankets caused many more unnecessary deaths. The first parties arrived at Fort Smith, Arkansas on January 4, 1839 and the last party arrived on March 29th. The average time spend on the trek was 181 days. Of the original 18,000 who had begun the removal process, nearly 4,000 died before reaching their destination in the west. This unnecessary loss of life and the depravations suffered by the Cherokee people was to become known as "The Trail of Tears," because it is said that for every one hundred yards from Georgia and Tennessee to Indian Territory, there is a grave of a Cherokee.
The Commissioner of Indian Affairs wrote in his report... "The case of the Cherokee is a striking example of the liberality of the government in all its branches... A retrospect of the last eight months in reference to this numerous and more than ordinarily enlightened tribe cannot fail to be refreshing to well constituted minds... If our acts have been generous they have not been less wise and politic... Good feelings has been preserved, and we have quietly transported 18,000 friends to the west bank of the Mississippi."
The Cherokee not assembled in the west, the Old Settlers (those that moved west voluntarily prior to the signing of the Treaty), the Treaty Party (those that signed the treaty and then moved west) and the Ross Party (those that recently arrived in the west as a result of removal) were now rejoined in proximity, but not in spirit. Much bad blood remained.
In accordance with the old Blood Law, persons unknown executed Major Ridge, John Ridge and Elias Boudinot, on the same day (June 22, 1839) in various locations of the Cherokee country in the west. Still today, some people call it an assassination or murder, where in fact these three men were executed under the Blood Law.
On July 19, 1839 an Act of Union was signed and eventually amnesty was granted to the remaining signers of the Treaty of New Echota, and to the executioners of those who had carried out the Blood Law. After much heated debate, John Ross was once again elected Principal Chief of the entire Cherokee Nation. He was subsequently re-elected every four years until his passing in 1866.
The site at Tahlequah was selected as the official Capital of the Cherokee Nation. The Cherokee Constitution was adopted on September 6, 1839 and the 'new' government set about to settle in their new homeland. Forests, hills, valleys, rivers and streams covered the terrain. It was going to take a lot of work to get the land to where they could build on it, let alone farm it. In all this took about 10 – 15 years to carve out clearings enough to live on. A police force called Lighthorsemen was established to enforce the laws of the Cherokee Nation. Some of the laws enacted were a ban on fires in January and February, the unauthorized sale of land and the abolishment of alcohol.
Bitter feelings persisted between the Treaty Party and the Ross Party until the President of the U.S. stepped in and put a stop to it in 1846. Compensation was paid to the Ridge family for their losses and monies were given to the Nation, as a whole, in partial restitution for the lands taken from them in the East. The Council with Chief Ross' guidance decided to establish schools for the Cherokee youth. In 1846, the Cherokee National Male and Female Seminaries were established. Construction began almost immediately and the doors to the Cherokee National Male Seminary (CNMS) opened on May 6, 1851. The Cherokee National Female Seminary (CNFS) opened the next day – May 7, 1851. Still today May 7th is considered homecoming for both the CNMS & CNFS on the campus of Northeastern State University (NSU) in Tahlequah. The original CNFS was destroyed by fire on Easter Sunday 1887. Construction began immediately on the 'New Female Seminary' (today it is Seminary Hall on campus at NSU and is still used as a classroom). CNMS burned on Palm Sunday, 1910. Northeastern draws its origin from our original Cherokee Seminaries.
At the time of the opening of the seminaries in 1851, Tahlequah was acknowledged as the center of government and Park Hill (just four miles south) was considered the cultural center and was called by many the, "Athens of the Cherokee Nation."
By 1860 prospects were bright, people were moderately prosperous, tribal differences were at a minimum, commerce and trade were increasing. But again, the Nation was to be divided. This time by a way, not of our making, the War Between the States. Chief Ross tried to convince everyone to remain neutral, but circumstances made that an impossibility. Part of the Nation supported the North (Union) and another part supported the South (Confederacy). As the tide shifted back and forth, farms and homes were destroyed, crops and livestock lost and many killed. Vicious bands of roving outlaws added to the horror.
At the close of the war in 1865, the Nation was told that by siding with the confederacy, they had lost all rights and new treaties would have to be made. Under the terms of the new treaty, slavery was abolished, freedmen were to be adopted into the tribe, and railroads could now cross Indian Territory. 800,000 acres were to be ceded to the government and the Nation must agree to the settlement of other tribes on their lands. Again the Cherokee Nation was shattered, no longer self-governing and facing severe economic and social disasters.
But like the great Phoenix bird, we rose again and rebuilt. In 1867 the Cherokee Capitol Building was completed on the square in the center of Tahlequah. The Female Seminary burned and rebuilt as a three story, steam heated building with hot and cold running water.
Cattle drives were bringing between $200,000 and $300,000 annually for grass rights in the Cherokee Outlet. The U.S. government was pressuring the Nation to sell the outlet for $1.25 an acre. We refused and in 1891 President Harrison ordered the cattlemen off the land, effectively shutting off the revenue. In December of 1891, the Cherokee Nation agreed to the sale of the lands at $1.40 per acre.
The forced sale was part of a plan to break up all Indian Nations and bring them into what the U.S. government saw as the "mainstream." The Dawes Commission arrived in 1894 to begin the process of allotting the lands of Indian Territory. The Council was united in opposition to the plan, so the commission tried to depict the Nation as a lawless region much in need of regulation. In 1898, the Curtis Acts declared that all tribal governments would cease to exist at the end of eight years, and further decreed that all allotments would go directly to the individual tribal member, rather than to the tribe as a whole. Again, the Cherokee Nation was forced to accept... not what we wanted, but the best we could get.
Many full-bloods refused to register and accept the allotment. Consequently, they and their descendants are not listed on any tribal rolls, and today have no rights as members of the Cherokee Nation. Many non-Cherokees tried to enroll in order to get 'free land.'
In one last unsuccessful effort to prevent white domination, the Cherokee Nation tried to have the eastern part of present day Oklahoma declared a state, to be known as the State of Sequoyah. Instead the entire area became the State of Oklahoma on November 16, 1907. The Cherokee people had never believed in individual ownership of land, personal property and improvements, yes. The Indian belief was the land belongs to God and no man has the right to own land. Consequently, the Indians of Indian Territory were very easy prey for the slick, unscrupulous, fast talking land developers and lawyers. Oklahoma became a state in 1907; just one year after the tribal governments had been abolished by the U.S. government. By 1915 over 80% of the original Cherokee lands, once held in common by the Tribe for its members, was owned by a white man. Was statehood good for the Indian?
September 6th is the anniversary of the adoption of the Cherokee constitution. Today, it is the date that the Cherokee National Holiday is centered around.
As we face the challenges of the 21st century, proud of our heritage and being aware of the trials and tribulations that our ancestors have faced in the past, we look forward to a bright future for out people as we keep alive our language, our traditions, our arts & crafts and our remembrance of our ancestors. It is on our shoulders as to how we pass the world to our children. We must always be ready to stand up in unity in the face of adversity for the preservation of our culture.
NOTE: (1) According to legend as related by my Father, when DeSoto came in contact with the Choctaw (who were occupying the lands to our west and southwest) he asked them who were the people living to the east. Once they were able to get past the language barrier the Choctaw responded, "Chelaki" which is the Choctaw word for 'people living in the east.' It was written down by the Spaniards and taken back to Europe and was first seen in print in England in 1603. At that time the word was spelled 'Chiroque." Seventeen years later was the landing of the Mayflower at Plymouth Rock commencing the onslaught of the Europeans coming to this continent. Over the next several decades, the white Europeans continued to move westward and to the southwest, eventually bringing them into contact with our people, and the Choctaw. And since we lived east of the Choctaw we must be the Chiroque. Well we didn't give much credence to this 'new' name, as we figured that, 'ah these Europeans will only be here until they've gotten what they want and they'll move on.' I think we can finally admit we were wrong.
After they'd been here quite awhile, and kept calling us Chiroque, we came up with a word in our tongue Tsa-la-gi' which sounds a lot like Cherokee. We know that the word Cherokee is not the original name for our people since the consonant 'R' does not exist in our language.
NOTE: Bruce Ross (Cherokee Name - Kuwiskuwi) - A Cherokee historian and genealogist from Tahlequah, Oklahoma - is a direct descendant of Cherokee Chief John Ross. He is a passionate speaker on the history and traditional culture of the Cherokee and Northeastern Oklahoma. He enjoys speaking before schools and groups across the country, trying to inform and motivate. Mr. Ross has appeared on the Discovery Channel's How The West Was Lost series, and the History Channel's The Cherokee Trail of Tears.