The Cherokee people were given spiritual rules by God in ancient times. Paramount of these values was the respect of the four colors of creation, and the four original grandparents of all people, which correspond with red, blue, yellow and black. Today we still practice our ancient religion - in our religious societies which are separate from our tribal government. This basic tenant of our cultural belief system has led the Cherokee Nation to be one of, if not the most inclusive, tribes in the United States. It is prophesized that if we turn our backs on God's laws, that the Cherokee people will no longer exist.
When I first heard of a movement to expel our freedmen citizens, I was reminded of our spiritual teachings. The press has been inundated with stories and opinions about the Cherokee freedmen expulsion. I found only one which reflected traditional values - a small opinion piece in the local Tahlequah paper right after the vote. The author warned against discriminating against ''the people of the Black Sand,'' which refers to our creation story, and how the four grandparents got their color. The lack of a traditional perspective is what motivated me to write this letter.
The argument of self-determination versus treaty rights will no doubt be settled in federal court, with precedent firmly in the freedmen's favor set forth in the rulings of the Seminole I and II cases. I wish to educate other tribal people, and remind my own community about what makes us Cherokee people. While our ancient religion has been subverted and is now only practiced by a small fraction of our tribe, it was widely practiced at the time the treaty of 1866 was signed. In my opinion, our value system is what made the difference between our protections for the Cherokee freedmen in our treaty and that of the freedmen in the rest of the Five Civilized Tribes.
Cherokees and freedmen have shared the same history and experiences for more than 100 years - before the Trail of Tears to more modern contemporary times. I can remember when Cherokees had to ride in the colored section on the bus from Muskogee, Okla., to Haskell Institute in Kansas, and were barred from the ''white only'' washrooms and drinking fountains. Today, it is evident that if we do choose to violate God's law and discriminate against an essential part of his creation, the Cherokee will be no more, and our tribe will be unrecognized by the federal government.
- Mary Nordwall