28 June 2014

Dragging Canoe was not a Cherokee

Under today’s standards, Dragging Canoe (Tsiyugusini) was not a Cherokee.

Yes, that is correct, I am not kidding.  Dragging Canoe, the greatest military and diplomatic leader the Cherokee have ever known, would under the laws of all three of today's recognized tribes of Cherokee be ineligible for membership of any of them. 

This is not just because he doesn't have ancestors on any of their rolls which the three tribes use to determine who gets in.  His father, Attakullakulla, was a Nippissing from the North taken captive during a raid and adopted, while his mother was Natchez, from the group who lived along Natchy Creek.  He did not have a single drop of Cherokee blood.

The three Cherokee tribes require the following blood quantums: United Keetoowah Band of Cherokee Indians, 1:4; Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians, 1:16 (originally 1:32); and Cherokee Nation of Oklahoma, 1:2064.

In addition to Dragging Canoe, these blood quantums would also deny former Principal Chief of the Eastern Band William Holland Thomas and former Principal Chief of the Cherokee Nation West John Rogers membership in the tribes of which they held the highest office.  

They are also the means through which the Cherokee Nation of Oklahoma has disenfranchised the Cherokee Freedmen from the time of Ross Swimmer and Wilma Mankiller in the 1980's.

Similar blood quantums would likewise deny membership to Bluejacket, one of the most renowned Shawnee war chiefs ever, in any of the three modern tribes of Shawnee:  the Shawnee Tribe, the Absentee-Shawnee Tribe of Indians of Oklahoma, and the Eastern Shawnee Tribe of Oklahoma. 

But this essay isn’t an argument against the use of century-old membership rolls and blood quantums by federally-recognized Indian nations for membership.  Rather it is to point out the flaws in imposing modern definitions on cultures of the past, even within those cultures direct descendants.

Let me cite another example.  In 1860, neither corporations nor slaves were counted as full persons under the law.  Corporations had no such standing at all, while slaves were only counted as three-fifths of a person each.  Kind of like an individual citizen in the U.S.A. today vis-à-vis any for-profit corporation.

In first century Palestine, to be a Jew meant to be of a certain descent AND to have been born and live in Judaea, or if in the Diaspora, to have that descent.  It could not mean worshipping the same deity, because the Samaritans did so and were scorned by first century Jews. 

It could not mean adhering to the same religious scriptures because the Sadducees who were most certainly Jews only accepted the Torah.  Religiously, except for recognizing the temple on Mt. Zion rather than the one on Mt. Gerizim, the Sadducees had far more in common with the Samaritans, whom they desipised, than they did with other Jews.

The Pharisees accepted the Torah and the Prophet and some of the Writings.  Hellenistic Jews, even in Judea, accepted even more writings but not the Mishna, and the Essenes, who accepted even more scriptures likewise rejected the Mishna.  The Bene Sedeq, forerunners of today’s Karayim, also reject the Mishna but accept the same scriptures as the Pharisees (in the past) and rabbinical Jews (in the present).

While many Galileans practiced much the same religion as Jews, they were still Galilean rather than Jewish, and descended from exiles considered heretics during the Hasmonean period and from Iturean Arabs forcibly converted like the Philistians and Idumeans and Nabatean Arabs.  Even had they had clear lines of descent, they were still living in the “wrong” place to be a Jew.

During the early stages of the Great Jewish War (66-73 CE), one of the main problems the insurgents had, especially in Jerusalem, was dissension between Jewish Zealots and Galilean Zealots, along with other factions such as the Idumeans, the Temple Guard and other supporters of the Boethusian priesthood, and the Sikari.

In the gospels, several passages point out the difference between Jews and Galileans.  The first that comes to mind is the woman who accosts Peter outside the chief priest’s house.  The entire Gospel of John refers to Jews almost as if they are a foreign people, but the sense in which the writer uses the term “Jew” becomes clearer if you realize he means “Judean”.

That distinction changed with the complete destruction of Jerusalem including the temple in 70 CE, followed by the Bar Kokbha War and expulsion of the remaining leadership from Judea to Galilee in 135 CE.  But in the first century, especially the early first century, if you were from Nazareth, you were a Galilean, not a Jew, even if the nativity myth of birth in Bethlehem was anything more than a myth.

The point is this: Yeshu bar Yosef of Nazareth was a Galilean, not a Jew.

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