How Culture and Life Changed on the Indian Territory

After the Trail of Tears and relocation of Native Americans was completed the Indian Territory was located in what is now Oklahoma. The years between removal and the 1860’s were called the “Cherokee Golden Age;” a period of great prosperity. The term applies to the successful emulation of the American economy, educational system, and federal and state courts by the Cherokee; the Cherokee Nation built a strong and prosperous infrastructure for a new beginning. Many individuals did not see it as a “Golden Age” because traditional beliefs and cultures were exchanged for assimilation into the American style.

Indian education was used to force Indian students to integrate into the American social system. Early on it was also a means of persuading Indian adults from being hunters to farmers. As hunters needed more land to survive, and farmers needed much less land; this allowed the government to assign Cherokee families a small plot of land, leaving land available for the large number of Americans who wished to settle in the newly acquired area.

Regardless, during the “Golden Age” the Cherokees’ educational system expanded and improved for the first time since white Americans were introduced into Cherokee culture. They revived a tribal newspaper, and began to publish books and pamphlets in the Cherokee language. The Cherokee established college-level education and public schools.

Traditional Indians, not just the farmer and working class, prospered. The average Cherokee enjoyed a standard of living as high as, if not higher than their white neighbors. Unfortunately, this economic success was short lived.

A division formed between the old and new settlers. old settlers were the 6,000 Western Cherokee who had relocated voluntarily years prior to the forced removal. The new settlers were the 14,000 Eastern Cherokee who arrived after removal in 1839. The old settlers had maintained their traditional government in the new Territory. The arriving new settlers on the other hand, had an elaborate government compromised of a court system and written constitution. The Western Cherokee refused to accept any of the new changes that the Eastern Cherokee wanted to institute. For the next six years civil war erupted over borders and jurisdiction. The situation became so bad that United States Congress proposed to solve the problem by dividing the Cherokee into two tribes. The threat of further separation was enough for both groups to set aside their differences and unite under the Cherokee Nation.

Source: How Culture and Life Changed on the Indian Territory
© Judy May & Tery Lambertt, Vanderbilt University

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