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education in missionary schools. These included statesmen such as John ridge, Major Ridge, the Ridge (no relation), and writer, editor and deputy Elias Boudinot. These men, early benefactors of acculturation, turned their attention to the interest of the nation at large and served as leaders in the Cherokee program of strategic acculturation. They were motivated by a desire to save their people, their land, and their nation.

Not all motivation for assimilation was quite so high minded. Game in and around the Cherokee lands had been decimated over the last century due to the burgeoning trade with whites that was the nexus of the Cherokee economy. Without game and trade, it was clear that the Cherokee economy would have to diversify. As Elias Boudinot stated in 1825:

the rise of [my] people in their movement towards civilization, may be traced back as far as the relinquishment of their towns; when game became incompetent to their support, by reason of the surrounding white population. They then betook themselves to the woods, commenced the opening of small clearings, and the raising of stock…the nation is highly improving, rapidly improving in all those particulars which must finally constitute the inhabitants an industrious and intelligent people.2

The Cherokee at the turn of the century were not an ignorant, unintelligent, or culturally static people. In light of the changes that Elias Boudinot described, however, the Cherokee were a people steeped in traditional cultural practice. They were a Seven Clan matrilineal society. They had a gender division of labor; the women farmed; the men hunted and made warfare. Women ran the family. There was no formal centralized political system, and no major "chief." Most political issues were solved by council meetings with close surrounding villages. An informal national tribal council was employed at certain times of year and in times of current or looming warfare. The Seven Clans went out of their way to be internally peaceful. With other tribes they practiced Mourning Wars and blood revenge. They practiced kinship/adoption practices. They lived primarily in houses in small villages built alongside rivers. They were highly decorative; the women wore skirts and the men wore breeches, piercings, and tattoos. The Cherokee language was linguistically similar to the language of the Iroquois and the Tuscarora.

 


2. Elias Boudinot, "An Address to the Whites, 1825," in Cherokee Editor, ed. Theda Perdue (Knoxville, TN: The University of Tennessee Press, 1983), 71.
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