Contested Cherokee Gender in the Early 19th Century
This project will highlight patterns of lived gender expressions through the interpretation of reported household improvements among the Cherokees. After the American Revolution, a new United States government encouraged “civilization” programs within American Indian communities. Cherokees incorporated “civilization” policies into their lives in varying degrees. Among other things, “civilization” promoted an end to Native male activities such as hunting and war, and encouraged men to become farmers. Hunting and warfare were traditionally the most prominent avenues for men to distinguish themselves and demonstrate their gendered power—the ability to take live. Women were responsible for farming, and demonstrated their gendered power in the ability to create life. By mapping household improvements, we are able to better situate ourselves within Cherokee country, and determine which towns and geographical areas promoted which expressions of gender and identity. Various household improvements, such as, plows, extensive fencing, and looms, for instance, indicate a shift in traditional gender roles. It is my interpretation that these decisions were made with gendered power in mind, and through this project we gain a better understanding of the active role that Indians played in shaping their own identities in the wake of colonialism. I argue that differences over lifestyle were actually contestations of gender ideals and Cherokee identity more broadly. In this way, this project will utilize gender not only as a category for analysis but also as a lived experience. Ultimately, decisions to either embrace or shirk the United States’ “civilization” policy were both ways to combat colonialism, and by mapping the locations of those who made those decisions we can better see patterns of inter-tribal conflict over identity that extend both backward and forward in time.
The data in for this project derive from multiple chapters of my dissertation, which makes contributions to American Indian and American gender history in a couple of different ways. First, it recreates Native lived experience through its analysis of gender structures, and their impact on: politics and diplomacy, modes of production and trade, as well as spirituality. Secondly, the focus on gender, and more specifically on non-white gender roles, provides a non-hierarchical example of gendered power to juxtapose to Western models.
The central focus of the poster will be one map that features household improvements implemented by Cherokees in the early-nineteenth century. This map will include the present-day state lines, which will allow viewers to geographically orient themselves; however, the principal focus will be the regions of Cherokee nation, which stretched from Alabama to North Carolina. Introductory and contextual information that encourage questions and discussion will appear to the left of the maps. A short summary of methodology and historiography, along with a key will appear to the right of the maps. Excerpts from missionaries, and other eyewitnesses, commenting on the lifestyles of the Cherokees, will be included below the map.