Cherokee families: Cultural resilience during the allotment era

Rose Stremlau
Dept. of History, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill
July, 2006


In the late-nineteenth century, non-Indian reformers blamed kinship for preventing Indian people from assimilating into American society. They proposed to eradicate the economic conditions that sustained communalism through allotment, the subdivision and privatization of tribal resources. Cherokee statesmen responded to this critique by defending their civilization, which they considered to be superior because of the familial values and behaviors that characterized it. In Chewey and Chance, communities that serve as case studies for this project, Cherokees resisted federal attempts to determine who belonged to them during the compilation of the tribal rolls that preceded the division of land, and they defied the bureaucratic definitions used by federal officials to expedite allotment. Cherokees in Chance selected allotments according to their customary economic and social relationships; strengthened by these same ties, some in Chewey refused to take allotments at all. After the admission of the state of Oklahoma in 1907, Cherokees from both communities took advantage of some aspects of the new economy, but they retained many of their customary ways, particularly in Chewey. Land loss led to their impoverishment and increased reliance on kin for survival. Cherokee family structure and the values associated with it thus enabled the cultural and physical survival of Cherokees during the allotment era.