Early Nineteenth Century Cherokee Spirituality Chief Elk: Cherokee Spirituality and Worldview

Prof. Rowena McClinton
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Cherokee chief, The Elk, of Pine Log, of the former Cherokee Nation in present day Georgia (USA), reinforced his time-honored spiritual ties to land and its resources when, on October 13, 1815, he told his story to Moravian missionaries, John and Anna Rosina Gambold. The Elk’s storytelling emphasized Cherokee resolve to retain ancestral holdings, though rapacious land hungry settlers desired Cherokee land and resources. Cherokees were a people who had a monistic belief system that differed greatly from Christian dualism, dividing body and soul, heaven and earth, sacred and secular. Indian religion was transcendental, mystic, and monistic. As the sacred and secular inextricably intertwined, Cherokee spirituality as portrayed by storyteller Elk signified ways early nineteenth century Cherokees authenticated their universe elevating the essential, really what was very essential, to their precarious survival as a people. Native historian Linda Tuhiwai Smith in Decolonizing Methodologies: Research and Indigenous Peoples contends that human relationships are based on a shared “essence” of life. The essence of life involves interconnectedness to a past inextricably tied to earth and ancestral parentage. One who possesses essence projects a sense of spirituality whereby animate and inanimate beings or objects share the same spiritual realms. Lastly, the significance of place, of land, of landscape, of other things in the universe, all defines what essentialism means to Native Americans. So through Chief Elk, a remarkable essential revelation, epitomizing early nineteenth century Cherokee world-view, unfolded as he told Moravian missionaries about Cherokee origins, their inherent connections to land, and how their spirituality militated against further land cessions prompted by United States policy makers

Keywords: Research focus
Stream: First Nations and Indigenous Peoples
Presentation Type: Paper Presentation in English
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Prof. Rowena McClinton

Professor, Professor of Native American Studies, Southern Illinois University Edwardsville, Department of Historical Studies, Southern Illinois University Edwardsville

I transcribe and translate Moravian missionary diaries that depict and describe cultural, political, spiritual events among early nineteenth century Cherokees, who at that time lived in the American South. These eyewitness documents are written in German script, an archaic writing convention. Moravian missionaries lived with the Cherokees for 36 years, longer than any other Christian group. I began this project some fifteen years ago when I return to the university to seek a Ph.D. My two volume edition, The Moravian Mission to the Cherokees: Springplace in the Gambold Years, 1805-1821 will be published by the University of Nebraska Press in late 2006 or early 2007. These almost daily accounts open up a window to the private and public world of the Cherokees. I teach general surveys of Native American History, precontact to 1840 and 1840 to the present, Native American Women, and a gradutae seminar, Native American Reform and Resistance. I have been an invited guest speaker at the following places recently: The Cherokee Nation, Penn State University, Newbery Library, and University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill. I have published essays in anthologies and encyclopedias and I have written book reviews on Native Americans. My forthcoming project is a monograph describing the relationship of Moravian misionary women with the Cherokee women.

Ref: H06P0077