Native Diasporas: Indigenous Identities and Settler Colonialism in the Americas

Native Diasporas: Indigenous Identities and Settler Colonialism in the Americas

Native Diasporas: Indigenous Identities and Settler Colonialism in the Americas

Native Diasporas: Indigenous Identities and Settler Colonialism in the Americas

Excerpt

“What Is an Indian?”—The Enduring Question
of American Indian Identity

Gregory D. Smithers

On May 26, 1826, the Cherokee leader and editor of the Cherokee Phoenix, Elias Boudinot, delivered “An Address to the Whites” at the First Presbyterian Church in Philadelphia. Fresh faced, mission educated, and politically ambitious, the twenty-two-year-old Boudinot outlined his answer to arguably the most vexing question in American history: “What is an Indian?” Boudinot delivered his answer at a time when debate over the removal of Native Americans from the Southeast raged. This seething political backdrop made his address as much a political argument about indigenous land rights as it was a statement on Indian identity. Boudinot understood that for most Native Americans in the American Southeast, land rights and indigeneity were intimately intertwined. He therefore defended Cherokee claims to ancestral lands by declaring: “You here behold an Indian. My kindred are Indians, and my fathers sleeping in the wilderness grave—they too were Indians. But I am not as my fathers were—broader means and nobler influences have fallen upon me.”

In the years following this speech, Elias Boudinot became an infamous figure in Cherokee history. His role in signing the Treaty of New Echota (1835), an agreement between the Cherokee Treaty Party and the United States government, which federal authorities used to justify Indian removal, earned Boudinot many enemies. Among the . . .

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