The Construction of Political Meaning by Native Americans in the 1996 Election: The Case of the Cherokees and Keetoowahs
Robert H. Wicks Frank M. Scheide Stephen A. Smith University of Arkansas
This chapter focuses on the ways in which members of the Cherokee and Keetoowah tribes perceived information and constructed meaning during the 1996 presidential and congressional elections. Native Americans represent a small minority within U.S. society. Nevertheless, the cultural heritage among many of these tribes is strong, and their unique history in dealing with White Americans may shape their perception of the political process.
Cherokees hold in common certain attitudes and beliefs that many White Americans might find surprising. For example, they have historically tended to align themselves with Republicans rather than Democrats because Democratic President Andrew Jackson was largely responsible for their forced removal from the Southeastern United States in the early 1800s. Far from being a vice, tobacco usage is important to Cherokees both for religious, cultural, and recreational purposes. Therefore, the debate on whether candidates should accept contributions from tobacco companies was viewed, in part, by members of the tribes studied as another affront on their cultural heritage.
To investigate the construction of meaning by the tribes, we attended tribal council meetings of the United Keetoowah Band of Cherokee Indians and interviewed members of Cherokee Nation to discuss the 1996 election. The Keetoowah Band represents the pure-blood Cherokees who strive to preserve their cultural and religious traditions; and, for many, English is a