I couldn't believe my eyes. The line on the screen said "Sequoyah, the part-Cherokee silversmith..."
I went back to my friend, the editor, and said, "Hey, this story looks OK, except for this part about Sequoyah being 'part-Cherokee'." "Well, he was, wasn't he?" my friend responded. "No", I said.
"His father was a white man, right? That means he had some white blood in him," she added. "That's not the point," I said. "He was Cherokee in every sense of the term. Whether he had a white parent or relative is immaterial...and besides, he didn't even know his father!"
She stared at me blankly and I threw up my hands. Try as I might, I just couldn't make her understand that the term 'part-Cherokee' doesn't mean anything. I even told her that if she used that word back home, the elders would laugh and ask, "So, what part of you is Cherokee? Your nose?"
But, hey, what did I expect. How do you explain to someone that there's no half-way point being Cherokee? You either are or you aren't. It's not a question of how many Europeans vs. how many Cherokees one has in the ole' family tree. Most all of us can play that game.
It's not even a question of where you live. It IS a question of loyalty. You either have a loyalty to our people, or you don't. It IS a question of commitment. That means getting involved and not letting self-interested individuals take the people for a ride while you sit by. It means that no matter where you go, you come home to family and friends and you want to make a difference. Its the way you live and the way your family has lived. It's knowing who your relations are and where you fit into our society.
You can't suddenly "become" Cherokee. It's not a club with a membership card and dues. It's something you're born with and if you really are Cherokee, it's something you can't ignore.
My editor friend and I argued back and forth for a while with little movement on either side. Finally, we settled on the word 'mixed-blood' and went back to our respective corners.
I really thought she'd understand what I was trying to say. I guess that's what I get for being "part-white".
From The Cherokee Observer, Vol 4, No 4 - April 1996
Guest Editorial by Jason Terrell [Cherokee Nation Member]