How the Cherokee Indians Educated Their Children
Education at home in the Cherokee family strongly denounced strict disciplinary measures. They raised their children with a “lead by example” concept of teaching. Cherokee children indulged in play and games, exploring freely whatever they so desired without dictation. Children were unrestrained in their approach and yet prudent in action. The overarching belief that defines the Cherokee people is one of balance: individually and communally.
The clan was responsible in whole for the education of youth. Uncles played an integral role of teacher, disciplinarian and honored mentor. The mother’s brother(s) would teach morals and lessons through stories handed down generations. The Medicine People and great chiefs imparted their wisdom filled with guidelines to live by and through analogy and historical fact. Parents remained subservient to their children which is unique given the dedicated matriarchal control and hierarchy of the tribe.
Cherokee parents did not deny the benefits of education and were open to the concept of formal education. George Washington was the first to suggest “civilizing” the Cherokee Indians which he expressed as having the Indian children learn how to read and write during the 18th century. The first of many treaties involving education occurred in 1794, attaching the significance of vocational skills being taught which the Cherokee requested 3 years earlier along with subsequent provisions known as the Holston Treaty of 1791. It promised the U.S. would intermittently supply farming tools free to the Cherokee Indians in efforts to assist them with a ” higher degree of civilization…transforming them into cultivators and herdsmen.” The U.S. sent representatives to learn the Cherokee language and teach the Cherokee people agriculture. From this, the Cherokee Indians acquired the knowledge and skills to grow cotton in 1799. This expanded their power in trade and they learned to weave and utilize the fiber.
Cherokee girls attending the BIA boarding school in Cherokee, NC in 1921
Cherokee boys attending the BIA boarding school in Cherokee, NC in 1890
The U.S. only encouraged education among the Cherokee in order to obtain and control their land. Funds to build school houses were implemented only to “neighboring territories bordering” Cherokee land. Missionaries were invited onto the Cherokee territory in order to build Cherokee school houses and to facilitate their education. The Cherokee people were eager for their children to have formal education and saw it as very valuable for the good of their community and the advancement of their people.
Assimilation through education mixed with Christianity was prevalent. The Cherokee often self-assimilated throughout their history in America. Many believe the intent was not to dilute their race through adaptation, but rather to study the structures of the white colonists and competitively incorporate their ways to quietly grow their insular power. The Cherokee benefited from their adoption of commonality among the white settlers and often peaceably honoring their agreements. Cherokee leaders today have colleges and funds devoted to developed curriculum for the good of their society and the continued growth and expansion of their people.