Speaker teaches Catholics about Cherokee history, impact today
SYLVA — Families forced to emigrate to an alien land. Children taken from their parents and placed in government-run boarding schools.
Patty Grant, an enrolled member of the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians, spoke recently at St. Mary, Mother of God Church about how this history has impacted her, her family and Cherokees in general.
The program, "Catholics and Cherokees: Healing the Soul Wound," was also presented at St. John the Evangelist Church in Waynesville, St. William Church in Murphy, and St. Jude Church in Sapphire Valley. The Smoky Mountain Vicariate sponsored the program to help Catholics and others better understand how past events influence people today.
Grant holds a master's degree in social work from Washington University in St. Louis, Mo., and is a licensed clinical social worker. She has 18 years as a mental health and substance abuse counselor and a founding member of the Healing and Wellness Coalition (HWC) on the Qualla Boundary, the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians' tribal land.
The "soul wound" in the program's title is "historical grief and intergenerational trauma. Quoting Dr. Maria Yellow Horse Braveheart, a member of the Lakota tribe and a professor and researcher at Columbia University, Grant explained that such grief and trauma is "a cumulative and psychic wounding across generations related to massive root trauma."
HWC was founded "to address the loss of culture and traditions that are a result of acculturation, historical trauma, grief and loss which cause many of the social problems that affect the well-being of Native Americans, especially the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians, to educate community members and service providers [about] these effects, and to begin the healing process from the effects of historical grief and trauma."
"At least three to five generations of Cherokees experienced a complete loss of culture," Grant said, "loss of language, land, identity and traditional beliefs."
The Cherokee lived for at least 10,000 years in what is now western North Carolina and other Southeastern states. They farmed and hunted, lived in houses, and had a representational form of government. Sequoyah, a Cherokee silversmith, developed an 86-character syllabary in 1821 so his people could read and write their language.
In the winter of 1838-1839, the U.S. government forcibly removed 17,000 Cherokees from their homes and marched them to Oklahoma so their land in North Carolina and other Southeastern states could be opened to white settlement. More than 4,000 Cherokees died on the "Trail of Tears." Some 1,000 managed to avoid the removal; they're the ancestors of the Eastern Band.
In the 1870s the U.S. government began to establish boarding schools. The Carlisle Indian School in Pennsylvania was the first, founded by Army Col. William Pratt, whose philosophy was "Kill the Indian in him, and save the man."
More than 12,000 Native American children attended these boarding schools. The children were punished for speaking their native language, wearing traditional clothing, or practicing their religion or ancient beliefs.
"You can imagine what it was like to be told you couldn't be who God created you to be," Grant said.
Grant's mother was in the school on the Qualla Boundary for six years, and her parents couldn't speak to or touch her. "There was a fence around the school," Grant said, "not to keep the children in, but to keep the parents out."
Cherokees did not become U.S. citizens until 1944. The American Indian Religious Freedom Act in 1978 made it legal for Native Americans to openly "believe, express, and exercise" their traditional religious beliefs.
Many still carry the scars, the unhealed wounds resulting from the trauma and loss. "If feelings aren't resolved," Grant said, "we carry them with us."
"We can choose to maintain the life as is or begin to process the losses and grieve in a healthy way and let go of unhealthy feelings," Grant said. "If I do that, I will become a stronger individual."
The Cherokees are reclaiming their culture, including immersion classes to teach Cherokee children their native language. Of the 13,000 enrolled members of the tribe, some 60 percent live on the Boundary. Grant estimates that only about 250 adults are fluent in the Cherokee tongue.
HWC's mission statement notes that it is "committed to enhancing the lives of the people by honoring and reclaiming the seven Cherokee core values, especially by the reduction of substance abuse in a comprehensive manner primarily focusing on youth. The seven core values are: Spirituality, Harmony, Education, Sense of Place, Honoring the Past, Strong Character and Sense of Humor.
— Joanita M. Nellenbach, correspondent
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FROM THE PASTORS
Read and listen to homilies posted regularly by pastors at parishes within the Diocese of Charlotte:
- Fr. Frank Cancro at Queen of the Apostles
- Fr. Patrick Earl at St. Peter in Charlotte
- Fr. John Eckert at St. John the Baptist in Tryon
- Fr. Timothy Reid at St. Ann in Charlotte
- Fr. Benjamin Roberts at Our Lady of Lourdes in Monroe
- Fr. Patrick Winslow at St. Thomas Aquinas in Charlotte
- Watch full Masses live and on demand, listen to homilies and reflections from Sacred Heart Church in Salisbury
- Listen to homilies from St. William Catholic Church in Murphy