Like most Americans, I have spent many moments since the terrorist attacks of 9/11 trying to grasp both the acts themselves and the seemingly endless chain of depressing events following in their wake. Although many have rediscovered faith communities or a renewed social activism in their search for understanding, I have immersed myself in the lessons of Cherokee culture and history. This history teaches me to situate September 11th in the context of other tragedies that have occurred on American soil. For example, as many as 10,000 Cherokee people perished as a result of the forced march to Oklahoma known as the Trail of Tears B or, more accurately, the nuna dat suny, which literally translates as "they were crying in that place." Cherokee oral tradition is replete with stories acknowledging the trauma of what historians euphemistically call "removal", and its physical, spiritual and social wounds may never be completely healed. Other stories, and particularly those in the genre known as origin narratives, illuminate both 9/11 and Removal by enabling the emergence of a distinctly Cherokee critical theory of violence.
One story tells of the time when animals, fishes, insects, plants and humans lived with each other in peace and friendship (see Mooney, pp. 250-252). Eventually, however, humans began to crowd and crush their animal partners out of carelessness and contempt. Even worse, they invented weapons of mass destruction such as the blowgun and the spear that allowed them to kill animals indiscriminately. Each animal nation then called a council and decided to invent diseases inflicting pain and death upon their human victimizers. Under the able leader...
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...ely with one another and lived in peace as partners, the ease of human transgression permits no romanticized view of this Agolden age.@ Finally B and this is a much more fragmentary conceptualization B the story refuses its hearers the luxury of demonizing, suppressing or repressing violence. Violence is not something that others do to us, but something we inflict upon others. The story consequently demands that we confront and internalize deeply the consequences of violence, and in this alone offers a profoundly important model of response.
Arendt, Hannah. On Violence. San Diego, New York and London: Harcourt, Brace & Co. 1970
Mooney, James. Myths Of The Cherokee And Sacred Formulas Of The Cherokees: From 19th and 7th Annual Reports B.A.E. Nashville, Tennessee: Charles and Randy Elder‑Booksellers. 1982
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