Inspirational Native Americans – John Ross

(1790 – 1866)

John Ross was born at the beginning of the most tumultuous times in written Cherokee history. During his early years, leaders realized the dangerous situation they were in.  Sequoyah created the written Cherokee alphabet. With this, and the creation of the government acknowledgement of the Cherokee Nation, there had been hope the Cherokee could retain their independence and their homes.  John Ross became the leader of the Cherokee Nation for most of his life, and endured the Trail of Tears, the Civil War, and the beginning of Reconstruction.
However, it wasn’t a simple matter of a chief leading his fellow tribesmen and women.  The Cherokee are a matrilineal tribe, therefore, John Ross was accepted as a member even though he was only 1/8 th Cherokee.  His father, his mother’s father, and his grandmother’s father were all Scottish.  If his mother had been Scottish, he would not have been accepted as a member unless he married into the tribe.
This led to problems.  Due to his mixed background, and English education, he did not have as strong of a command of the Cherokee language or culture as many did at the time.  Some members of the tribe did not feel he made a good representative for them.  Although, the government saw him as white, and were more accepting of him than they would have been of a full blooded Native American.

His story resonates in so many ways.  His attempts to save the Cherokee as a nation were admirable.  Even if he didn’t always know all the answers.  He might not have been as close to the Cherokee culture as their preferred chiefs.  He was a chief the government would listen to.  Today, millions of Americans have as much Cherokee, or other Native blood, and many do not even know it.  Their cultural ties were denied to them, during decades when it was considered shameful.  Now, they want to reach out and find their background.  Unlike John Ross, they didn’t grow up next door to their culture. They often don’t even know where to search.  And the tribes don’t want people who have not grown up in the culture to come in and try to change them.  With good reason.

Works Cited: John Ross (Cherokee Chief). Cherokee Registry. . Access Date: August 31, 2016