Julie Reed, assistant professor of history, recently had her book Serving the Nation: Cherokee Sovereignty and Social Welfare, 1800-1907 published by the University of Oklahoma Press in its New Directions in Native American Studies series.
The book covers familiar events and people to this region including Cherokee Removal, Principal Chief John Ross, and Sequoyah, the inventor of the Cherokee written language. However, the book itself is the story of Cherokee people’s ongoing debates over how to best care for each other during the Indian Removal Era, the civil wars that followed in Indian Territory (now Oklahoma), and the breaking up of communal land holdings through the federal allotment policy and Oklahoma statehood.
For many Cherokees, forming a Nation was a social welfare policy that protected Cherokee people. Yet, within the Nation, new definitions of citizenship and the social welfare policies enacted stood at odds with older social welfare policies embedded in a Cherokee matrilineal clan system. Throughout the nineteenth century, Cherokees debated and implemented national policies aimed at orphans, people with disabilities, and people who committed crimes.
After the Civil War, the Cherokee Nation opened an orphanage, a facility to serve people with mental and physical disabilities, and its own prison. Reed’s book demonstrates that although many of the policies mirrored larger trends in the United States, Cherokee people used their social policies to protect and preserve key features of its older social welfare policy.
For the past two years, Reed—who is a Cherokee Nation citizen—has encouraged the students enrolled in her Cherokee History course to research and write about Cherokee people whose families experienced the events her book covers. As part of the class, students wrote biographies geared toward children about individual Cherokee people they researched.
In collaboration with Cherokee speakers, Reed is beginning to have a few of the biographies edited and translated into the Cherokee written language invented by Sequoyah. This past fall, her students focused on Cherokee people who lived in the Charleston and Cleveland, Tennessee areas at the time of forced removal.
This class participated with UT’s Smart Communities Initiative, which pairs community agencies with faculty who assist them in their local initiatives. Reed’s class contributed their research materials to the Southeast Tennessee Development District and the Charleston Hiwassee Heritage Center.
One of Reed’s former undergraduate students, history major Jacob Ottinger, attended the “Biography Again” Conference hosted by SUNY-Fredonia with Reed. At the conference, Reed and Ottinger presented what they had both learned from using biography to teach and learn about Cherokee history.
Reed is currently involved in an interdisciplinary community engagement project with the Anthropology Department and the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians. She is collaborating with archaeology master’s student and Eastern Band Cherokee member Beau Carroll and Archeologist Jan Simek as well as Cherokee language speakers and the Eastern Band’s Tribal Historic Preservation Office to investigate the presence of writings in syllabary in caves in the region. This research will inform Reed’s next book, which will be a comprehensive educational history of Cherokee people.