Is the off-country education of indigenous children always a strategy of elimination? Gregory D. Smithers, ‘”This Is the Nation’s Heart-String”: Formal Education and the Cherokee Diaspora during the Late Nineteenth and Early Twentieth Centuries’, Wicazo Sa Review, 30, 2, 2015, pp. 28-55


Abstract: On March 10, 1881, Walter Adair Duncan, the superintendent of the Cherokee Orphan Asylum between 1872 and 1884 and a leading Cherokee intellectual, made a bold declaration. Writing in the Cherokee Orphan Asylum Press, Duncan declared that the Cherokee Nation in Indian Territory had developed a system of public education that had become “the nation’s heart-string. It is the jeweled chord that binds the people together into a national whole, attaching them to one another, to home and to the land in which they were born.” This essay examines Duncan’s bold assertion. It does so by recognizing that the Cherokees had become a diasporic people by the time Duncan made his lofty claim. As such, Cherokees did not just receive a formal education in the Cherokee Nation in Indian Territory, but throughout the United States. Focusing on the Cherokee Nation’s system of public education in Indian Territory, this essay also tests Duncan’s declaration against Cherokee educational experiences at the Qualla Boundary reservation in North Carolina, and at the Sherman Institute, an off-reservation boarding school located in Riverside, California. Guiding my analysis are two interrelated questions: To what degree did the varied educational experiences of Cherokee children reinforce Duncan’s metaphor of a “jeweled chord” binding Cherokees together? Alternatively, did the range of institutional experiences of Cherokee children, scattered across the United States, work to sever the “heart-string” that Duncan insisted produced common feelings of nationalistic pride among a diasporic people?

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