United Keetoowah Band Chief George Wickliffe
The Tahlequah Daily Press recently reported on the celebration held to commemorate the 175thanniversary of the signing of the Act of Union.
The Act sought to force two tribal governments to meld their unique cultures and values to form a single government. Only one of the historical successors actually ratified the proposed Act of Union Constitution. The other, the United Keetoowah Band, did not ratify this proposed constitution and continued to govern itself as a distinct government and successor in interest to the historical Cherokee Nation.
The Western Cherokee, already located in Oklahoma, and the newly emigrated Eastern Cherokee signed an Act of Union to bring together various groups of Cherokee as a starting point to consider formation of a singular government. The Eastern Cherokee quickly ratified the constitution proposed within the Act of Union. The Western Cherokee, the modern-day United Keetoowah Band, did not ratify this constitution. Instead, its leader decided the Tribe would continue to govern and represent its people and values, and protect its long history and future.The Tribe would not let its culture or future be amalgamated with a newly formed government.
Upon rejecting the Act of Union constitution and choosing to continue on its own path, the Western Cherokee wrote the following to the President of the United States after it rejected the proposed Act of Union constitution: “We humbly believe, clearly shown by existing treaty stipulations that the western Cherokee nation, as organized under the treaty of 1817, are the rightful owners of the soil now contended for by the eastern Cherokees, the undersigned present this humble memorial to you and the Chief Magistrate of the United States, and implore your aid and protection in this effort on behalf of their people to obtain their just rights. The western Cherokees, by their energy and perseverance, obtained this last resting place for their nation: they secured to themselves and their posterity a territory embracing altogether at least fourteen million acres of land, and made other provision for the benefit of their people. They were the pioneers who first tilled the ground on the extreme western border of your extended territory.”
The United Keetoowah Band does not view the signing of the Act of Union as an event to celebrate, but instead as another milestone in the history of the United States to force tribes to work within the constraints of how others think tribal governments should operate.
It was an attempt to eradicate a future that would be built on millennia of history. The United Keetoowah Band and the Cherokee Nation of Oklahoma coexist, cooperate and disagree as two distinct governments. This distinction and uniqueness of cultures and governance should be celebrated. The hope for cooperation in the future, transparency in communications, and success for all Cherokee should be celebrated. This success and hope is found within uniqueness of our governments and not within the failed Act of Union.
George Wickliffe is the chief of the United Keetoowah Band of Cherokee Indians in Oklahoma.