speaking trash

My last name is a poor translation of the Cherokee word “disugasgi” (dee-soo-gah-ss-kee) which literally means something more like “to claw (scrape) at the skin.” During the Indian Removal Era of the 1830’s, my great grandfather, Atsilagili (ah-chee-lah-gee-lee) was forced to take on an English name, which included both a given “Christian” name and a surname. He chose the name “Archie” (Arch) because it sounded so similar to his real name and adopted the English translation of his father’s name as his own surname, becoming Archie Scraper.

Archie served as a scout when, in 1838 his family was forced to relocate from Northeastern Alabama to Northeastern Oklahoma along nunahidunatlohilui (noo-nah-hee-doo-na-tloh-hee-loo-ee), or “the trail where they cried,” today known by most as the infamous Trail of Tears. Archie later served as a Captain in the civil war, a Cherokee Nation Marshall, a delegate to Washington, and a member of the Council of the Cherokee Nation. In spite of all that he endured and the great lengths that he went to in order to help to build a new life for himself, his family, and his people, his own children were terrified of ever speaking their own language in public.

You see, Arch and his children lived during a time when the United States was trying to deal with “the Indian problem” in a way that would open up land and resources for its growing population. The solution to that problem had many components, which included the forced relocation and assimilation of Native peoples throughout the United States. However, a critical and very formative component of that solution involved the creation of Indian boarding schools throughout the United States, the most famous of which was perhaps located in Carlisle, PA. Firmly entrenched in the increasingly popular belief that in order to “save the child,” one must “kill the Indian,” these schools would forcibly remove Native children from their homes and families and force them to assimilate into the dominant Euro-American culture. Punishments were very severe for students who refused to give up their languages and customs, including terrible beatings and starvation.

This new ethic was so embraced by the American people that it endured in schools across America, even beyond the boarding school era. Such was the case when Arch’s sons Joe and Manford (tsolunega and amunega) arrived at a small public school on the Midwestern prairie, only to be beaten severely by their teachers every time they were caught “speaking that trash.” The fear of speaking Cherokee in public endured in my family until the last decade, when for the first time in a century, a few members of the Scraper family began to speak our native language in public once again.

It is in our collective human nature to fear rejection and persecution. Very often, these fears are based on our own very real experiences, or the cultural memories of the experiences of our ancestors. It is likewise normal for those fears to affect our behavior, even to the point that we are so afraid of rejection that we fail to embrace all of who we really are, and behave as something that we are not for the sake of acceptance. The diganotsalidi osdv unelvnvhi adanelv (Good News given by God) is that God did not make a mistake when God made you…just as you are. If you want to find meaning in your life this year, then take the time to let God open your eyes both to who you really are, and to why you were made that way…and then accept the freedom and courage that God gives you to embrace all of who God made you to be.

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