- The Cherokee Diaspora: An Indigenous History of Migration, Resettlement, and Identityby Gregory D. Smithers
In The Cherokee Diaspora: An Indigenous History of Migration, Resettlement, and Identity, historian Gregory D. Smithers attempts the ambitious feat of providing a history of the Cherokee people from their origins to the twentieth century that considers multiple Cherokee communities, families, and individuals dispersed throughout the United States and occasionally the world. Smithers employs diaspora as the central theme that holds his narrative together. He deftly uses the secondary literature on Cherokee history, indigenous identity, race, and migration combined with his primary research in archives around the world to outline Cherokee patterns of migration and resettlement and to argue that the people's memories of these experiences are central to their Cherokee identity. The importance of the Trail of Tears to Cherokee identity is well established, but Smithers expands on this idea by arguing that voluntary relocations before and after forced removal also played a role in defining what it means to be Cherokee. Through his analysis, Smithers effectively demonstrates Cherokee agency by highlighting the various ways that individuals and communities changed in innovative ways to ensure their cultural survival.
The book is divided into two parts. In the first part, Smithers begins with the migration and coalescence that resulted from the dissolution of the Mississippian chiefdoms in the fifteenth century and highlights the importance of migration narratives to Cherokees' sense of identity during the colonial period. In exploring Cherokee migration, the author outlines the disruption of land loss and connects early relocations within the original Cherokee homeland to early-nineteenth-century relocations that established new communities farther west. He concludes by considering forced relocation to Indian Territory through the thematic lens of diaspora. The [End Page 410]second part of the book focuses heavily on the impact of the Civil War, with chapters on war refugees and Cherokee freedpeople, before bringing the narrative through the allotment and World War II eras. The epilogue appropriately brings the themes of relocation, memory, and identity to the present.
Smithers ultimately makes a convincing case for the significance of diaspora to Cherokee identity. His contention that the Cherokee community in North Carolina provided a territorial homeland, while the Cherokee Nation in Oklahoma provided a political homeland for people living throughout the world, helps the reader understand how people maintained their Cherokee identity outside these communities. This analysis should prove valuable not only to students of Cherokee history but also to anyone hoping to better understand Native peoples in the South, many of whom faced similar circumstances historically.