- New South Indians: Tribal Economics and the Eastern Band of Cherokee in the Twentieth Century by Christopher Arris Oakley
In New South Indians: Tribal Economics and the Eastern Band of Cherokee in the Twentieth Century, Christopher Arris Oakley brings a tribal perspective to indigenous economic history in the twentieth century. Utilizing oral history interviews and private papers, as well as tribal, state, and federal documents, the author traces the role that the Cherokee Tribal Council played in economic development from the 1880s through the 1990s. Oakley ultimately seeks both to [End Page 716] add to the body of historical work on the Eastern Band in the twentieth century and to integrate that history into the broader context of the New South.
The book is divided into five chronological chapters spanning from the late nineteenth century to the end of the twentieth century. In each, Oakley places Cherokee actions within the context of the changes in federal Indian policy, from termination to self-determination. With each major policy, he discusses the impact on the Eastern Band, highlighting the consequences of uncertainty in relation to termination and unreliable federal funding. He also provides context of the broader trends in southern history from Jim Crow to the impact of the civil rights movement.
Chapter 1 covers the period from incorporation in 1889 through the 1920s and places tribal actions in the context of late-nineteenth-century Indian reform and the growth of Jim Crow segregation. Following an 1886 U.S. Supreme Court decision that, in part, ruled that the Eastern Band was not a recognized tribe, the tribal council sought a way to protect the community and its tribal identity. The creation of a corporate charter allowed the tribal council to own land in common and to engage in collective negotiations with outside entities in order to develop the local economy.
Chapters 2 through 5 discuss the Eastern Band's efforts to capitalize on the growing tourism industry and the subsequent challenges doing so created from the late 1920s through the late 1990s. With limited sovereignty, the tribal council sought partnerships with non-Indian entrepreneurs and organizations to develop a tourism economy. Oakley also covers the problems the Eastern Band faced in trying to stabilize an economy based largely on seasonal tourism.
Oakley concludes the book with a discussion of the immediate economic impact of Harrah's Cherokee Casino. The success of the casino increased the tribal council's operating budget, reduced the Eastern Band's economic dependence on the federal government, and contributed to a reduction of the poverty rate on the reservation. Tribal leaders viewed their increased economic independence as vital to protecting Cherokee identity and tribal sovereignty.
Oakley's work succeeds in providing a general introduction to Eastern Cherokee tribal economic history in the twentieth century. He provides context for Cherokee economic development within both federal Indian policy and the broader economic and social histories of the New South. A more detailed analysis of the interplay between Jim Crow segregation and the economic actions of the tribal council, and how this interplay impacted the regional history of western North Carolina, would have been welcome but was probably beyond the scope of the work. Likewise, while Oakley does touch on internal tribal divisions and on the paternalism and racism of many non-Indian economic actors, he does not explore their consequences in any depth. New South Indians provides a valuable basis for future examinations on the interplay between the Eastern Band of Cherokee and the broader region and on economics as the basis of integrating tribal history into the historiography of the New South. It also highlights that Native peoples are not reflections of nineteenth-century stereotypes but are present and integral to modern history. [End Page 717]