Recently six students from William Jewell College were given the opportunity to attend the Mid-American Indian Fellowships annual gathering, a three day event. This rich cultural experience allowed these students to witness and participate in American Indian traditions and activities. During this time, I was fortunate enough to speak with Robert Francis, a consultant and helper for Mid-American Indian Fellowships as well as a fire keeper for the doxy grounds, and hear from him about the origins and lives of American Indian individuals.

“Chickamauga Cherokees, we go back to a split in the Cherokee nation, in the Cherokee tribe, that happened in 1775. What happened was that there was a split between the ‘Accommodationist’ faction of Cherokees, those who thought that the best way to relate to white expansionism, American expansionism, was to accommodate as best they could – for them to be accepted. They thought that the colonists, who later became the ‘Americans,’ would then basically see them as equals and give them, or allow them, to stay on their land or at least a smaller piece of land. Then there was the other faction: the Chickamaugas, who decided that the best approach was a resistance to the expansionism” said Francis when asked about the origins of the Chickamauga people.

“So the Chickamaugas basically formed the nucleus of what became probably the largest intertribal and ‘interracial’ confederacy, or coalition, for the purpose of drawing a line against American expansionism. Because it really began right at the time when the revolution was beginning. Right at the time of the rebellion of the colonies. That rebellion was mostly about stealing Indian land, about retaining the right to steal Indian land and about maintaining the right to keep slaves. That’s what the rebellion was about. So the Chickamaugas, from that point the ‘Chickamauga Confederacy,’ which was people from many tribes: refugees from other tribes, people who just wanted to be a part of that, English Tories, Scots-Irish people and black people who ran away from slavery. So all kinds of people were involved in that. It lasted through the Revolutionary War and about 20 years on from that. Dragging Canoe [the leader] died, he had a heart attack or something, and the leadership of the resistance was passed on to a tribe further North.”

“That’s kind of the roots of the Chickamauga people, but by keeping our ceremonies we are able to keep ourselves, the resistance, alive.”

Throughout the weekend, Robert Francis educates William Jewell students on what it’s like to live as an indigenous person. Photos by Cassidy Winsor

“The end goal is continuing being who we are until Western civilization evolves past the point of empire building, past the point of the nation-state structure, so that everybody can be human beings again. If we can survive as communities until then, then we’ve won. We see the imperialistic structure falling apart, and, well, our people have always known that that was going to happen sooner or later. No empire, no matter how big or how small, has ever lasted, they all self-destruct. It’s not that that’s [the end of nationhood] my goal, it’s just surviving until that happens. Because it will happen, I think that’s just the direction that human evolution goes in,” Francis said.

Francis concluded by discussing the difficulties American Indians face living in a modern Western society.

“Our values are not the same as those that surround us, but, everything in this society is designed to make people’s ideas line up. I mean: education systems, the media, everything, it’s all designed to make people think in the same way. We don’t belong in that system and that’s where the struggle is. We don’t fit into the system we’re living in,” said Francis

For more photos from the Mid American Indian Fellowships gathering, visit Cassidy Winsor’s photo feature.


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