Cherokee Chief Critical Context - Essay

Electa Clark

Critical Context

(Critical Edition of Young Adult Fiction)

In Cherokee Chief, young adults will find a wealth of little-known facts of interest to readers of all ages. For example, like their white counterparts, some Cherokees were rich planters who owned slaves. Cherokees were the only tribal nation to have written laws and a written language, which was invented by Sequoyah. During the Civil War, the Cherokee reservation suffered as bitter an ideological split as did the rest of the country. These and other facts provide insights into the complex fabric of Cherokee life.

Cherokee Chief emphasizes the Cherokees’ resilience and strength. Despite the seizure of their lands, their forced migration, and their bouts of famine and warfare that eventually widowed one-third of the women and orphaned one-fourth of the children, the Cherokees endured. Their cultural traits include humor and fairness, as well as the enjoyment of privacy, a sense of loyalty to family, and a commitment to hard work.

The book avoids depicting Ross in superhuman terms, describing his rage and humiliation when, as an old man, he was scorned by a low-level federal official. Young adult readers will see the implicit lesson of his life: He met racial prejudice not with violence but with dignity and eloquence. Ultimately, he won the respect of both whites and Native Americans. Without him, the Cherokees’ fate would surely have been imperiled.