Thursday, October 21, 2010

"Nuh wah doe he ya duh" (Peace) -Our Native Heritage

When the Europeans arrived in what was later called "the new world"...when the first "white man" pushed across the Appalachian mountains deep in the heart of the what would be the Carolinas, Viriginia, Kentucky, Tennesee--the land was not empty and void. Not only was it teeming with all manners of wildlife, but it was populated with a variety of people and families. The Cherokee, the Blackfoot, the Mingo, Ottawa, Shawnee, Delaware, Senaca, and many others were already here. Even the name "Appalachian" comes from the Appalachee Indians. Their way of life fully entrenched and an operating society of peoples were living and thriving in the land that was to be known as America.

These people warred with each other over territory and hunting rights. They may have worn breechcloths and mocassins but were far from the "uncivilized savages" that history has often portrayed them to be. They spoke complex languages far different from the "How" and "ugh" that Hollywood has stereotyped. They lived, they worked, they loved, and they prayed ...and in a lot of ways were the same as you and I are today. They just did it in a culture unlike anything the European had previously seen. But it was not because they spoke in strange languages, or wore strange clothes, or even because their skin was brown that the European disregarded their first claim to this land. It was not even for the lofty goals of Christianizing or civilizing these people that the Europeans overran their land. It was, in actuality, the age old motivation of greed -- pure and simple.

The native Americans had something that the Europeans wanted--the land and its bounty. And the Europeans used their advanced weaponry to come in and take what they wanted much like a bully on a schoolyard playground. But what devasted the population of Native Americans more than any gun was the diseases brought by Europeans. The germs that the Europeans carried with them across the Atlantic to an unsuspecting population of Native Americans who had never before been exposed to such and therefore had no resistance, were far deadlier than any gun ever used against them.

Diseases such as small pox wiped out entire villages and peoples. Having no immunity to such, the Native Americans were completely vulnerable to these germs. The diseases had been in Europe for centuries and some natural immunities had developed in the European populations. Not so in the unsuspecting, isolated, native populations living in the new world.

What were not devasted by disease, were rounded up and forced to march hundreds of miles to be "relocated" to reservations. One such march has become known as "the trail of tears". But not every Native American went west. Some stayed and have formed tribes such as the Eastern Band of Cherokees located in North Carolina. Others, such as most of our Appalachian ancestors, went far up in the mountains, innermarried with their Scots-Irish and German neighbors and whenever possible, passed for "white" on the census roles.

Most Appalachians who have definite native American blood in their DNA have no official tribe affiliation. We have long ago lost our culture to a way of life that became our new culture -- that of being Appalachian. Most all of us are aware of our ancestory to some degree and know of a long lost ancestor who was "indian". You have but to look at us to confirm it. But we were robbed of the official tribal designation because of circumstance and necessity to blend in and assimilate.

Still, there remains an affinity for the land and for the place that we call "home". It is said that once an Appalachian..always an Appalachian and it will always be where you call "home" no matter how many houses you own or how far you roam. The deep connection with nature and spirit that our native ancestors possessed still resonates within us today in Appalachia.

Sometimes when I am out walking and catch a breeze upon my face or look out over the mountaintops I can feel it. The spirit of my forefathers who were here long before any European stepped foot upon this soil. That spirit is alive and well within the people of Appalachia, and it comes to us in the quietness to sit upon our shoulder and to call to us from a far off distant place that our mind has forgotten but which is familiar to our soul. And suddenly, for just a moment, we can once again feel it--that deep body and soul connection to the land and our people. And our soul sings once again the ancient songs of our forefathers. Listen and see if you can hear it too:

Cherokee Morning Song:

Above graphic copyright of: The World it's Cities and Peoples.


  1. Welcome to the Geneabloggers family. Hope you find the association fruitful; I sure do. I have found it most stimulating, especially some of the Daily Themes.

    May you keep sharing your ancestor stories!

    Dr. Bill ;-)
    Author of "Back to the Homeplace"
    and "13 Ways to Tell Your Ancestor Stories"

  2. Thank you, Dr. Bill! : ) You and I share a surname in common. My maternal grandmother (who you will hear more about here on this blog later in subsequent posts) was a "Smith". The family's original name had been "Schmidtt" and they hailed from Germany. Our first German Ancestor to immigrate was "Heinrich Schmidtt" and he came to what would later become North Carolina and then the family migrated on down into the Virginia/Kentucky/West Viginia areas in later generations. He "Americanized" his name to "Henry Smith"