Western Cherokee Circle of Life 28 October 2014
The Western Cherokee like most Woodland Indian tribes (and probably other Tribes too) believed that life was a continuous circle. There was no beginning and no end, the Circle existed since the beginning of time, and will be until the end of time. That you were born into the circle, lived your life and when the Creator called you home, you left the circle. Everything you caused to happen and everything that happened to you was within the Circle. The Western Cherokee believed that the Circle shaped your life all through the time you are growing up and that you shaped the circle with your actions during the time you lived. The way you lived and the atmosphere in which you lived shaped the circle. Everything you said and everything you did changed the circle and everything within the circle changed you. There was no division, you and the Circle are one.
When the Creator calls you home, this is in no means the end of the circle. Changes you have made in the circle will stay in the Circle for hundreds or thousands of years depending on how you lived your time in the Circle. Good is rewarded by good and evil is rewarded by evil, depicting the way we live our life. Think about good people of hundreds of years ago, now think of evil that has been done the same time. The Western Cherokee believe that the world is not ours, but that we have the responsibility of caring for it for our children and our grandchildren. As you live your life, live it as to uplift the Circle and the Circle will uplift life for generations to come.
Written by Murl “Dreamwalker” Pierson
The Laws of The People
By D. Redbird Bridges
The purpose of this Document is to provide a simple understanding of the spiritual and social concepts of Native American people -in accordance with what has been passed down in my Family for many generation and I believe are confirmed through conversation, social interaction and Communication with other aboriginal people over the past sixty years. While our languages, living quarters, clothing, songs and dances, ceremonies, and day to day lifestyles may differ, the core of our spiritual beliefs are relatively the same. As members of our tribes or social groups, these beliefs set the standards for our personal responsibilities toward our Creator and to other members of our tribe. Other tribes, the earth, and all the creatures of this earth that share the land and its natural resources with us. Our spiritual beliefs are the center of all our cultural concepts and beliefs. Grey owl once said “They did not ask us where we came from. If they had, we could have told them.” A friend once said. “He who wins the war, writes the history.” But that does not mean the history he has written is truth. I know who I am and where I come from, and thanks to my ancestors. I am traditional- I may live in the 20th century, but my heart is with the Ancients. We come from a long line of Noble People. The American Indian Creed
We believe in the one Creator, Giver of Life, and ruler of all things for which we are all responsible. The Earth is our Mother, the substance from which our bodies are made. Our spirit is the breath of our Creator who has given us life. All glory is to our Creator who has made all things and has given life to all that is and ever shall be. Having arrived upon this Earth, our first duty is to attain the perfection of humanity as our Creator has intended. We shall achieve the highest quality of our humanity in the Body Way, the Mind Way, the Spirit Way and the Service Way. We shall develop ourselves in every part and power that goes to make the good human being and the fullest enjoyment of the same.
The soul of a human being is immortal. Death shall not be approached with trembling or fear, repenting or weeping over such things as he has left undone or things he has done. We shall rest assured that we have done our best with the gifts and limitations that were ours from the moment we were created. The condition of our soul shall be governed by the record of our words and deeds which we have done while we are here upon this Earth. Therefore, we shall sing our death song and go out like a hero going home to where our souls were created.
THE LAWS OF RIGHTS WITHIN THE SOCIETY
- We believe in Democracy. No one person shall have absolute power or control nor shall any group of people. Government and rules are the product of the people. The people shall choose all our leaders, and the people shall have the power to remove their leadership when their actions or words are not for the benefit of the nation.
- Our codes and rules are set for control of those members of the society who have not mastered self- control and are unable or not willing to behave to the benefit of all the people and whose actions are intent to do harm to one or all of the members of the nation.
- We are tolerant of individual differences. All human beings are free to be themselves to the extent that they shall do no harm. If a member is no harming others in his words or deeds then he shall be allowed to express his own uniqueness.
- We are all equal man in the sight of our creator. There shall be a rigid assertion and promotion of equality among the nation. There is no justifiable excuse for racism or prejudice against any human being. We are all brothers and sisters under one sky with one creator.
- We shall not practice stinginess. By nature, we are a loving, giving people and should take care of one another. We shall share our surplus with those members of our nation who are in need. We shall be self-sacrificing with our kinsmen and all the members of our clan. All are responsible for the children. We shall provide for one another by all our means and through a united effort.
- We shall not be lazy in our work and providing for our needs, the needs of our family, and the needs of our people. Life to be of any value demands some struggle. The struggle is a growth process that will bring us closer to our Creator.
- We shall respect the Mother Earth in our effort to improve our quality of life. When technology interferes with our basic values, and does not improve the quality of life for all the earth, then it has no useful purpose and should not be accepted.
- There shall be no unnecessary destruction of any living thing or alteration or destruction of any part of the Earth. We shall take only what we need to live and leave the rest as we found it. Furthermore, for all that we take, we shall give an offering that the balance of life upon this living planet shall be maintained even unto the seventh generation.
- Our needs are simple and happiness is found among the many natural treasures of the Earth and the people. We do not believe the Great Spirit intended for us to hoard wealth and property at the expense of our brothers and sisters, our mother the Earth, or all the living things of the Earth. All things of the Earth are connected.
- We shall have a deep commitment to our spiritual life. We were made to please our Creator. Our codes and laws shall not confound the laws of creation, our first gift from the Giver of Life. We shall abide by the laws of the Creator and live as we are intended for the preservation of life even unto the seventh generation. If we violate the laws, it is our children and grandchildren who will suffer. We shall preserve life in the nature of which it is created.
- War is necessary only as a defense. To take a life shall be a last alternative. There is greater honor in counting coup upon an enemy than in killing him. It is enough for him to know that you could have taken his life. We shall live by the code of a true warrior. A good warrior does not kill out of the joy of battle, but because it is necessary to preserve the lives of his people and the land. A true warrior has no desire to rule or dictate and is a fierce opponent because he goes into battle ready to die for his people and his home.
- Our leaders are our most prime example of the true heart of our people who have chosen them. A true leader is a servant to his people. His greatest joy is freedom, his and his people. He shall be self-sacrificing and generous with his people and his words and actions shall be for the good of all the people. For this his people shall love him and they shall return his generosity to him.
- We shall highlight the beauty of the Earth and all the living that share this Earth with us through our arts, crafts, music, prayers, and ceremonies. We shall express our thanksgiving to the Giver of Live through the offerings of the dance, the power of the arts and crafts, and through our music. Our clothing and ornaments shall reflect our love for the Earth, for our people, and for our Creator. They shall serve as a physical sign of our reverence to the Giver of Life.
THE AMERICAN INDIAN CONCEPT OF LAW
For Native Americans there are two kinds of law – the laws of the land and the laws of creation.
The laws of the land are laws made by a society to maintain justice and prosperity among the people. They are made to control those who do not exercise self control and threaten the safety, security, sanctity, and rights of others. Laws of the Land change as the needs of the society change. When you violate a law of the land, you can make restitution and get forgiveness. You can get a second chance to prove you can live within the laws of the land.
The laws of creation are the laws given to us by our Creator. Native Americans believe with our whole hearts that we must make every attempt to live in strict obedience to these laws. If you break one of these laws, you cannot negotiate a pardon, or seek forgiveness. If you violate any one of them, you will be punished by the Creator in one way or another. The severity of your punishment depends upon the nature of your violation and your efforts to make restitution. Restitution can minimize the punishment but cannot eliminate it. To repeat the offense is to increase the punishment.
THE FUNDAMENTAL LAWS
- Man can rule over only so much land as he tills or occupies with his house and his fields. No man can own the land for it is a living thing and belongs to the Creator. The tribe shall have ultimate control over all the land. When a man ceases to occupy or till the land, it goes back to the tribe to be allotted to another member of the tribe.
- No man can own the wood of the forests, the water of the rivers and streams, or the soil of the Earth. They are the harvest of the land and belong to the whole people. Only so much of it is his as he can gather with his own hands and use in his own home may he take power over. Wild plants are under the same law, but a man may claim certain forage crops such as wild rice or maize by establishing his own mark around a reasonable area before it is ripe to cut. Nevertheless the Council shall be judge as to the reasonableness of his claim.
- If a man gathers a pile of wood for fire, buffalo chips or other fuel or substance such as clay or stone, or poles or willows and leave his mark of ownership, that mark shall protect it from all who would take it till the season is over. After that it becomes again tribal property. When a fire is built, use only the fuel that is necessary, and before quitting the spot extinguish the flame with care.
- No man owns game or wild animals for these are the produce of the land that belongs to all the tribe. He may take only so much as he can carry with his own hands. It is possible to have exclusive rights to capture within a limited area. It is unlawful to kill any more game than is needed for your family and your tribe, and every part of the animal must be used.
- It is unlawful to be wasteful of resources. Pick no more barriers than is needed to stay the cravings of hunger, and scrupulously avoid injuring the trees and the bushes, which bear anything editable.
- The Council by word of the tribe controls all tribal interests. The tribe may give one family exclusive rights to hunt or gather in one tract, or one range, but the family cannot sell this right nor can they hire others to hunt or gather in this tract or range lest the hunting be destroyed or over drained.
- Every man and woman is expected to marry on coming of age. One must not marry within one’s own clan or family. Marriage is a civil contract which is dissoluble at any time by mutual consent and usually for one of these causes; infelicity, infidelity, or infertility, or incompatibility. When serious discord develops between the two and it cannot be resolved for the two to live together according to the laws of peace, love, and chastity, the union may be dissolved and each is free and expected to remarry.
- Every child is entitled to a home, food, upbringing in love, and education, and if he has no kin, nor father and/or mother to provide for his needs, then he is a proper and honorable charge of the tribe. There is no such thing as an illegitimate child whether the mother is married or not. According to the law, when a woman becomes with child, the father of that child is her husband, even in the absence of the marriage ceremony and he has responsibility to her and the child. For the fatherless child, for whatever reason, there is never a lack of a kind person ready to offer the child a home and an adoptive parent. Widows and orphans are the proper and honorable charge of the tribe until the woman remarries or a member of the tribe to take personal responsibility for their needs adopts the child. Children are the property of the mother until they reach puberty.
- All the tribe has responsibility for the instruction, affection, and attention used to influence and impress upon the children the traditions and culture of the tribe. They are instructed carefully and trained with attention. The adults shall remonstrate and reprimand but never chastise, and love is the dominant characteristic.
- Women have equal rights among the nations. They have a voice in all tribal affairs equal to that of the men and can rise to the position of Chief if elected by the people. There are no set roles for men or women. Individuals are expected to excel in their gifts, which are given by the Creator. Although some roles may appear to be more feminine or masculine, by nature of our physical differences as men and women, we are not set to these roles. If a woman can hunt well, she may hunt with the men of the tribe. If a man is better at tilling the soil, he may till the soil with the women. A man may become a good seamstress and a woman a warrior if that is the nature of their gifts. They shall not be chastised or mocked by any member of the tribe for the perfection of their skills according to which the Creator has given them, for he is most wise.
- Perfect chastity is the rule and not the exception. It is expected to be practiced by both men and women. Virginity in a woman or a man is valued and anyone who transgresses is less valued as a mate because it is believed he or she is less likely to be true to the individual they marry. There is no public scorn if a man or woman fails to guard their chastity – they are not treated as criminals. However, to fail in this regard may make it difficult to have your choice of mates. Only virgins are allowed to take part in the Maiden Dance, and any member has the liberty to challenge the right of one to dance. He or She must be prepared with absolute proof or his/her punishment for false charges may be frightful, even death.
- Witchcraft is a reality and the belief in it is widespread among the nations. The subject is obscure and perplexing. However, attitudes toward it are very clear. Witchcraft is a crime and a sin against the Great Spirit. It is an abuse of power of the strong over the weak. Old women are the most unlikely people to have such power.
THE SEVENTEEN COMMANDMENTS
- There is only one Creator, the Great Spirit, and the Giver of Life. To him goes all our honor and glory. He is eternal, omniscient, omnipotent, and invisible. Reverence him and respect all worship of him by others, for none have all the truth and all who reverently worship him have claims on our respect. Show respect to such things held sacred by others.
- You shall not make a likeness of the Creator or portray him as a visible being for he is the one and only Great Spirit with no beginning and no end. Neither shall you make for yourselves a false god, for there is only one.
- Hold your word of honor sacred. Lying at all times is shameful, for the Great Spirit is all places at all times and knows all the truth. To swear falsely in the name of the Great Spirit is a sin worthy of death.
- Keep the feasts, learn the dances, respect the taboos, and observe the customs of your nation. Be a good member of the community and profit by its strength for these things are the wisdom of the ancients and of your fathers and mothers long ago.
- Honor and obey your father and your mother and their fathers and mothers before them for age is wisdom and their discipline of you is surely for your helping and your lasting benefits.
- Fathers and mothers honor and respect your children. Raise them in love and charity that they shall not have a contrite heart against their Creator or the people.
- You shall not commit murder nor kill any living thing. Save in the act of war it is immoral to take a life. Save for a source of food, it is immoral to kill any living thing. Killing a member of one’s own tribe if deliberate is a crime worthy of death; if by accident it can be compensated by adequate damages, according to the judgment of the Council.
- Be chase in thought and deed according to the highest standards of your tribe and in accordance with the laws of the Creator. Keep your vows and lead no others to breach theirs. Men are faithful to your wives and women are faithful to your husbands according to your love for them. If the love is not sufficient between you to help you keep your marriage vows, the separate from one another in peace and go your own way that you may not live together in sin. The woman shall have the children and all that is of the household. If she should marry another, her children shall be his children. The man shall depart and begin anew and all that becomes his shall be his and his family.
- Do not steal. If you are in need, ask and give a fair trade for that which is given.
- No not be greedy of great riches. It is a shame and a sin of all unworthiness in man to have great possessions when there are those of his nation or kin who are in want. If by chance of war, of commerce, or of great gifts of the Great Spirit that have bless you with power, and you have more than you have need of for yourself and your family, call the people together and give Potlatch or Feast of Giving and distribute your surplus to those who have need, according to their need; especially remembering the widows, the orphans, and the helpless.
- Touch not the poisonous water that robs a man of his strength and makes wise men to be as fools. Touch it not nor taste any food or drink that robs the body of its power or the spirit of its vision as the Creator has intended. Do not take into your body any substance that would rob you of your senses and take away your power over your own self.
- Be clean, both yourself and the place where you dwell. Bathe every morning in clean waters. Take the Sweat Lodge according to your need and thus perfect your body, for the body is the sacred temple of the spirit.
- Love your life and the life of others. Perfect your life and beautify all things in your life. Glory in your strength and beauty for the Creator makes you and you are the substance of the Earth. Seek to make your life long and full of service to your people and your Creator. Prepare a noble Death song for the day when you are able to cross the Great Divide.
- Give thanks for the morning light, for your life and strength, for your food, for all that you are given, and for the joy of living. Speak softly and unobtrusively “Spirit Take” and offer a portion of your daily food and drink. An offering by fire is the purest and most ethereal element.
- When you are assembled in the Council, do not fail to light the Fire in the center for it is the symbol of the Great Spirit and a sign of his presence.
- Light the Sacred Pipe which is the symbol of peace, brotherhood, council and prayer, and smoke first to the Great Spirit in Heaven above, then to the Four Winds who are his messengers, and to the Mother Earth through which he has made all life and furnished it food. Let the Councilor smoke, passing the pipe in a circle like that of the Sun from the East, southward, to the west, and to the north.