Even though my family started arriving in North America in the late 1600s, I may be the only person in the United States without a single Native American ancestor. Even lacking such a lineage, I’ve long been intrigued by the richness of Native American culture, particularly the Cherokee history and stories that are best known in my part of the country - the scholar Sequoyah, the Trail of Tears, and the Yundi Tsundi. Robert Conley’s straightforward essays in Cherokee Thoughts, Honest and Uncensored give a much deeper insight into aspects of that culture that I haven’t seen addressed elsewhere.
Conley is an enrolled member of the United Keetoowah Ban of Cherokee Indians, and that brings up the first topic that many readers may find surprising – not all Cherokees are members of the ‘tribe.’ According to Conley’s chapter entitled ‘Cherokee Wannabes,’ there are three federally recognized Cherokee nations: the Cherokee Nation in Oklahoma, The United Keetoowah Band of Cherokee Indians in Oklahoma, and the Eastern Band of Cherokees in North Carolina. Conley muses on the large number of Wannabes, wondering why so many of us are eager to be identified with a group that we tried our darnedest to eliminate.
Although each essay is brief, Conley covers a range of topics from the disproportionate number of Cherokee outlaws to the complicated life and families of Stand Watie, Nancy Ward, and John Ross. His tart pen gives us Conley’s thoughts on casinos and Cherokee humor, and the intricacy of the matrilineal system. Much of what is pondered in Cherokee Thoughts, Honest and Uncensored will stir controversy among readers, but that’s fine with Conley. “…Cherokees are used to controversy,” he writes, “In fact, they enjoy it. Cherokees like to argue. That may be one reason there are so damn many Cherokee lawyers.”
This collection of Conley’s work presents snippets of culture that will intrigue readers, whether Cherokee or Wannabe. There is a sense here that Conley does, indeed, enjoy controversy and for that reason he isn’t afraid to share exactly what he thinks about the culture and history of the Cherokee people. Highly entertaining, often hilarious, and definitely enlightening, Cherokee Thoughts, Honest and Uncensored ought to be required reading for all those folks with a Cherokee princess in the family tree.