My Grandmother was a Cherokee Princess
Cherokee Grandmother Syndrome – Claiming one has some distant Native American ancestor in order to sound more exotic or interesting when in fact no such Native American ancestor exists. (Urban Dictionary)
I think people often bring up a Cherokee grandmother when it helps them “fit in” or feel more relevant with Native audiences. If you’re Native, you know what I’m talking about. Whether you are full blood or mixed blood like myself, you’ve encountered numerous individuals who upon learning of your ancestry claim to have a Cherokee Grandmother or even worse, a Cherokee Princess in their heritage. Instead of laughing, you humbly oblige them. You’ve heard this too many times. Later, maybe you crack a smile or let out a laugh as you discuss your recent diagnosis of Cherokee Grandmother Syndrome with friends and family.
Yet, for all the laughs, we know there is something not funny about it… we know the history. So, we all struggle to make sense of our lives and identities as Native Americans knowing that, after trying to obliterate us, some Euro-Americans now want to be us or at least “like us” as they perceive us to be. After all that has been taken from Native Americans, this is the one thing that can’t be taken: You either are Native, or you aren’t.
Perhaps the most troubling aspect of Cherokee Grandmother Syndrome isn’t who it tries to include in one’s ancestry, but whom it excludes. How come there isn’t a Cherokee Grandfather Syndrome?
Sadly, we have colonization to thank for this. From the perspective of the dominant culture, the colonized male is undesirable simply because he is who he is – a male and a minority. Somehow a minority male threatens the “integrity” and “purity” of the colonizer by marrying into the dominant culture. Yet, when a male of the dominant culture marries a female from the minority or colonized culture, he is “liberating” her from the “savagery” of her culture.
Heavy stuff, so I’ll leave it at that, and I’ll close with a quote that brought a smile to my face. I hope it does the same for you.
Contrary to the beliefs by many, your grandmother wasn’t a Cherokee Princess! Maybe she was pretty, elegant, suave, and educated, but ‘we’ had no Cherokee Princesses! There, I have wanted to say that publicly for the past forty years. – Jay Daniels, Cherokee