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)Cherokee Princess - Urban Legend

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

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11 Comments

  1. Posted October 8, 2013 at 5:01 pm | Permalink

    I'm so glad to read this, yes it did put a smile on my face, and oh yes , I encountered SOS many girls, who have said their grandmother was a Cherokee Princess, , and each and every encounter, I would smile a crooked smile, take a breath and say, "huh, really?"

  2. Posted October 8, 2013 at 5:02 pm | Permalink

    Omg , Facebook auto correct , should read , I encountered soooo many, not SOS, good golly.

  3. Johanne Cantu
    Posted October 9, 2013 at 3:11 pm | Permalink

    I to have a Great Grandmother that is Cherokee Indian, not a princess, I have a picture of her as an elder. and she sure does look like Indian, but who do I contact to verify this fact? In my Ancestry.com she is listed from ancesters as Indian. From either VA. Or NC.

    • Posted October 9, 2013 at 7:27 pm | Permalink

      Johanne, thanks for your note. We hear this quite a bit, that someone “looks” Indian. Here’s a question to ponder: What does an “Indian” look like? Is it the mythological images of Hollywood, or something more representative of the 1,000+ tribes in the U.S. In the meantime, for geneological research, you might try the official website for the Department of the Interior at http://www.doi.gov, in addition to http://www.ancestry.com.

  4. Cynthia Clarke
    Posted October 9, 2013 at 9:05 pm | Permalink

    I identify as "white." I like to give census takers a hard time, but honest to goodness, I am "white." I love the stories my mother would tell me of our "ancestors" and I know I am in a world far away from the time and places she would talk about or dream about. In this modern world, I believe that those of us grasping for a connection to Native American roots, need to recognize this present moment. Where are the stories of yesterday? 30 years ago, 60 years ago, 90 years ago…the stories had poignancy and the pain of reality. Now, what about now? What about this moment? What are we doing to be good people, how can we be better? Whatever your roots are, how are you growing? What are you reaching for?

  5. Posted October 13, 2013 at 11:33 pm | Permalink

    There are now Cherokee Nation of Oklahoma tribal members that are less than 1/4000th indian by the tribes own reckoning. It’s hard to take this seriously here in OK.

  6. Posted January 16, 2015 at 5:02 am | Permalink

    I’m not that much of a internet reader to be honest but your
    sites really nice, keep it up! I’ll go ahead and
    bookmark your website to come back in the future. Many thanks

  7. Posted May 17, 2015 at 4:37 pm | Permalink

    Here's why there's no such thing, http://www.native-languages.org/princess.htm

  8. Posted November 15, 2015 at 12:17 pm | Permalink

    Thanks for another great article. I’ve a presentation and am on the search
    for such info.

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