The Cherokees are usually portrayed as settled, farming Indian peoples living in villages across the Appalachian South. But as Gregory Smithers, an associate professor of history at Virginia Commonwealth University, shows, that lasted only until English and American colonizers arrived, and soon the Cherokees found themselves a divided, migrating people. As early as the mid-1700s, in a first diaspora, culturally conservative Cherokees streamed to the trans-Mississippi West to escape American “colonial” pressures. It was this stream of Indian migrants between the 1780s and 1830s that made Andrew Jackson see southeastern Indians as a wandering, transitory people who needed to be replaced by equally wandering and transitory American settlers. Smithers blames “settler colonialism”—violence, trade dependency, Christianization, land loss, and the eventual creation of a politically organized Cherokee Nation—for this and future diasporas and the questions of identity that came with them.

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