Aboriginal Economic Development

A Comparison of the Cherokee Nation of the United States and the Aborigines of Australia

Bachelor Thesis, 2010

34 Pages, Grade: 2,3


Table of Contents

1. Introduction

2. Fateful history of the Cherokee Nation and the Australian Aborigines
2.1 Cherokee Nation’s mistreatment by the American government
2.1.1 Trail of Tears
2.1.2 Worcester v. Georgia
2.1.3 The first years after removal
2.2 Australian Aborigines’ mistreatment by the Australian government
2.2.1 Land Rights Movement
2.2.2 Stolen Generations
2.2.3 Policy of Assimilation

3. Contemporary aboriginal economic situations
3.1 Cherokee Nation
3.1.1 Successful leader in economic development
3.1.2 Reliable employer for its members
3.1.3 Cherokee Nation Tribal Government
3.2 Australian Aborigines
3.2.1 Low participation in the labor force
3.2.2 Tourism as the main economic source
3.2.3 “Indigenous Economic Development Strategy” as attempt of improvement

4. Cherokee’s economic success and Aborigine’s economic failure distinguishing
the two historically stigmatized peoples
4.1 Cherokee Nation’s economic success
4.1.1 Economic success due to adaptation to the “white” society
4.1.2 Economic success due to self-government
4.1.3 Economic success due to economic diversity
4.2 Australian Aborigine’s economic failure
4.2.1 Social factors inhibiting their economic development Poor living conditions and social problems Discrimination Lacking uniform solidarity among the Aboriginal communities
4.2.2 Governmental hindrance of economic development Inaccurate target tracking in aboriginal policies Reconciliation movement as attempt of improvement

5. Conclusion

6. Works Cited

7. Affidavit

1. Introduction

“Citizens, make your voice count! It’s up to us!” With these words, the Cherokee Nation tries to encourage its members to participate in the 2010 census of the United States. The tribe’s goal is to increase the district’s influence in the United State’s Congress and with that the local supply of their area (“Citizens”). This appeal properly represents need not only of the Cherokee Nation in the United States, but of indigenous peoples worldwide to fight for their own interests concerning being recognized as citizens with the same rights as their non-indigenous fellow countrymen. Since the majority of native peoples is still underprivileged and usually rate as fringe groups in their countries today, it is important for them to grab any possible opportunity to improve their social as well as their economic situations. In today’s societies, many aboriginal communities smart from their underdeveloped economy and need to depend on the state they life in. In many countries, such as Australia, the native inhabitants are esteemed something you must have seen as a tourist (Leitner 7). These countries partly ignore the significance of their indigenous population for their histories, since they were the first inhabitants on the continents and left their indelible cultural mark on them. Even though the aboriginal peoples are world-renowned and are often regarded as the cultural flagships of their countries worldwide, their living conditions be it in the social or in the economic perspective are below average in many cases, such as the example of the Australian Aborigines. However, there are also some exceptions among the wide range of native peoples that have economic success stories to show. Two ideal examples of this contrast between economic failure and economic success among aboriginal communities are on the one hand the Aborigines of Australia living a marginal existence in economic terms and on the other hand the Cherokee Nation of the United States being successful with their own developed economy. Using the example of the Australian Aborigines and the Cherokee Nation and drawing a comparison between the two is interesting in two respects. First, both of them share similar historical backgrounds. As these two aboriginal tribes were differently mistreated by their prevailing governments for a long time, they are both historically stigmatized. The second interesting aspect of this comparison is the fact that both of them developed completely different concerning their economic progresses. While the Aborigines of Australia have not been experiencing any significant improvements of their poor economic situation, the Cherokee Nation was able to build up its own economic basis, bringing a great amount of profit for them today. Therefore, the comparison between the Australian Aborigines and the Cherokee Nation is very important, since it demonstrates how differently indigenous peoples are able to develop, even though their histories contain similar events. Consequently, it can be argued that even though the Cherokee Nation and the Australian Aborigines share similar historical backgrounds with regard to a long lasting mistreatment by their prevailing governments, the Cherokee Nation, in contrast to the Australian Aborigines, has been and continues to experience a more successful economic development. In this paper, I try to analyze why the Cherokee Nation is way more successful regarding their economy than the Aborigines of Australia and what factors influenced the Cherokee Nation’s successful development or rather the Aborigine’s economic failure.

To find out what the reasons for the different economic development of the Australian Aborigines and the Cherokee Nation are, I am describing the historical backgrounds of the two in the first part of this paper. Since both of them suffered from a number of different mistreatments by their governments, I focus my analysis on the three most influential events in their respective histories. After that, the contemporary economic situation of the two aboriginal peoples will be examined and with it the differences between them concerning their development. Finally, I try to show up the reasons for the different development distinguishing the two tribes and in how far the two peoples are responsible for their own prevailing unsuccessful or successful economic development.

2. Fateful history of the two tribes hindering their economic development

2.1 Cherokee Nation’s mistreatment by the American government

2.1.1 Trail of Tears

When comparing the two peoples of the Cherokee Nation and the Australian Aborigines, it becomes apparent that the two of them share similar historical backgrounds. These similarities are based on fateful events concerning governmental mistreatment and their consequences for the prevailing tribe, including partial hindrance of their economic development. In the case of the tribal members of the Cherokee Nation, the American government needs to carry the responsibility for the mistreatment. The times of the worst case of mistreatment on the part of the American government were the 1830s. With the signature of the Indian Removal Act of 1830, President Andrew Jackson ordered the “removal of Native Americans west across the Mississippi River” (Student almanac 121), among them the Cherokee. In the case of the Cherokee, their situation became bad even before the actual passing of the Indian Removal Act. In 1828, the State of Georgia “passed an act annexing Cherokee country, declaring Cherokee laws null and void” (Thornton 290). In the following years, the Cherokee Nation under its Principal Chief John Ross tried to defend their rights in court several times, but it did not make for a lasting improvement of their situation (Conley, Cherokees). Since some members of the Cherokee Nation signed a treaty giving up “all of their land in the east for land out west”, called the Treaty Party, they voluntarily left their homes westwards in 1835 (Conley, Cherokees). The second group of the Cherokee Nation under the leadership of John Ross, the Ross Party, ultimately had to proceed under US government force on the way to their new territory from 1838 to 1839, called the Indian Territory, today‘s Oklahoma (Student almanac 107). This journey was named by the Cherokee the “Trail Where We Cried”, also known as the “Trail of Tears”, since they had to suffer in many respects along the way (Thornton 289). Their main problems on this trail were insufficient food, mistreatment by the US army soldiers escorting them, and diseases (289). These factors, along with their first year in Indian Territory, where they had to suffer from a lack of medical care or from starvation, led to an immense population loss of about 4,000 people among the Cherokee alone (292). Overall, the Cherokee Nation had to endure this mistreatment by the American government, as the settlers wanted to occupy the land the Cherokee used to live on (Student almanac 25). According to Thornton, this forced removal of Native Americans and especially the Cherokee went down in the history of

Native tribes as one of the most tragic events in the history of any people (289), due to

its cruelty and injustice.

2.1.2 Worcester v. Georgia

A court decision further exemplifying the unjust treatment of the Cherokee Nation during the time of removal was the case Worcester v. Georgia from March 3, 1832 (Byers 7). In this case, Samuel A. Worcester, who permissibly lived on the Cherokee‘s land (Thornton 290), and another white man were “tried, found guilty, and sentenced to four years in the penitentiary at hard labor”, since they “refused to sign the oath of allegiance to Georgia” (Conley, The Cherokee Nation 134). Apart from this, another reason for Worcester’s arrest was that he was said to have helped the Cherokees (Thornton 290). This case, commonly known as Worcester v. Georgia, was litigated before the U.S. Supreme Court with the Cherokee’s claim that there was no right for the state of Georgia to meddle in Cherokee Nation’s affairs (290). The pronounced judgment agreed with the Cherokee Nation, stating that Indian affairs could only be controlled by the federal government (Student Almanac 105/106). Nevertheless, Georgia ignored this decision and the Cherokee were finally forced to leave the state on the Trail of Tears (106), as already elaborated on before. President Andrew Jackson sided with Georgia’s point of view and ignored the ruling as well, saying that the Chief Justice of court shall enforce the decision on his own (Conley, The Cherokee Nation 135). The ignorance in this case shows how hard it was for the Cherokee Nation to assert its authority in front of the state of Georgia as well as in front of the whole country. Even though the Supreme Court ruled in favor of the Cherokee Nation and its interests, their situation was not improved. It grew even worse as the Worcester v. Georgia case resulted in the final removal of the Cherokee to Indian Territory, today’s Oklahoma. Therefore, the Worcester v. Georgia case is a clear example of the unjust treatment of the Cherokee Nation during their time of removal and beyond, as it exemplifies the United States’ ignorance of Native American rights during these times.

2.1.3 The first years after removal

After the Worcester v. Georgia case and the resulting removal of the Cherokee to Indian Territory, the Cherokee Nation had to forge a new identity. But as on their long trail to the new homeland, the problems for the Cherokee did not abate during the first years after their arrival. Arriving at Indian Territory, the trail’s survivors were disappointed by the government of the United States once again (Dell 14). The reason for that was a broken promise on the part of the government, which had assured the Cherokee to supply them with food and other essential equipment they would have needed for the establishment of their new existence (14). But not only the American government was responsible for trouble among the Cherokee, they also caused it themselves. With the arrival of the last group under chief John Ross at Indian Territory in 1939 (Englar 37), a domestic strife between the Treaty Party and the followers of John Ross arose, lasting until 1843 (Conley, Cherokees). After this conflict was finally settled, a treaty was signed in 1846, uniting the Cherokee as one group (Byers 50). Already before this agreement, the “Cherokees started over and rebuilt their nation”, establishing Tahlequah as their new capital (Conley, Cherokees). With the construction of a new society on their own initiative including houses, churches, schools, and businesses, the Cherokee built up a new and strong foundation for its nation (Byers 50). This reconstructed national government was so successful that the “level of political stability and educational achievement [was] far surpassing that of their non-Native neighbors” (Cobb 466). When the Cherokee were finally recognized as the proprietor of the Indian Territory by the United States in 1846 (Englar 37), it seemed as the “Cherokee people were […] safe from the white man’s greed, violence, and deceit” (Byers 50). But the appearance of this goodwill on the part of the United States was not preserved for a long time. Soon after the Civil War, Cherokee rights and parts of their land was taken away from them again by the U.S. government (“A Brief History”). The Cherokee Nation’s real estate was reduced due to the American’s desire for land, which finally resulted in more white people than Indians living in Indian Territory by 1880 (Byers 52). This development illustrates the Cherokee Nation’s progressive mistreatment by the U.S. government even in the years after removal. Although the Cherokee had some internal problems in their nation as well, the biggest problems were caused by the ignorant way of acting on part of the government of the United States. However, after these long-lasting years of mistreatment, the Cherokee Nation, despite having suffered some setbacks, successfully rebuilt its society and formed a stable basis for its future.

2.2 Australian Aborigines’ mistreatment by the Australian government

2.2.1 Land Rights Movement

Similar to the long suffering of the Cherokee Nation, the Australian Aborigines share a similar fate in their history. In their case, the government needs to be held accountable for the mistreatment as well. The fact that the Australian government mistreated the Aborigines in different ways since the arrival of the British at the end of the eighteenth century is undeniable according to Leitner (113). What abridged the Aborigine’s rights in the past and is still bothering them to this day is the Land Rights Movement. When the Europeans started settling on the Australian continent in 1788, the Aborigine’s land, which is of very high cultural importance for them (Strohscheidt 12), was declared “terra nullius”, a land without owner (9). Similar to the Cherokee Nation, whose land was annexed and their rights declared as void by the settlers as well (Thornton 290), the Aborigines lost their homeland (Moran 669). From then on, the control over the aboriginal land and their entire affairs was held by the Australian government (Kleinert 623). When mining companies started overtaking the land in the 1950s and 1960s and used the land for their purpose without giving the Aborigines a chance to gain economic value from their own land, the Aborigines started to defend themselves (Strohscheidt 13). As a result, the historically important Aboriginal Land Rights Act of the Northern Territory was passed in 1976 (Kleinert 623), which enabled Aborigines to claim rights to land for the first time and to get back large parts of their homelands (Strohscheidt 15). Even though this act was advantageous for the Aborigines, it still took many years until the “terra nullius” status was repealed in 1992 (Stohscheidt 9). Today, about 15 percent of the Australian continent are in possession of the Aborigines again (Leitner 78) and their land rights are largely recognized (Kleinert 624). Despite this positive progress, the Land Rights Movement is still a current subject in today’s aboriginal life, as “dispossession is a continuing process in Australia” (Moran). With the Land Rights Movement, a long-lasting governmental mistreatment went down in the history of the Australian Aborigines, even though it ended positive for many of them.

2.2.2 Stolen Generations

Additional to the loss of their land, the Australian Aborigines had to cope with another, even greater loss, namely that of their children. In the years between 1910 to 1970, about 50 000 children of mixed descent, known as the Stolen Generations, were taken away from their families (Albig 143). Forced to live with adoptive parents or even in governmental institutions (143), these children were supposed to be educated and assimilated into the “white Australia[n]” society (Ellinghaus 68). Many aboriginal families ineffectually tried to hide their children to save them from the poor living conditions in the institutions or the sexual abuse in their adoptive families (Albig 144). Another goal pursued by the Australian government was to reduce the number of “thoroughbred” Aborigines by compulsorily marrying them off to whites (Leitner 30). Since there was no contact allowed to their families or communities, these children lost their identities, their cultural connection, and even their names were changed (Hohmann). The effects of this time are still noticeable today. Affected children get addicted to drugs way more quickly and get imprisoned much faster than children who were not taken away from their parents (Albig 145). These factors clearly minimize their chances to live an ordinary live in today‘s Australian society. If people belonging to the Stolen Generations desire to re-establish contact to their original communities, it is often very problematic (146). In many cases, the parents died during their absence or are already too old to recognize their children (146). A further problem is posed by the missing cultural and linguistic background, since the stolen children are not able to communicate with their relatives in their mother tongue anymore (146). In many cases, the homecomers are even thrown out of their communities due to the missing identification (146). Even though the Australian prime minister Kevin Rudd apologized for the mistreatment in 2008 (148), the irreparable damages caused to the Aboriginal community by the children’s removal are still influencing their lives today and will probably still affect it in the future.

2.2.3 Policy of Assimilation

The removal of aboriginal children from their families was only one part of a policy that brought along even more disadvantages for the Aborigines, namely the policy of assimilation on the part of the Australian government. Regarding Aborigines and their culture as a “retarding and bad influence”, the Australian government decided to integrate Aborigines into the Australian society (Moran 678/79). This policy, starting in the 1930s and lasting until the 1960s (678), brought along many negative consequences for the Aborigines and their culture, even though the goals of this new policy implied a good future for the Aborigines. According to this new assimilation strategy, the Aborigines should “attain the same manner of living as other Australians […], enjoying the same rights and privileges, accepting the same responsibilities, observing the same customs and [be] influenced by the same beliefs, hopes and loyalties as other Australians” (cited in Dixon and Scheurell 208). To achieve these goals, the Aborigines were forced to resettle from their reservations to cities (Leitner 69) to start a new live there, including regular work (“Government Policy”). By encouraging the Aborigines to move to towns and consequently reeducating them to get into the habit of the “white” Australian lifestyle, their situation got even worse, since the basic rights were still withhold from (“Government Policy”). Moreover, the policy of assimilation forbade the Aborigines to move freely, to get some school education, to vote, and even still to raise their own children (“Government Policy”). Due to the drastic way of the Australian government to include the indigenous people to the Australian society (Moran 679), the policies of assimilation is considered a phenomenon of “biological absorption” by some scholars (Ellinghaus 60). Only in 1967, when the majority of the Australian population decided to equate the Aborigines with them, an improvement of the Aborigine’s situation came in sight (Burchard 147). This decision was clearly to the Aborigine’s advantage, as they received the right to vote (“Aboriginals of Australia”) and obtained the Australian citizenship in 1971 as a result (Leitner 31). All in all, the policy of assimilation entailed a further long term mistreatment for the Aborigines by the Australian government. Along with the Land Right Movement and the long lasting history of the Stolen Generations, the policy of assimilation represents another dark chapter in the history of the Australian Aborigines and their mistreatment by the government. Finally compared with the Cherokee Nation, the two peoples share similar historical backgrounds, since the both of them were mistreated by their prevailing governments for decades, predominantly by depriving them of their rights, taking away their land, and imposing the prevailing government’s policies on them.


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Aboriginal Economic Development
A Comparison of the Cherokee Nation of the United States and the Aborigines of Australia
University of Leipzig  (Philologische Fakultät)
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aboriginal, economic, development, comparison, cherokee, nation, united, states, aborigines, australia
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Franziska Schüppel (Author), 2010, Aboriginal Economic Development, Munich, GRIN Verlag, https://www.grin.com/document/207014


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