I meant to post this a while ago. This picture is a self portrait, taken by my friend Yael for my photography class last semester. I decided that I wanted to do a narrative on my interest and pride in my family’s genealogy and heritage by trying to mimic the stiff, posed Victorian-era portraits that we have of my ancestors.
Relatives had always passed down through word of mouth that we were Cherokee, despite the fact that most american families say the same thing. My family did some research and we in fact are. We have pictures of our relatives and they look Native. I’m not going to post them due to privacy reasons, but I have two (known) Great Great Great Grandmothers, Amanda and Ellen, who were Cherokee and both had Dawes numbers. In addition I have one Great Great Great Grandfather who was Cherokee, James Lewis, who was married to Ellen. They had a very successful farm and general store, and Amanda was on the Trail of Tears as a young woman and was relocated to Little Rock. I am so thankful that I was able to find this out about my ancestors and that they had pictures made of them, and that my family is still in possession of them as things get lost over time, and most Native Americans and African Americans did not have money at that time to take pictures.
The other reason I decided to take a picture of myself in this manner is to show how colonialism has effected people today. In my ancestors portraits, the effects of it can be seen, fresh at that time, given a culture they didn’t want. Now almost 200 years later, their granddaughter is feeling the effects too, appearing as her ancestors did in portraits, born into a culture that expects her to be less that what she really is. I definitely don’t feel the effects of colonialism as much as some, though.
I may not have information about my family before they had to assimilate, but I am proud to be what I am and the information I do have on my family. They were strong hardworking people, The Lewises and their farm and Amanda Harper, Trail of Tears survivor. Perhaps they worked hard, and dreamt that someday a relative of theirs could achieve more than they did. They inspire me, and make me not take the opportunities I have for granted.