Cherokee myths, legends and superstitions

Native American Kathy Van Buskirk explains what her culture and religion mean to her in this week's

I am a full blood Cherokee woman and that is a very special thing to me. In my own way, I feel like I know a lot of the old ways but there are things that I do not fully understand about the Cherokee traditions.

I was born into a family that lived on faith, and being Cherokee there are a lot of things that we do that others don’t. There are things that are done in ways only we would appreciate, for instance, there are certain numbers that play an important role in the Cherokee ceremonies - such as the number four and seven.

They occur in our myths, stories and ceremonies; four represents the four directions (north, east, west, and south). There are also certain colors associated with the four directions.

The number seven represents the seven clans of the Cherokee people and these are: Bird, Deer, Wolf, Longhair, Wild Potato, Blue, and Paint. Other myths, legends, and superstitions are we think the owl is the bearer of bad news or brings bad luck. Because we have been taught that they are messengers which means they bring news.

To us the cedar, pine, spruce, laurel and holly trees have very special powers because the leaves that grow on them stay green all year long. We believe these were the plants that did not sleep for seven nights during the creation. They are some of the most important plants to the native’s medicine and ceremonies.

There are a lot of things that people today consider myths and legends and those are stories like the ones passed down from generation to generation. Natives are very spiritual people and although we can share a few stories, there are a lot of things we are not able to share with others.

Things like these are what we were raised to believe and occasionally I get calls at work from people who want to know of something like our traditions such as: something different that they can do at a funeral or something that is different than in today’s society.

Many people are interested because they are part Cherokee or even another tribe. As an adult now I have many stories and remembrance of things that was taught to us. While growing up I did not think I was any different. People really seem to enjoy hearing stories of things that I thought everyone knew.

Today I like to sit down with the elders if at all possible and listen to their stories, and most of the time we compare our stories. They know so much about things that have happened in their lifetime through what people know today as myths.

So how much are myths and legends? How much is real in our hearts? I think this is something that keeps us unique from all others, but I also know everyone is unique within there own culture. Everyone has a culture to share no matter what that may be and your elders have taught you things only your tribe or culture knows.

Kathy Van Buskirk is a Cherokee from Oklahoma, USA. She has been married for 25 years to Perry. They have two children, Christopher 25 and Melissa 10. She has worked at the Cherokee Heritage Center for 20 years.
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Why are boundary changes bad for Labour?

New boundaries, a smaller House of Commons and the shift to individual electoral registration all tilt the electoral battlefield further towards the Conservatives. Why?

The government has confirmed it will push ahead with plans to reduce the House of Commons to 600 seats from 650.  Why is that such bad news for the Labour Party? 

The damage is twofold. The switch to individual electoral registration will hurt Labour more than its rivals. . Constituency boundaries in Britain are drawn on registered electors, not by population - the average seat has around 70,000 voters but a population of 90,000, although there are significant variations within that. On the whole, at present, Labour MPs tend to have seats with fewer voters than their Conservative counterparts. These changes were halted by the Liberal Democrats in the coalition years but are now back on course.

The new, 600-member constituencies will all but eliminate those variations on mainland Britain, although the Isle of Wight, and the Scottish island constituencies will remain special cases. The net effect will be to reduce the number of Labour seats - and to make the remaining seats more marginal. (Of the 50 seats that would have been eradicated had the 2013 review taken place, 35 were held by Labour, including deputy leader Tom Watson's seat of West Bromwich East.)

Why will Labour seats become more marginal? For the most part, as seats expand, they will take on increasing numbers of suburban and rural voters, who tend to vote Conservative. The city of Leicester is a good example: currently the city sends three Labour MPs to Westminster, each with large majorities. Under boundary changes, all three could become more marginal as they take on more wards from the surrounding county. Liz Kendall's Leicester West seat is likely to have a particularly large influx of Tory voters, turning the seat - a Labour stronghold since 1945 - into a marginal. 

The pattern is fairly consistent throughout the United Kingdom - Labour safe seats either vanishing or becoming marginal or even Tory seats. On Merseyside, three seats - Frank Field's Birkenhead, a Labour seat since 1950, and two marginal Labour held seats, Wirral South and Wirral West - will become two: a safe Labour seat, and a safe Conservative seat on the Wirral. Lillian Greenwood, the Shadow Transport Secretary, would see her Nottingham seat take more of the Nottinghamshire countryside, becoming a Conservative-held marginal. 

The traffic - at least in the 2013 review - was not entirely one-way. Jane Ellison, the Tory MP for Battersea, would find herself fighting a seat with a notional Labour majority of just under 3,000, as opposed to her current majority of close to 8,000. 

But the net effect of the boundary review and the shrinking of the size of the House of Commons would be to the advantage of the Conservatives. If the 2015 election had been held using the 2013 boundaries, the Tories would have a majority of 22 – and Labour would have just 216 seats against 232 now.

It may be, however, that Labour dodges a bullet – because while the boundary changes would have given the Conservatives a bigger majority, they would have significantly fewer MPs – down to 311 from 330, a loss of 19 members of Parliament. Although the whips are attempting to steady the nerves of backbenchers about the potential loss of their seats, that the number of Conservative MPs who face involuntary retirement due to boundary changes is bigger than the party’s parliamentary majority may force a U-Turn.

That said, Labour’s relatively weak electoral showing may calm jittery Tory MPs. Two months into Ed Miliband’s leadership, Labour averaged 39 per cent in the polls. They got 31 per cent of the vote in 2015. Two months into Tony Blair’s leadership, Labour were on 53 per cent of the vote. They got 43 per cent of the vote. A month and a half into Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership, Labour is on 31 per cent of the vote.  A Blair-style drop of ten points would see the Tories net 388 seats under the new boundaries, with Labour on 131. A smaller Miliband-style drop would give the Conservatives 364, and leave Labour with 153 MPs.  

On Labour’s current trajectory, Tory MPs who lose out due to boundary changes may feel comfortable in their chances of picking up a seat elsewhere. 

Stephen Bush is editor of the Staggers, the New Statesman’s political blog. He usually writes about politics.