RECOMMENDED: What Does It Mean to Be Cherokee Online?

This project write-up from Susanna at highlights an important contribution to digital humanities research, particularly as it relates to the ways in which DH practice intersects with social justice work. The project uses computational methods to examine ways in which the misappropriation of Indigenous identities actively works to negatively impact contemporary Indigenous communities, and situates this theft of identity within the historical framework of the Dawes Act and its authorization of the seizure of Native American land.

The author used word clouds to examine ways in which the use of the term “Cherokee” on Twitter changed after Elizabeth Warren’s appearance in the Democratic debate on February 7th.  While an initial word cloud generated immediately after the debate features words focused on the Cherokee Nation’s donations of culturally vital seeds to the Svalbard Global Seed Vault, another word cloud created twelve hours later led to very different results, with many additional hashtags focused on the debate and Warren’s representation of her identity. As the author writes:

Interestingly, the tweets do not even seem to directly refer to Warren herself, but rather other candidates in the debate–presumably vis a vis their performance relative to Warren. This is further evidence that Warren’s cultural misappropriation is in fact cultural theft: the name of a group of living human beings to whom she bears no relation or community ties is now taken for granted as a shorthand for her political brand such that it can even reference her opponents.

It should be noted that on February 8th, 2020, the 133rd anniversary of the signing of the Dawes Act, Cherokee identity was again demonstrably hijacked by a white politician–this time not thought direct legislation, but rather words & actions in the social sphere.

The author conducted additional searches to determine how positive and negative representations of Cherokee people were represented in tweets, and found that negative, stereotypical-themed tweets far outnumbered the positive ones. Finally, they examined tweets focused on Cherokee citizenship, combining the terms “Cherokee” and “citizen” to reference tribal citizenship in one of the three Cherokee tribes. They found that these tweets were focused on Cherokee sovereignty more than any other subject. As the author writes, “The data shows that as in the real word, Cherokee identity and tribal sovereignty remain inextricably linked online.”

This project will be of interest to any practitioner of digital humanities interested in the ways in which DH work can highlight and resist injustice while contributing to social justice work, and how computational methods can be used to reveal cultural biases and trends. The code for the project can be found on GitHub at this link.

dh+lib Review

This post was produced through a cooperation between David Gustavsen, Adriana Bastarrachea, Molly Castro, Alessandra Otero, Janani Ravikumar, Criss Guy, and Julie Vecchio (Editors-at-large for the week), Ian Goodale (Editor for the week), and Nickoal Eichmann-Kalwara, Linsey Ford, Caitlin Christian-Lamb, and Pamella Lach (dh+lib Review Editors).