I've heard people scold the United States for how they went into Iraq not even taking time to understand the culture. Well, really, this seems to be nothing new for us. In The Appalachians I was reminded of this trait of ours while reading about the Appalachian people .. or maybe I should say the European people who displaced the native Appalachian population. There. Yes, while this book was a celebration of the mostly European groups who settled this region, it did make brief mention of the conflicts with the native population, mostly the Cherokee.
Europeans were used to a centralized government where a political figure or group of them - such as Congress or Parliament - often made decisions on behalf of the whole group. The Indians on the other hand, each belonged to "one of several autonomous tribal organizations" (often called towns) that possessed its own council and "ceremonial center" in which "decisions affecting a given organization had to be unanimous among all the people within that town." Any town member could speak during these council meetings. Yep, that includes women! The Cherokee didn't have any "central political figure to negotiate between the tribe's various towns." So when the colonists came and desired the land, they tried to find the main person in order to do business with the whole group.
"These white leaders, projecting European perspectives onto the Cherokee, attempted to identify tribal leaders in order to negotiate treaties with those individuals, ignoring the traditional Cherokee practice that no one person could speak for the whole tribe."
The Cherokees eventually did try to centralize things in order to "strengthen [their] ability to contend with dramatic change." Sadly a splinter group of Cherokee "signed the Treaty of New Echota, which authorized the selling of all Cherokee lands to the U.S. government for a fee of $5 million. Efforts by the Cherokee to disclaim that treaty went unheard, and from 1838 to 1839, an estimated 16,000 members of the tribe were force by the U.S Army to march on the 'Trail of Tears' to Indian Territory (present-day Oklahoma.)" (pg. 21)