The eagle has been a symbol of strength for this nation for as long as it has existed. The reasons are simple. The eagle is a fearless hunter and majestic flyer who represents two things human beings are fascinated with -- ferocity and freedom.
But the nation the eagle represents isn't just the one born July 4, 1776. It's the nation the United States nearly eliminated, the Cherokee Nation.
"The eagle is the creator's most respected animal and it has the highest place of honor with us," said Cherokee Indian re-enactor Tom Reedy.
Reedy, along with his wife, gave a presentation on the Cherokee Indian's culture and history July 1 for the Spring River Gem and Mineral club at Omaha Center in Cherokee Village.
Reedy (also known by his Indian name, Strong Heart), has been performing re-enactments with his wife, Betty, since 1993.
He said he and his wife try to give an accurate portrayal of how the Cherokees lived.
The Reedys' presentation begins with their clothes. Both wear self-made, traditional Indian clothing.
Betty Reedy (also known by her Indian name, Loves the Children) said her dress was torn, not cut, because the Cherokee do not cut fabric with scissors.
She said the dress is laid out with seven triangular pieces and one square piece under the right arm-pit. "The triangular pieces represent our seven tribes," she said.
Reedy said one surprising aspect of the Cherokee's way of life is the prominent position women had in their culture.
Women cooked, cleaned raised the young, farmed, made clothing and other implements and fought as warriors.
"Some of the fiercest Cherokee warriors were women," he said.
Reedy said traditional Cherokees have a different perception of marriage than western cultures.
When a Cherokee couple marries, the man becomes part of the woman's family. In western cultures the woman becomes part of the man's family and takes on his last name, he said.
Another difference between the cultures is the manner in which the Cherokee obtained a divorce. Reedy said if a Cherokee woman thought her husband was a poor provider she could divorce him by putting all of his belongings outside of their tepee. "That was it. No talking, nothing else. They were divorced," he said.
Men's function in Cherokee society was simpler than the women's.
Reedy, who is part Cherokee, said men were expected to provide meat, fight, teach their sons how to be men, and make decisions for the tribe, often on the advice of their wives.
He said men and women alike had societies in which outstanding members of the tribe were honored for their contributions to the tribe.
"The most honored woman would be the one who had to do the least amount of work and the most honored man would have the most eagles' feathers in his war bonnet," Reedy said.
Men earned eagle feathers by performing acts of heroism or doing other things to benefit the tribe. Women won their honors by being the fastest seamstress or best cook.
Reedy said the Cherokee experience isn't complete without mentioning how they have been treated by the U.S. government over the last 200 years.
"The U.S. government broke every treaty they signed with us," he said.
Betty Reedy said the government took Cherokee lands and make it difficult for the Cherokee to acclimate into white society.
"Anyone one who claims to be a full-blooded Indian must carry an identification card, similar to those given to immigrants when they cross the border," she said.
Reedy said Indians were not given citizenship until 1924 and until recently could leave the reservations only with permission.
The Reedys said they are not angry at white people, despite these transgressions.
"The most important thing in Indian society is the recognition of the great creator and the things he made in this world. White people honor the same entity; they call him God. We are connected by this principle," he said.
We are also connected by nature's premier bird of prey, noted for her ferocity and freedom.