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The Cherokee ( ) are a Native American people historically settled in the Southeastern United States (principally Georgiamarker, the Carolinas and Eastern Tennessee). Linguistically, they are connected to speakers of the Iroquoian-language family. In the 19th century, their oral tradition told of their having migrated south from the Great Lakes region in ancient times.

In the 19th century, the Cherokees were known as one of the "Five Civilized Tribes", because they had assimilated numerous cultural and technological practices of European-American settlers. According to the 2000 U.S. Census, with more than 300,000 members, today they are the largest of the 563 federally recognized Native American tribes in the United States.

Of the three federally recognized Cherokee tribes, the Cherokee Nation and the United Keetoowah Band of Cherokee Indians have headquarters in Tahlequahmarker, Oklahomamarker. The Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians is located in Cherokee, North Carolinamarker.


The Cherokee refer to themselves as Tsalagi ( ) or Aniyvwiyai ( ), which means "Principal People." The Iroquois called the Cherokee Oyata’ge'ronoñ (inhabitants of the cave country). Many theories - though none proven - abound about the origin of the word Cherokee. It may have originally been derived from the Choctaw word Cha-la-kee, which means "those who live in the mountains", or Choctaw Chi-luk-ik-bi, meaning "those who live in the cave country". The earliest Spanish spelling of Cherokee, from 1755, is Tchalaquei. Another theory is Cherokee derives from a Muscogee Creek word, meaning "those who live by Cherry Creek".


There are two prevailing views about Cherokee origins. One is that the Cherokees are relative latecomers to Southern Appalachia, who may have migrated in late prehistoric times from northern areas, the traditional territory of the Iroquois and other Iroquoian-language people. Researchers in the 19th century talked to elders who recounted an oral tradition of the people's migrating south from the Great Lakes region in ancient times. The other theory is that they had been there for thousands of years.

Some historians and archaeologists believe evidence supports the view that Cherokees came to Appalachia as late as the 13th -16th centuries. They believe they migrated from the north, as they are Iroquoian-speaking peoples. Over time they moved into Muscogee Creek territory and settled on the sites of Muscogee mounds. Archeologists had initially mistakenly attributed several Mississippian culture sites to the Cherokee, including Moundvillemarker and Etowah Moundsmarker. Late 20th-century studies have shown the sites are unquestionably related to Creek descendants. At the same time, archeologists have found artifacts with iconography from the Southeastern Ceremonial Complex (SECC) in historical Cherokee villages dating from the time of European contact.

The other possibility is that Cherokee people have lived in western North Carolina and eastern Tennessee for a far longer period of time. During the late Archaic and Woodland Period, Indians in the region began to cultivate plants such as marsh elder, lambsquarters, pigweed, sunflowers and some native squash. People began building mounds, created new art forms like shell gorgets, adopted new technologies, and followed an elaborate cycle of religious ceremonies. During the Mississippian Period (800 to 1500 CE), people in the area developed a new variety of corn called eastern flint, which closely resembles modern corn. The cultivation of corn surpluses allowed the rise of larger, more complex villages with concentrated populations during the Mississippian-culture period. Because of its importance, corn was central to several religious ceremonies, especially the Green Corn Ceremony.

Early culture

Much of what is known about pre-18th-century Native American cultures, including the Cherokee, has come from records of Spanish expeditions. Some of this work was not translated into English and more widely available to historians until the 20th century. In addition, the dominance of English colonists over the Southeast led to a discounting of Spanish sources for some time.

American writer John Howard Payne wrote about about pre-19th century Cherokee culture and society. The Payne papers describe the account by Cherokee elders of a traditional societal structure in which a "white" organization of elders represented the seven clans. According to Payne, this group, which was hereditary and described as priestly, was responsible for religious activities such as healing, purification, and prayer. A second group of younger men, the "red" organization, was responsible for warfare. Warfare was considered a polluting activity, which required the purification of the priestly class before participants could reintegrate into normal village life. This hierarchy had disappeared long before the 18th century. The reasons for the change have been debated. Some historians believe the decline in priestly power originated with a revolt by the Cherokee against the abuses of the priestly class known as the Ani-kutani.

Ethnographer James Mooney, who studied the Cherokee in the late 1880s, was the first to trace the decline of the former hierarchy to this revolt. By the time of Mooney, the structure of Cherokee religious practitioners was more informal, based more on individual knowledge and ability than upon heredity.

Another major source of early cultural history comes from materials written in the 19th century by the didanvwisgi (Cherokee:ᏗᏓᏅᏫᏍᎩ), Cherokee medicine men, after Sequoyah's creation of the Cherokee syllabary in the 1820s. Initially only the didanvwisgi used these materials, which were considered extremely powerful. Later, the writings were widely adopted by the Cherokee people.

Unlike most other Indians in the American southeast at the start of the historic era, the Cherokee spoke an Iroquoian language. Since the Great Lakesmarker region was the core of Iroquoian-language speakers, scholars have theorized that the Cherokee migrated south from that region. This is supported by the Cherokee oral history tradition. However, others argue that the Iroquois migrated north from the southeast, with the Tuscarora breaking off from that group during the migration. Linguistic analysis shows a relatively large difference between Cherokee and the northern Iroquoian languages, suggesting a split between the groups in the distant past. Glottochronology studies suggest the split occurred between about 1,500 and 1,800 B.C. The Cherokee have claimed the ancient settlement of Kituwamarker on the Tuckasegee River, formerly next to and now part of Qualla Boundary (the reservation of the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians), as the original Cherokee settlement in the Southeast.


16th century: Spanish contact

These Cherokee accompanied Sir Alexander Coming to England in 1730.
The first known European-Native American contact was in 1540, when a Spanish expedition led by Hernando de Soto passed through Cherokee country. De Soto's expedition visited many inland Georgia and Tennessee villages which they recorded as ruled by the Coosa chiefdom, of the Mississippian culture. The Cherokee did not settle in this area until the early 1700s. The Spanish noted the Chalaque nation as living around the Keowee Rivermarker where North Carolina, South Carolina and Georgia meet. European diseases, introduced to natives by contact with the Spaniards and their animals, decimated many Eastern tribes because of their lack of immunity to the new diseases.

A second Spanish expedition came through the interior in 1567 led by Juan Pardo. Spanish troops built six forts in the interior Southeast, including at the Mississippian chiefdom of Joara, where they named their installation Fort San Juan. This was the first European settlement in the interior. They visited what were later Cherokee towns of Nikwasimarker, Estatoe, Tugaloomarker, Conasauga, and Kituwamarker. The indigenous people rose against the Spanish soldiers, killing all but one of the 120 stationed at the six forts, and burning all the forts. The Spanish retreated to the coast.

17th century: English contact

In 1654, there was a disturbance in Virginia Colony as the Rechahecrians or Rickahockans, as well as the Siouan Manahoac and Nahyssan, broke through the frontier and settled near the Falls of the James, near present-day Richmond, Virginiamarker. The following year, a combined force of English and Pamunkey drove the newcomers away. The identity of the Rechahecrians has been much debated. Historians noted the name closely resembled that recorded for the Eriechronon or Erielhonan, commonly known as the Erie tribe. They had been driven away from the southern shore of Lake Eriemarker by the powerful Iroquois Five Nations in 1654. The anthropologist Martin Smith theorized some remnants of the tribe migrated to Virginia after the wars. (1986:131–32) Fewer historians suggest this tribe were Cherokee.

Virginian traders developed a small-scale trading system with the Cherokee before the end of the seventeenth century; the earliest recorded Virginia trader to visit the Cherokee was a certain Dority, in 1690. The Cherokee sold them Indian slaves for use as laborers in Virginia and further north.

18th century history

Three Cherokee diplomats in London, 1765
The Cherokees gave sanctuary to a band of Shawnee in the 1660s, but from 1710 to 1715 the Cherokee and Chickasaw, allied with the British, fought Shawnee, who were allied with the French, and forced them to move north. Cherokees fought with the Yamasee, Catawba, and British in late 1712 and early 1713 against the Tuscarora in the Second Tuscarora War. The Tuscarora War marked the beginning of an English-Cherokee relationship that, despite breaking down on occasion, remained strong for much of the 18th century.

In January 1716, Cherokee murdered a delegation of Muscogee Creek leaders at the town of Tugaloomarker, marking their entry into the Yamasee War. It ended in 1717 with peace treaties between South Carolinamarker and the Creek. Hostility and sporadic raids between the Cherokee and Creek continued for decades. These raids came to a head at the Battle of Taliwa in 1755, present-day Ball Ground, Georgiamarker, with the defeat of the Muscogee.

In 1721, the Cherokee ceded lands in South Carolinamarker. I n 1730, at Nikwasimarker, a Briton, Sir Alexander Cumming convinced Cherokees to crown Moytoy of Tellico as "Emperor." Moytoy agreed to recognize King George II of Great Britain as the Cherokee protector. Seven prominent Cherokee, including Attakullakulla, traveled with Sir Alexander Cuming back to London, Englandmarker. The Cherokee delegation signed the Treaty of Whitehall with the British. Moytoy's son, Amo-sgasite (Dreadful Water) attempted to succeed him as "Emperor" in 1741, but the Cherokees elected their own leader, Standing Turkey of Echotamarker.

Political power among Cherokees remained decentralized and towns acted autonomously. In 1735 the Cherokee were estimated to have sixty-four towns and villages, and 6000 fighting men. In 1738 and 1739 smallpox epidemics broke out among the Cherokee, who had no natural immunity. Nearly half their population died within a year. Hundreds of other Cherokee committed suicide due to their losses and disfigurement from the disease.

From 1753 to 1755, battles broke out between the Cherokee and Muscogee over disputed hunting grounds in North Georgia. Cherokees were victorious in the Battle of Taliwa. British soldiers built forts in Cherokee country to defend against the French, including Fort Loudoun near Chota. In 1756 the Cherokees fought with the British in the French and Indian War. Serious misunderstandings arose quickly between the two allies, resulting in the 1760 Anglo-Cherokee War. King George III's Royal Proclamation of 1763 forbade British settlements west of the Appalachian crest, as his government tried to afford some protection from colonial encroachment to the Cherokee. The ruling was difficult to enforce.

In 1771-2, North Carolinian settlers squatted on Cherokee lands in Tennessee, forming the Watauga Association. Daniel Boone and his party to tried to settle in Kentucky, but the Shawnee, Delaware, Mingo, and some Cherokee attacked a scouting and forage party that included Boone’s son. The American Indians used this territory as a hunting ground; it had hardly been inhabited for years. The conflict sparked the beginning of what was known as Dunmore's Warmarker (1773-1774).

In 1776, allied with the Shawnee led by Cornstalk, Cherokees attacked settlers in South Carolina, Georgia, Virginia, and North Carolina in the Second Cherokee War. Overhill Cherokee Nancy Ward, Dragging Canoe's niece, warned settlers of impending attacks. European-American militias retaliated and destroyed over 50 Cherokee towns. In 1777 surviving Cherokee town leaders signed treaties with the states.

Dragging Canoe and his band moved near Chattanooga, Tennesseemarker, where they established 11 new towns. Chickamauga was his headquarters and his entire band became known as the Chickamaugas. From here he fought a guerrilla war against settlers, the Chickamauga Wars . The Treaty of Tellico Blockhouse, signed 7 November 1794, ended the Chickamauga Wars.

19th century

Tah-Chee (Dutch), A Cherokee Chief, 1837
The Cherokees organized a national government led by Principal Chiefs Little Turkey (1788-1801), Black Fox (1801-1811), and Pathkiller (1811-1827).

The seat of the Upper Towns was at Ustanali (near Calhoun, Georgiamarker), also the titular seat of the Nation, and with the former warriors James Vann and his protégés The Ridge (formerly known as Pathkiller) and Charles R. Hicks, the "Cherokee Triumvirate", as their dominant leaders, particularly of the younger more acculturated generation. The leaders of these towns were the most progressive, favoring acculturation, formal education, and modern methods of farming.

Facing removal, the Lower Cherokee were the first to move west. Remaining Lower Town leaders, such as Young Dragging Canoe and Sequoyah, were strong advocates of voluntary relocation.

Removal era

In 1815, the US government established a Cherokee Reservation in Arkansas. The reservation boundaries extended from north of the Arkansas Rivermarker to the southern bank of the White River. The Bowl, Sequoyah, Spring Frog and Tatsi (Dutch) and their bands settled there. These Cherokees became known as "Old Settlers."

John Ross became the Principal Chief of the tribe in 1828 and remained the chief until his death in 1866.

Treaty party

Among the Cherokee, John Ross led the battle to halt their removal. Ross' supporters, commonly referred to as the "National Party," were opposed by a group known as the "Ridge Party" or the "Treaty Party". The Treaty Party signed the Treaty of New Echota, stipulating terms and conditions for the removal of the Cherokee Nation from the lands in the East for lands in Indian Territory.

Trail of Tears

Cherokees were displaced from their ancestral lands in northern Georgia and the Carolinas in a period of rapidly expanding white population. Some of the rapid expansion was due to a gold rush around Dahlonega, Georgiamarker in the 1830s. President Andrew Jackson said removal policy was an effort to prevent the Cherokee from facing the fate of "the Mohegan, the Narragansett, and the Delaware". However there is ample evidence that the Cherokee were adapting modern farming techniques, and a modern analysis shows that the area was in general in a state of economic surplus.

The Cherokee were to bring their grievances to US judicial review that set a precedent in Indian Country. In June 1830, a delegation of Cherokee led by Chief Ross defended Cherokee rights before the U.S. Supreme Court in the Cherokee Nation v. Georgia case. In the case Worcester v. Georgia, the United States Supreme Courtmarker held that Cherokee Native Americans were entitled to federal protection from the actions of state governments, which would infringe on the tribe's sovereignty. Worcester v. Georgia is considered one of the most important decisions in law dealing with Native Americans.

Despite the Worcester v. Georgia ruling in their favor, the majority of Cherokees were forcibly relocated westward to Indian Territory in 1838-1839, a migration known as the Trail of Tears or in Cherokee ᏅᎾ ᏓᎤᎳ ᏨᏱ or Nvna Daula Tsvyi (Cherokee: The Trail Where They Cried). This took place during the Indian Removal Act of 1830. The harsh treatment the Cherokee received at the hands of white settlers caused some to enroll to emigrate west. As some Cherokees were slaveholders, they took enslaved African-Americans with them west of the Mississippi. Intermarried European-Americans and missionaries also walked the Trail of Tears.

On June 22, 1839, Major Ridge, John Ridge and Elias Boudinot were assassinated by a party of twenty-five extremist Ross supporters that included Daniel Colston, John Vann, Archibald Spear, James Spear, Joseph Spear, Hunter, and others. Stand Watie fought off the attempt on his life that day and escaped to Arkansasmarker.

Eastern Band

Cól-lee, a Band Chief, painted by George Catlin, 1834.
Some Cherokees were able to evade removal, and they became the East Band of Cherokee Indians. William Holland Thomas, a white storeowner and state legislator from Jackson County, North Carolinamarker, helped over 600 Cherokee from Qualla Townmarker obtain North Carolina citizenship, which exempted them from forced removal. Over 400 other Cherokee either hid from Federal troops in the remote Snowbird Mountains, under the leadership of Tsali (ᏣᎵ), or belonged to in the former Valley Towns area around the Cheoah River who negotiated to stay in North Carolina with the state government. An additional 400 Cherokee stayed on reserves in Southeast Tennessee, North Georgia, and Northeast Alabama, as citizens of their respective states, mostly mixed-bloods and Cherokee women married to white men. Together, these groups were the basis for what is now known as the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians.

Civil War

The American Civil War was devastating for both East and Western Cherokees. Those Cherokees aided by William Thomas became the Thomas Legion of Cherokee Indians and Highlanders, fighting for the Confederacy in the American Civil War. "Will Thomas." History and culture of the Cherokee (North Carolina Indians). (2007-03-10) Cherokees in Indian Territory split into Confederate and Union factions.

Reconstruction and late 19th century

Group of Cherokee, Yankton, and Sisseton 1909.

As in southern states, the end of the Civil War brought freedom to enslaved African Americans held by Cherokee. By an 1866 treaty with the US government, the Cherokee agreed to grant tribal citizenship to freedmen who had been held by them as slaves. Both before and after the Civil War, some Cherokee intermarried or had relationships with African Americans, just as they had with whites. Many Cherokee Freedmen were active politically within the tribe.

The US government also acquired easement rights to the western part of the territory, which became the Oklahoma Territory, for the construction of railroads. Development and settlers followed the railroads. By the late 19th century, the government believed that Native Americans would be better off if each family owned its own land. The Dawes Act of 1887 provided for the break up of commonly held tribal land. Native Americans were registered on the Dawes Rolls and allotted land from the common reserve. This also opened up later sales of land by individuals to people outside the tribe.
Map of the present-day Cherokee Nation Tribal Jurisdiction Area (dark blue)

The Curtis Act of 1898 advanced the break-up of Native American government. For the Oklahoma Territory, this meant abolition of the Cherokee courts and governmental systems by the U.S. Federal Government. This was seen as necessary before the Oklahoma and Indian territories could be admitted as states.

By the late 19th century, the Eastern Band of Cherokees were laboring under the constraints of a segregated society. In the aftermath of Reconstruction, conservative white Democrats regained power in North Carolina and other southern states. They proceeded to effectively disfranchise all blacks and many poor whites by new constitutions and laws related to voter registration and elections. They passed Jim Crow laws that divided society into "white" and "colored", mostly to control freedmen, but the Native Americans were included on the colored side and suffered the same racial segregation and disfranchisement as former slaves. Blacks and Native Americans would not regain their rights as US citizens until the Civil Rights Movement and passage of civil rights legislation in the mid-1960s.



Cherokee attitudes towards marriage are flexible. Before the 19th century, polygamy was common. Traditionally, couples, particularly women, can divorce freely.

In the 19th century in Indian Territory, marriage between Cherokees and non-Cherokees was common but complicated. A European-American could legally marry a Cherokee woman by petitioning the federal court with approval of ten of her blood relatives. Once married, the man became an "Intermarried White" member of the Cherokee tribe with restricted rights; for instance, he could not hold any tribal office. He also remained a citizen of and under the laws of the United States. Common law marriages were more popular.

If a European-American woman married a Cherokee man, the children of such a union would not have a clan and traditionally not be considered Cherokee; however, this has legally changed under current tribal enrollment laws among the three Cherokee tribes. These stem from the matrilineal and matrilocal aspects of Cherokee culture.

Cultural institutions

The Qualla Arts and Crafts Mutual, Inc., of Cherokee, North Carolina is the oldest continuing Native American art co-operative. They were founded in 1940 to provide a venue for traditional Eastern Band Cherokee artists. The Museum of the Cherokee Indian, also in Cherokee, displays permanent and changing exhibits, houses archives and collections important to Cherokee history, and sponsors cultural groups, such as the Warriors of the AniKituhwa dance group.

The Cherokee Heritage Center, of Park Hill, Oklahomamarker hosts a reproduction of an ancient Cherokee Village, Adams Rural Village (including 19th century buildings), Nofire Farms, and the Cherokee Family Research Center for genealogy. The Cherokee Heritage Center also houses the Cherokee National Archives. Both the CN and UKB, as well as other tribes contribute funding the CHC.

Language and writing system

Sequoyah, the inventor of the Cherokee syllabary.

The Cherokee speak a Southern Iroquoian language, which is polysynthetic and is written in a syllabary invented by Sequoyah ( ). For years, many people wrote transliterated Cherokee or used poorly intercompatible fonts to type out the syllabary. However, since the fairly recent addition of the Cherokee syllables to Unicode, the Cherokee language is experiencing a renaissance in its use on the Internet.

Sequoyah's syllabary in the order that he originally arranged the characters.

Because of the polysynthetic nature of the Cherokee language, new and descriptive words in Cherokee are easily constructed to reflect or express modern concepts. Examples include ditiyohihi (Cherokee: ), which means "he argues repeatedly and on purpose with a purpose," meaning "attorney." Another example is didaniyisgi (Cherokee: ) which means "the final catcher" or "he catches them finally and conclusively," meaning "policeman."

Many words, however, have been borrowed from the English Language, such as gasoline, which in Cherokee is ga-so-li-ne (Cherokee: ). Many other words were borrowed from the languages of tribes who settled in Oklahoma in the early twentieth century. One example relates to a town in Oklahoma named "Nowata". The word nowata is a Delaware Indian word for "welcome" (more precisely the Delaware word is nu-wi-ta which can mean "welcome" or "friend" in the Delaware Language). The white settlers of the area used the name "nowata" for the township, and local Cherokees, being unaware the word had its origins in the Delaware Language, called the town Amadikanigvnagvna (Cherokee: ) which means "the water is all gone from here", i.e. "no water".

Other examples of borrowed words are kawi (Cherokee: ) for coffee and watsi (Cherokee: ) for watch (which led to utana watsi (Cherokee: ) or "big watch" for clock).

The following table is an example of Cherokee text and its translation:

Tsalagi: Nigada aniyvwi nigeguda'lvna ale unihloyi unadehna duyukdv gesv'i. Gejinela unadanvtehdi ale unohlisdi ale sagwu gesv junilvwisdanedi anahldinvdlv adanvdo gvhdi.
English: All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights. They are endowed with reason and conscience and should act towards one another in a spirit of brotherhood.(Article 1 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights)

Treaties and government


see Historic treaties of the Cherokee

The Cherokee have participated in at least thirty-six treaties in the past three hundred years.


1794 Establishment of the Cherokee National Council and officers over the whole nation
1808 Establishment of the Cherokee Lighthorse Guard, a national police force
1809 Establishment of the National Committee
1810 End of separate regional councils and abolition of blood vengeance
1820 Establishment of courts in eight districts to handle civil disputes
1822 Cherokee Supreme Court established
1823 National Committee given power to review acts of the National Council
1827 Constitution of the Cherokee Nation East
1828 Constitution of the Cherokee Nation West
1832 Suspension of elections in the Cherokee Nation East
1839 Constitution of the reunited Cherokee Nation
1868 Constitution of the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians
1888 Charter of Incorporation issued by the State of North Carolina to the Eastern Band
1950 Constitution and federal charter of the United Keetoowah Band of Cherokee Indians
1975 Constitution of the Cherokee Nation of Oklahoma
1999 Constitution of the Cherokee Nation drafted

After being ravaged by smallpox, and pressed by increasingly violent land-hungry settlers, the Cherokee adopted a European-American Representative democracy form of government in an effort to retain their lands. They established a governmental system modeled on that of the United States, with an elected principal chief, senate, and house of representatives. On April 10, 1810 the seven Cherokee clans met and began the abolition of blood vengeance by giving the sacred duty to the new Cherokee National government. Clans formally relinquished judicial responsibilities by the 1820s when the Cherokee Supreme Court was established. In 1825, the National Council extended citizenship to the children of Cherokee men married to white women. These ideas were largely incorporated into the 1827 Cherokee constitution. The constitution stated that "No person who is of negro or mulatlo [sic] parentage, either by the father or mother side, shall be eligible to hold any office of profit, honor or trust under this Government," with an exception for, "negroes and descendants of white and Indian men by negro women who may have been set free." This definition to limit rights of multiracial descendants, may have been more widely held among the elite than the general population.

Modern Cherokee tribes

Cherokee Nation

During 1898-1906 the federal government dissolved the former Cherokee Nation, to make way for the incorporation of Indian Territory into the new state of Oklahomamarker. From 1906 to 1975, structure and function of the tribal government were not clearly defined, but in 1975-76 the tribe wrote a constitution as "The Cherokee Nation of Oklahoma", and received federal recognition. In 1999, the CNO changed or added several provisions to its constitution, among them the designation of the tribe to be "Cherokee Nation", dropping "of Oklahoma". According to a statement by BIA head Larry Echohawk the Cherokee Nation is not the historical Cherokee tribe but instead a "successor in interest." The attorney of the Cherokee Nation has stated that they intend to appeal this decision.

The modern Cherokee Nation, in recent times, has experienced an almost unprecedented expansion in economic growth, equality, and prosperity for its citizens. The Cherokee Nation, under the leadership of Principal Chief Chad Smith, has significant business, corporate, real estate, and agricultural interests, including numerous highly profitable casino operations. The CN controls Cherokee Nation Entertainment, Cherokee Nation Industries, and Cherokee Nation Businesses. CNI is a very large defense contractor that creates thousands of jobs in eastern Oklahoma for Cherokee citizens.

The CN has constructed health clinics throughout Oklahoma, contributed to community development programs, built roads and bridges, constructed learning facilities and universities for its citizens, instilled the practice of Gadugi and self-reliance in its citizens, revitalized language immersion programs for its children and youth, and is a powerful and positive economic and political force in Eastern Oklahoma.

The CN hosts the Cherokee National Holiday on Labor Day weekend each year, and 80,000 to 90,000 Cherokee Citizens travel to Tahlequah, Oklahomamarker, for the festivities. It also publishes the Cherokee Phoenix, a tribal newspaper, which has operated continuously since 1828, publishing editions in both English and the Sequoyah Syllabary. The Cherokee Nation council appropriates money for historic foundations concerned with the preservation of Cherokee Culture.

The Cherokee Nation also supports the Cherokee Nation Film Festivals in Tahlequah, Oklahoma and participates in the Sundance Film Festival in Park City, Utahmarker.

Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians

The Eastern Band of the Cherokee Indians in North Carolina, led by Chief Michell Hicks,hosts over a million visitors a year to cultural attractions of the sovereign nation. The reservation, the "Qualla Boundary", has a population of over 8000 Cherokee, primarily direct descendants of Indians who managed to avoid “The Trail of Tears”.

Attractions include the Oconaluftee Indian Village, Museum of the Cherokee Indian, and the country’s oldest and foremost Native American crafts cooperative. The outdoor drama Unto These Hills, which debuted in 1950, recently broke record attendance sales. Together with Harrah’s Cherokee Casino and Hotel, Cherokee Indian Hospital and Cherokee Boys Club, the tribe generated $78 million dollars in the local economy in 2005.

United Keetoowah Band of Cherokee Indians

The United Keetoowah Band of Cherokee Indians formed their government under the Indian Reorganization Act of 1934 and gained federal recognition in 1946. Enrollment into the tribe is limited to people with a quarter or more of Cherokee blood. Many members of the UKB are descended from Old Settlers — Cherokees who moved to Arkansas and Indian Territory before the Trail of Tears.Of the 12,000 people enrolled in the tribe, 11,000 live in Oklahoma. Their chief is George G. Wickliffe. The UKB operate a tribal casino, bingo hall, smokeshop, fuel outlets, truck stop, and gallery that showcases art and crafts made by tribal members. The tribe also issues their own tribal vehicle tags.

Relations between the three federally recognized Cherokee tribes

The Cherokee Nation participates in numerous joint programs with the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians. It also participates in cultural exchange programs and joint Tribal Council meetings involving councilors from both Cherokee Tribes. These are held to address issues affecting all of the Cherokee People.

The administrations of the United Keetoowah Band of Cherokee Indians and the Cherokee Nation have a somewhat adversarial relationship. The Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians interacts with the Cherokee Nation in a unified spirit of Gadugi.

The United Keetoowah Band tribal council unanimously passed a resolution to approach the Cherokee Nation for a joint council meeting between the two Nations, as a means of "offering the olive branch", in the words of the UKB Council. While a date was set for the meeting between members of the Cherokee Nation Council and UKB representative, Chief Smith vetoed the meeting.

Membership Controversies

Tribal recognition and membership

Cherokee people from the turn of the 20th century.

In 2000 the U.S. census report 729,533 people self identified as Cherokee Indian, more than twice the population of the second most populous American Indian group, the Navajo people, who numbered 298,197. This figure is also more than twice the population of current estimates of all three federally recognized tribes combined.

The three federally recognized Cherokees tribes have differing requirements for enrollment. The Cherokee Nation determines enrollment by lineal descent from Cherokees listed on the Dawes Rolls and has no minimum blood quantum requirement. Currently, descendents of the Dawes Cherokee Freedman rolls are members of the tribe, pending court decisions. CN has numerous members who also have African-American, Latino, Asian, white and other ancestry. The Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians requires a minimum one-sixteenth Cherokee blood quantum (genealogical descent, equivalent to one great-great-grandparent) and an ancestor on the Baker Roll. The United Keetoowah Band of Cherokee Indians requires a minimum one-quarter Keetoowah Cherokee blood quantum (equivalent to one grandparent), and the UKB does not allow members that have relinquished their membership to re-enroll in the UKB.

Over 200 groups claim to be Cherokee nations, tribes, or bands. Cherokee Nation spokesman Mike Miller has suggested that some groups, which he calls Cherokee Heritage Groups, are encouraged. Others, however, are controversial for their attempts to gain economically through their claims to be Cherokee. The three federally recognized groups assert themselves as the only groups having the legal right to present themselves as Cherokee Indian Tribes.

One exception to this may be the Texas Cherokees and Associate Bands (TCAB). Prior to 1975, they were considered a part of the Cherokee Nation, as reflected in briefs filed before the Indian Claims Commission. At one time W.W. Keeler served not only as Principal Chief of the Cherokee Nation, but at the same time held the position as Chairman of the TCAB Executive Committee.

Following the adoption of the Cherokee constitution in 1975, TCAB descendants whose ancestors had remained a part of the physical Mount Tabor Community in Rusk County, Texasmarker were excluded from citizenship. Their ancestors did not appear on the Final Rolls of the Five Civilized Tribes, registered under the Dawes Commission. However, most if not all TCAB descendants did have an ancestor listed on the Guion Miller or Old Settler rolls.

While most Mount Tabor residents returned to the Cherokee Nation following the death of John Ross in 1866, today there is a sizable group that is well documented but outside that body. It is not actively seeking a status clarification. They do have treaty rights going back to the Treaty of Bird’s Fort. From the end of the Civil War until 1975, they were associated with the Cherokee Nation. The TCAB formed as a political organization in 1871 led by William Penn Adair and Clement Neely Vann. Descendants of the Texas Cherokees and the Mount Tabor Community joined together to try to gain redress from treaty violations, stemming from the Treaty of Bowles Village in 1836. Today, most Mount Tabor descendants are in fact members of the Cherokee Nation. Only some 800 are stuck in limbo without status as Cherokees. Many of them still reside in Rusk and Smith counties of east Texas.

New resolution

The Councils of the Cherokee Nation and the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians at the Joint Council Meeting held in Catoosa, Oklahomamarker on April 9, 2008 passed a resolution "Opposing Fabricated Cherokee 'Tribes' and 'Indians'. It denounced state or federal recognition of any new "Cherokee" tribes or bands. The bands committed themselves assisting state and federal authorities in exposing and ending any group, which attempted or claimed to operate as a government of the Cherokee people.

In addition, they passed a resolution requesting that no federal or state government spend public funds on behalf of non-federally recognized 'Cherokee' tribes or bands. The Nation called for a full accounting of all federal monies given to state-recognized, unrecognized or 501 charitable organizations that claimed any Cherokee affiliation. It called for federal and state governments to stringently apply a federal definition of "Indian" that included only citizens of federally recognized Indian tribes, to prevent non-Indians from selling membership in "Cherokee" tribes for the purpose of exploiting the Indian Arts and Crafts Act of 1990.

In a controversial segment that could affect Cherokee Baptist churches and charitable organizations, the resolution stated that no 501(c)(3) organization, state-recognized or unrecognized groups shall be acknowledged as Cherokee.

Celebrities who claim to be Cherokee, such as those listed in the associated article of self-identified Cherokee, are also addressed by resolution.

Any individual who is not a member of a federally recognized Cherokee tribe, in academia or otherwise, is hereby discouraged from claiming to speak as a Cherokee, or on behalf of Cherokee citizens, or using claims of Cherokee heritage to advance his or her career or credentials. – Joint Council of the Cherokee Nation and the Eastern Band of the Cherokee Indians.

This declaration was not signed or approved by the federally recognized United Keetoowah Band. The Cherokee Nation acknowledges there are people of Cherokee descent " states such as Arkansas, Kansas, Missouri, and Texas," who are Cherokee by blood but are not members of the Cherokee Nation.

Cherokee Freedmen

The Cherokee freedmen, descendants of African American slaves owned by citizens of the Cherokee Nation during the Antebellum Period, were first guaranteed Cherokee citizenship under a treaty with the United States in 1866. This was in the wake of the American Civil War, when the US emancipated slaves and passed US constitutional amendments granting freedmen citizenship in the United States.

In 1988, the federal court in the Freedmen case of Nero v. Cherokee Nation held that Cherokees could decide citizenship requirements and exclude freedmen. On March 7, 2006, the Cherokee Nation Judicial Appeal Tribunal ruled that the Cherokee Freedmen were eligible for Cherokee citizenship. This ruling proved controversial; while the Cherokee Freedman had historically been recorded as "citizens" of the Cherokee Nation at least since 1866 and the later Dawes Commission Land Rolls, the ruling "did not limit membership to people possessing Cherokee blood". This ruling was consistent with the 1975 Constitution of the Cherokee Nation of Oklahoma, in its acceptance of the Cherokee Freedmen on the basis of historical citizenship, rather than documented blood relation.

On March 3, 2007 a Constitutional Amendment was passed by a Cherokee vote limiting citizenship to Cherokees on the Dawes Rolls for those listed as Cherokee by blood, Shawnee and Delaware. The Cherokee Freedmen had 90 days to appeal this amendment vote which disenfranchised them from Cherokee citizenship and file appeal within the Cherokee Nation Tribal Council, which is currently pending in Nash, et al. v. Cherokee Nation Registrar. On May 14, 2007, the Cherokee Freedmen were reinstated as citizens of the Cherokee Nation by the Cherokee Nation Tribal Courts through a temporary order and temporary injunction until the court reached its final decision.

Notable Cherokees in history

(This includes only documented Cherokees in history. Contemporary notable Cherokee people are listed on their tribe's articles.) (For self-identified people of Cherokee heritage, see List of Self-identified people of Cherokee ancestry)
  • Attakullakulla (ca. 1708-ca. 1777), diplomat to Britain, headman of Chota, chief
  • Bob Benge (ca. 1762-1794), warrior of the Lower Cherokee during the Chickamauga wars
  • Elias Boudinot, Galagina (1802-1839), statesman, orator, and editor, founded first Cherokee newspaper, Cherokee Phoenix
  • Ned Christie (1852-1892), statesman, Cherokee Nation senator, infamous outlaw
  • Rear Admiral Joseph J. Clark (1893-1971), United States Navy, highest ranking Native American in the US military.
  • Doublehead, Taltsuska (d. 1807), war leader during the Chickamauga wars, led the Lower Cherokee, signed land deals with US
  • Dragging Canoe, Tsiyugunsini (1738-1792), general the 2nd Cherokee War, principal chief of the Chickamauga or Lower Cherokee
  • Franklin Gritts, Cherokee artist taught at Haskell Institutemarker and served on the USS Franklin
  • Charles R. Hicks (d. 1927), Second Principal Chief to Pathkiller in early 17th century, de facto Principal Chief from 1813-1827
  • Junaluska (ca. 1775-1868), veteran of the Creek War, who saved President Andrew Jackson's life
  • Oconostota, Aganstata (ca. 1710-1783), war chief during the Anglo-Cherokee War, Beloved Man
  • Ostenaco, Ustanakwa (ca. 1703-1780), war chief, diplomat to Britain, founded the town of Ultiwa
  • Major Ridge Ganundalegi or "Pathkiller" (ca.1771-1839), veteran of the Chickamauga wars, signer of the Treaty of New Echota
  • John Ridge, Skatlelohski (1792-1839), son of Major Ridge, statesman, New Echota Treaty signer
  • Clement V. Rogers (1839–1911), Cherokee senator, judge, cattleman, member of the Oklahoma Constitutional Convention
  • Will Rogers, Cherokee entertainer, roper, journalist, and author
  • John Ross, Guwisguwi (1790-1866), Principal Chief in the east, during Removal, and in the west
  • Sequoyah (ca. 1767-1843), inventor of the Cherokee syllabary
  • Nimrod Jarrett Smith, Tsaladihi (1837-1893), Principal Chief of the Eastern Band, Civil War veteran
  • William Holland Thomas, Wil' Usdi (1805-1893), non-Native but adopted into tribe, founding Principal Chief of the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians
  • James Vann (ca. 1765-1809), Scottish-Cherokee, highly successful businessman and veteran
  • Stand Watie, Degataga (1806-1871), signer of the Treaty of New Echota, last Confederate general to surrender in the American Civil War

See also



  • Evans, E. Raymond. "Notable Persons in Cherokee History: Dragging Canoe". Journal of Cherokee Studies, Vol. 2, No. 2, pp. 176–189. (Cherokee: Museum of the Cherokee Indian, 1977).
  • Finger, John R. Cherokee Americans: The Eastern Band of Cherokees in the 20th Century. Knoxville: University of Tennessee Press, 1991. ISBN 0-8032-6879-3.
  • Glenn, Eddie. "A league of nations?" Tahlequah Daily Press. January 6, 2006 (Accessed May 24, 2007)
  • Irwin, L, "Cherokee Healing: Myth, Dreams, and Medicine." American Indian Quarterly. Vol. 16, 2, 1992, p. 237.
  • McLoughlin, William G. Cherokee Renascence in the New Republic. (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1992).
  • Mooney, James. "Myths of the Cherokees." Bureau of American Ethnology, Nineteenth Annual Report, 1900, Part I. pp. 1–576. Washington: Smithsonian Institution.
  • Perdue, Theda. "Clan and Court: Another Look at the Early Cherokee Republic." American Indian Quarterly. Vol. 24, 4, 2000, p. 562.
  • Perdue, Theda. Cherokee women: gender and culture change, 1700-1835. Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1999. ISBN 978-0803287600.
  • Pierpoint, Mary. "Unrecognized Cherokee claims cause problems for nation." Indian Country Today. August 16, 2000 (Accessed May 16, 2007).
  • Wishart, David M. "Evidence of Surplus Production in the Cherokee Nation Prior to Removal." Journal of Economic History. Vol. 55, 1, 1995, p. 120.
  • Youngblood, Wayne L. Cherokee: People of the Written Word. Edison, NJ: Chartwell Books, 2008. ISBN 978-0-7858-2398-8.

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