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by Robert J. Conley


The Cherokee Nation today occupies all or part of 14 counties of what is now the northeastern portion of the state of Oklahoma. Not considered a reservation, the land falls under what has been called "a checkerboard jurisdiction," with one farm or acreage falling under tribal jurisdiction while its neighbor is under that of the state. A second and separate federally recognized tribal government for Cherokees, the United Keetoowah Band of Cherokees in Oklahoma, exists in the same area. There is also a Cherokee reservation in North Carolina for the Eastern Band of Cherokees. In addition to the three federally recognized Cherokee governments, there are numerous groups throughout the United States who claim to be Cherokee bands or tribes. Although the Cherokee people today are divided geographically, culturally, and politically, about 165,000 are registered citizens of the Cherokee Nation. There are also thousands of individuals claiming Cherokee ancestry who are not associated with any group. The 1990 U.S. Census reported 369,000 people who identified themselves as Cherokee, up from 232,000 in 1980.


The word Cherokee is believed to have evolved from a Choctaw word meaning "Cave People." It was picked up and used by Europeans and eventually accepted and adopted by Cherokees in the form of Tsalagi or Jalagi. Traditionally, the people now known as Cherokee refer to themselves as aniyun-wiya, a name usually translated as "the Real People," sometimes "the Original People." Earliest historical data locates the Cherokees in a vast area of what is now the southeastern United States, with about 200 towns scattered throughout the present states of Alabama, Georgia, Kentucky, North Carolina, South Carolina, Virginia, and West Virginia. Cherokee oral tradition tells of a time when the Cherokees were ruled over by a powerful priesthood called the ani-Kutani. When the priests took away a young man's wife, he organized a revolt and all the priests were killed. Since then, according to the tale, the Cherokees have had a democratic government.

The Cherokees' first experience with the invading white man was almost certainly a brief encounter with the deadly expeditionary force of Spanish explorer Hernando DeSoto in 1540. English colonial traders began to appear among the Cherokees around 1673. Such interactions produced some mixed marriages, usually between a white trader and a Cherokee woman.

Three events mark Cherokee history during the eighteenth and nineteenth centures: war with the colonists (beginning in 1711); epidemics of European disease (primarily smallpox); and the continual cession of land (beginning in 1775). The Cherokees were forced to sign one treaty after another with the new United States government, each one giving away more land to the new nation. As early as 1803, President Thomas Jefferson planned to move all eastern Indians to a location west of the Mississippi River, and signed an agreement with the state of Georgia promising to accomplish that deed as soon as possible. Andrew Jackson actually set the so-called "Removal Process" in motion. In the meantime the government had been doing everything in its power to convince Cherokees to move west voluntarily, and the first to do so were the faction known as Chickamaugans. Other migrations followed in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries.

The vast majority of the Cherokees, however, remained in their ancestral homelands. In 1835 the United States Congress passed the Removal Act. The Cherokee Nation, by this time under the administration of Principal Chief John Ross, refused to recognize the validity or the legality of the Removal Act, and challenged it in court. The U.S. Supreme Court ruled in favor of the Cherokee Nation. President Jackson is reported to have said, "Justice Marshall has made his decision. Now let him enforce it." Jackson then sent negotiators into the Cherokee Nation to secure a treaty whereby they would give up all of their land in the east for land out west. Since the government of the Cherokee Nation refused to negotiate, other Cherokees signed the treaty without authorization. The United States called the treaty a legal document and proceeded to force the Cherokees to live up to its terms.

Jackson ordered the U.S. Army to forcibly remove the Cherokees from their homelands in 1838. People were taken out of their homes and herded like cattle into stockades to await removal. Conditions were crowded and unsanitary, and many died in these prisons. The forced march began later that same year. Approximately 20,000 Cherokees were marched west over what would soon be known as the "Trail of Tears." Along the way, approximately 4,000 people died. A few managed to escape by hiding out in the mountains. In the west, the Cherokee divided into two major factions. The Cherokees who had signed the removal treaty and all of their friends, allies, and associates had become known as the Treaty Party. They had moved west voluntarily in 1835 after having signed the treaty. The followers of Chief John Ross, who had suffered the forced removal, were known as the Ross Party. These two factions started a civil war that lasted until 1843. At the end of this domestic strife the Cherokees started over and rebuilt their nation. Tahlequah was established as the capital city. They built new homes, schools, and churches, and even though they had a treaty with the United States, which promised that they would be left alone, that was not to be.

The Cherokee Nation was dragged into the white man's Civil War. Chief John Ross begged the United States to send troops to protect its neutrality as promised in the treaty, but the troops never came. Under pressure from former Treaty Party members turned Confederate Cherokees, Ross was forced to sign a treaty with the Confederacy. Following the Civil War, the United States used that treaty as an excuse to punish the Cherokee Nation, forcing it to sign yet another treaty and to give up more land. Certain governmental powers were also taken away from the Cherokee Nation. The Cherokee Nation, along with the Choctaw Nation, the Chickasaw Nation, the Creek Nation, and the Seminole Nation were organized into "Indian Territory."

Over the next half century, the powers of the so-called Five Civilized Tribes that made up the Indian Territory were further eroded by the United States. In 1907, against the wishes of nearly all of the traditional full-blood people of all five tribes, Indian Territory was combined with Oklahoma Territory to its west to form the new state of Oklahoma.

From the beginning, the United States had no intention of dealing with Indians in the new state. The tribal governments were all but abolished and likely would have been but for the complications of transferring land titles. The president of the United States began appointing chiefs for the five tribes when the government had need of a signature to make the transfers legal. Several appointments were made only long enough to obtain the desired signature and these appointees became known as "Chiefs for a day."


In 1973, President Richard Nixon indicated that the Cherokees had the right to vote, revitalizing the Cherokee Nation. However, this created the uncomfortable situation of having two Cherokee (the other, the United Keetoowan Band of Cherokee Indians in Oklahoma, was founded in the 1950s) governments in the same location, with the same jurisdiction, and basically the same constituency. A conflict over political issues developed, with both sides claiming to be the only legal government for Cherokees in Oklahoma. Since then, the Cherokee Nation has grown and prospered, making its most impressive strides under the leadership of Principal Chief Wilma P. Mankiller (1945- ). Mankiller served as principal chief from 1987 to 1995. Joe Byrd succeeded Mankiller, but allegations of corruption and abuse of power plagued his four year term. In 1999, Cherokee voters elected Chad Smith principal chief in 1999.

The Cherokee Nation today operates under a new constitution ratified by Cherokee voters in 1976. The three-branch government is composed of a chief executive called the principal chief, a legislature called the Tribal Council, and a judicial branch called a tribunal made up of three tribal justices. From its humble condition in the 1970s, the Cherokee Nation has grown to massive proportions, employing 1,300 people, 85 percent of whom are Cherokees with a $1.6 million monthly payroll.

Acculturation and Assimilation

The process of acculturation began early for the Cherokees with the introduction of European trade goods in 1673. Steel pots and knives, tomahawks, glass beads, manufactured cloth, guns, and gunpowder gradually replaced traditional products of native manufacture. Trade with Europeans also changed hunting practices, calling for large numbers of pelts and quickly endangering the population of many game animals. Clothing styles changed.

Intermarriage with whites and blacks caused a drastic change in family structure for many Cherokees. The Cherokees have a matrilineal clan structure, a family in which descent is traced through the female line. This type of family structure was undermined by the insistence of white males to be considered heads of households, and to pass along their own surnames to their offspring. They were supported in this by the efforts of the missionaries.

When pressure for removal became intense in the 1820s and 1830s, a significant portion of the Cherokees, believing that their white neighbors wanted them removed because they were "savage," began a conscious effort to make themselves over and become "civilized." Part of this "civilizing" effort was an effort to eliminate illiteracy. To help accomplish this, the Cherokee Sequoyah developed a written language or syllabary, in 1821. The Cherokee also hired teachers from universities in the northeast and invited missionaries to come into the Cherokee country and teach and preach. These people became known as "Progressives," and their efforts, combined with the acculturation and assimilation process that had begun in 1673, accelerated and was tremendously successful in changing lifestyles.

The changes that occurred because of this effort were so pervasive that, following the Trail of Tears, with removal pressures no longer a factor, the Cherokees continued their new ways. In the West, they built homes more or less like the homes of white men. They built churches, divided the new country into voting districts, and wrote a new constitution.

Many Cherokees became farmers, ranchers, merchants, bankers, and lawyers. In many ways, the Cherokee Nation mirrored the larger United States. Some have said that the Cherokee Nation imitated the United States and then improved on it. The largest single item on the national budget was education. Cherokee legislators could not vote themselves a raise. The Cherokee Nation established the first free, compulsory public school system, established the first institution of higher learning west of the Mississippi River, and installed the first telephone west of the Mississippi. So successful was the Cherokee Nation and impressive were its accomplishments along these lines, that people have been heard to say that "the Cherokees all became white," or "everybody in Oklahoma is part Indian, usually Cherokee." Yet, age-old Cherokee beliefs and customs survived in traditional full-blood communities in remote locations in the Midwest and Southeast almost completely unknown to the outside world.


Some Cherokees today are almost indistinguishable from white people, and their customs, habits, and beliefs reflect those of mainstream America. But traditional Cherokees gather at various "stomp grounds," which are consecrated, ceremonial grounds. Each ground has its own set of religious leaders. The ceremony performed there is a series of dances, done in a counter-clockwise direction around the sacred fire all night long. Attendance at the stomp grounds declined for many years, but since the 1970s it seems to have been increasing. Although stomp dancers were very secretive for years, there are now some groups who perform publicly to educate the general population, Cherokee and others, regarding traditional Cherokee ways and beliefs.


Because of the long history of intermarriage, and because of the nature of the division of land in eastern Oklahoma, Cherokees have long been used to interacting with non-Cherokees. In fact, Cherokees always seem to have been willing to accept outsiders into their ranks, some might say, too willingly. Tahlequah, for example, appears to have a large white population, but much of that population consists of old mixed-blood families, and many of them are officially tribal members. There are also Indians from other tribes who have moved into Tahlequah: Creeks, Kiowas, Osages, and even Navajos. Some of that is the result of intermarriage, some is not. There is a significant Hispanic population in Tahlequah today, and a small black population. Both of these groups have had trouble fitting in. They have not been readily accepted by the Cherokees, full- or mixed-blood, nor by the local whites, although there is seldom any overt racism displayed.

Cherokee interaction with blacks dates back to the late 1700s and early 1800s. In an attempt to adapt to white lifestyles, many Cherokees became affluent southern plantation slave owners, although others were intensely anti-slavery. According to historical author Jim Stebinger, Cherokees held an estimated 1,600 black slaves. In contrast to white plantation owners, Cherokee plantation owners worked alongside their slaves and interracial marriage was permitted. However, full-blooded Cherokees, blacks and whites, often shunned those who intermarried.


Before Oklahoma statehood took over or closed down almost all of its institutions, the Cherokee Nation had its own school system. The Cherokee Nation had produced more college graduates than its neighboring states of Arkansas and Texas combined. Oklahoma statehood and the state's public school system changed all that. According to the 1970 census, the average adult Cherokee had only five and one-half years of school. Fewer than 70 years of Oklahoma public schools had been devastating for Cherokees. Up until very recent times, Cherokee students, upon being enrolled in the first grade, were automatically placed in slow-learner classrooms. Cherokee high school students were not encouraged to apply for college and were not taken on trips with the white students to visit college campuses. Some Cherokee students attended government boarding schools for Indians, but the majority were in public schools.

Since the revitalization of the Cherokee Nation, there has been gradual, steady improvement in the area of education. Programs have been instituted in the public schools for Cherokee students because of pressures from the Cherokee Nation and because of the availability of federal funds for such programs. The Cherokee Nation has taken over Sequoyah High School, a former federally run boarding school, and is operating it for Indian students in Tahlequah. The Cherokee Nation also has established a complete pre-school program for Cherokee children from age three until they are ready to enter the first grade. There is also a Cherokee Nation higher education program to assist Cherokees in attending college. Many of the public schools that formerly discouraged Cherokee students now have Cherokee teachers, counselors, administrators, and other personnel on their staffs. Most Cherokees still attend public schools (several of which have up to 90 percent Cherokee enrollment), but over the last 20 years or so, the situation there for Cherokees has greatly improved.


Cherokees were traditionally an agrarian people, maintaining a town garden and individual garden plots. The women did most of the tending of crops, but then the women owned the gardens and the homes. They planted a wide variety of beans, pumpkins, squash, and corn. In addition to the growing of crops, women gathered many wild plants for food, including wild onions and greens, mushrooms, berries, grapes, and nuts.

Deer was the main animal hunted for meat, but bear, buffalo, elk, squirrel, rabbit, opossum, and other animals were also killed for food. Early on, the Cherokees began raising cattle, hogs, chickens, and other domesticated animals acquired from Europeans. The contemporary Cherokee diet is not that much different from that of the general population of the United States, although at special gatherings one will find wild onions and eggs, bean bread, fry bread, grape dumplings, and possibly fried crawdads (crayfish). A special treat is kanuche, made by pounding whole hickory nuts, boiling them in water and straining the hulls out, resulting in a rich broth. Kanuche may be mixed with hominy, corn, or rice.


Cherokee men once wore only a breechcloth and moccasins in warm weather. In colder weather they added leggings and a fringed hunting jacket. Chiefs and priests wore long, full cloaks made of feathers and feather caps (not the traditional and popular plains Indian headdress). The men shaved their heads, leaving a topknot (sometimes called a scalplock), which they allowed to grow long, and often their bodies and faces were tattooed. In warm weather women wore only a short skirt and added a poncho-like top during the winter. Styles changed in the early nineteenth century as a result of trade with Europeans. Women began to make and wear long dresses and blouses of manufactured trade cloth, and men began wearing shirts and jackets of cloth. They also added colorful turbans. By the 1880s, most of that distinctive clothing had been abandoned and Cherokees dressed mostly like frontier whites.

Today, for special occasions, some Cherokee men will don ribbon shirts, a contemporary pan-Indian item. A few may even dress up in hunting jackets and turbans. Women may wear traditional "tear dresses," so named because the pattern calls for tearing the fabric along straight lines rather than cutting with scissors.


The stomp dance, which has already been discussed, is a religious activity. No Cherokee social dances have survived, but some Cherokees have joined in the pan-Indian practice of powwow dancing. When Cherokee singing is announced, it is almost always gospel singing in the Cherokee language. It is possible today, though, to hear stomp dance songs sung without actually attending a stomp dance. At least one old Cherokee lullaby has survived. Barbara McAlester, a Cherokee opera singer, sometimes performs it as part of her concerts.


Traditionally, certain ceremonies were performed at specific times of the year, and they included songs and dances. The largest of these was the Green Corn Dance, celebrating the beginning of spring. Today, the Cherokee Nation observes one annual holiday on September 6, which marks the anniversary of the adoption of the new constitution following the Trail of Tears. It reunited those Cherokees who had moved west on their own before the Trail of Tears with the main body of the Cherokees under the administration of Chief John Ross. For convenience, this holiday is celebrated over the Labor Day weekend in Tahlequah, Oklahoma, and is attended each year by thousands of people from all over the world. Activities include a parade through downtown Tahlequah, a state of the nation address by the principal chief, traditional games, concerts, and arts and crafts shows.


A traditional Cherokee says that there was a time long ago when there was no disease in the world. Then human beings developed weapons. When the Cherokee got these new weapons, bows and arrows especially, they were able to kill many more animals than before. One day the animals called a council to discuss this problem. They all agreed that the people had to kill animals in order to obtain food for their survival but they also agreed that the Cherokees were killing too many animals too casually. They decided that a hunter should have to take his killing more seriously. He should pray, fast, and go through a prescribed ritual. He should kill only what he needed and then apologize to the spirit of the slain animal. If a hunter failed to show the proper respect and neglected to do any of these prescribed things, the animal spirits would strike him with some dreadful disease. Some of the diseases the animals came up with were so horrible that the plants, having overheard the council, each decided to provide a cure for one of the specific diseases that the animals had proposed.

Traditional Cherokee healers, like those of other American Indian tribes, have always been expert at the medicinal use of plants. But a traditional Cherokee cure almost always involves more than just the use of the plant medicine. It involves the ritualistic use of words and sometimes specific actions. Many traditional Cherokees still go to these Indian doctors to cure their ills.

With the arrival of Europeans came European diseases that the Cherokee doctors did not know how to cure. A belief developed that it takes a white doctor to cure a white man's disease. Missionaries, school systems, government programs, and intermarriage also undermined Indian beliefs. Many Cherokees began to depend for health care, either exclusively or in part, on white doctors.

For many years, the health of American Indians was in the hands of the United States government through its Indian Health Service (IHS). In recent years, however, tribes have begun contracting with the IHS to administer these services themselves. There are still two IHS hospitals in the Cherokee Nation, one in Claremore, Oklahoma, and one in Tahlequah. In addition, the Cherokee Nation has its own health division, which operates five rural health clinics and a number of other health programs.

Cherokees, like other American Indians, generally face the same health problems as anyone else. Cherokees have a high occurrence of diabetes, perhaps as a result of dietary habits fostered by outside influences such as government boarding schools and the government's food distribution program for Indians. Other major health problems for the Cherokee are high rates of alcoholism, suicide, obesity, and childhood injuries. Many Cherokee leaders believe alcoholism is the primary problem facing the tribe, and that it directly impacts other issues, including health, unemployment, poverty, and crime.


The Cherokee language belongs to the Iroquoian family of languages and is therefore related to Mohawk, Seneca, Onondaga, Oneida, Cayuga, and Tuscarora, among others. It is a complex and difficult language; in his Cherokee-English Dictionary, for example, Durbin Feeling lists 126 forms of a single verb. Cherokee has been a written language at least since 1821, when Sequoyah (c. 1770-1843), a Cherokee, produced a syllabary for that purpose. (A syllabary is a writing system in which each symbol stands for an entire syllable. In the Cherokee syllabary, for instance, the symbol "A" stands for the sound "go.") Although Sequoyah is credited with inventing the syllabary, some Cherokees have taken exception with that claim, maintaining that the syllabary is an ancient Cherokee writing system which was kept secret until Sequoyah decided to make it public. Soon afterward, almost the entire Cherokee population became literate, and in 1828, the Nation began publishing a bilingual newspaper, the Cherokee Phoenix.

Today, the Cherokee language is still in wide use. It is used in the Indian churches and at the stomp grounds, and many children still grow up with Cherokee as their first language, learning English when they go to school. Bilingual education programs in the public schools also encourage continued use of the language.


Osiyo or 'siyo is usually translated as "hello" and it may be followed by Tohiju? -How are you? (Are you well?). One response is tohigwu -I am well. Wado is "thank you." Howa means all right, or okay. "Man" is asgaya ; "boy" is achuja. "Woman" is agehyuh and "girl," agehyuja. "Cherokee Nation" is translated as Chalagihi Ayehli (or Jalagihi Ayehli ), using the "Cherokeeized" version of the word Cherokee (with the place ending "hi") and the versatile word ayehli, which can mean "center," "soul," or "nation."


The ancient Cherokee belief system described a world that was flat and floating on water. This is the world that we live on. Above it is a Sky Vault made of stone, which might be pictured as a bowl turned upside down over a saucer. The original life forms, all spirit beings, and the souls of the departed live on top of the Sky Vault. Life up there is like that down here.

There is a world underneath the one we inhabit. It is the opposite of this one. When it is winter on earth, it is summer down there. When it is night here, it is daytime there. There are also many powerful and potentially destructive spirit forces below.

It would be a mistake to see these two Cherokee spirit worlds as heaven and hell. They are not defined as good and evil, although the one below is seen as tremendously chaotic. They are thought of simply as being opposed to one another. We live our lives between them in a constant state of precarious balance. Because of this dangerous situation, the most important aspect of life in this traditional Cherokee view is to maintain balance and harmony. Almost all old habits, rituals, and ceremonies are designed and practiced to that end. The world is seen as existing in pairs of opposites: light and dark; day and night; summer and winter; male and female; earth and sky; fire and water. All things must be kept in their proper place and in balance with their opposites. A mixture of opposites results in pollution and to avoid disaster, they must be followed by some sort of cleansing ceremony.

If the Cherokees are Christian, they might be Methodist, Presbyterian, Unitarian, or any other Christian denomination. Among the more traditional Cherokees is a large group of Cherokee Baptists. Cherokee Baptists attend what are called "Indian churches," in which they make use of a Cherokee-language New Testament and a Cherokee-language hymnal. Services are conducted in the Cherokee language. In fact, the Cherokee Baptist church has been credited with saving the Cherokee language from extinction, and although the truth of that claim is subject to debate, certainly the church has played a significant role in that area. Very often, when Cherokees talk about traditional people, they are talking about Cherokee Baptists.

Employment and Economic Traditions

This discussion will focus on the more traditional Cherokees, those who live in Cherokee communities and are visibly Indian. Employment opportunities are limited for these people because they tend to stay at home. They would rather be around their families and friends and remain a part of their community than seek better opportunities elsewhere. For these Cherokees, unemployment figures are high. Major employers in the area are large nurseries in Cherokee County, Oklahoma, and large chicken processing plants in Arkansas. The Cherokee Nation also has become a major employer in the area. But there still are not enough jobs to go around. Low-income people living in rural areas often lack dependable transportation, so even if they can secure jobs, they may not be able to hold on to them. U.S. Census figures show Cherokees had a median family income of $24,907 in 1989, high compared to other Native American tribes, but $10,000 less than the national average. Also, 22 percent of Cherokees live at or below the poverty level.

The Cherokee Nation offers job training programs, but once an individual is trained for a job, if there is no such opening in the area and he/she does not want to move, he/she is no better off than before. Some people have gone through several job training programs, becoming qualified carpenters, plumbers, and electricians, and yet remain unemployed. Many people mow lawns, cut firewood, and accept various odd jobs in order to support their families. They still hunt, and they still gather wild food plants.

Politics and Government

The governmental structure of the Cherokee Nation already has been described. This section will focus on political issues. Because membership in the Cherokee Nation has no blood percentage requirement but is based strictly on lineal descent from any person listed as Cherokee on the so-called Dawes Roll (the roll prepared by the United States government's Dawes Commission for purposes of land allotment in preparation for Oklahoma statehood) many Cherokees complain that too many white people (usually Cherokees with less than one-fourth Cherokee blood) take advantage of Cherokee programs.

The Indian Self-determination Act, known as PL 93-638, allows Indian tribes to contract with the federal government either through the Bureau of Indian Affairs or Indian Health Service to operate programs for themselves, which have been previously operated by either of these two government bureaus.

The Cherokee Nation has been taking advantage of this law since the 1970s and has contracted nearly all of the available government programs. There has been discussion for several years about the possibility of the Cherokee Nation's contracting to run the Indian hospitals within its jurisdiction. Some Cherokees, including some hospital employees, are strongly opposed to such a move, saying that the Cherokee Nation is not prepared to run the hospitals.

State governments seem to be almost constantly making attempts to encroach into the area of tribal jurisdiction. They want to impose state hunting and fishing regulations on tribal members. They want to collect various kinds of taxes from tribal members or from the tribes themselves. Indians do not pay income tax, federal or state, unless their income is derived strictly from business activity that takes place on land that is still held in trust by the federal government for the Indian owner. Issues of state infringement on tribal sovereignty, in which the Cherokee Nation has been involved in recent years, includes the state's attempt to tax tobacco sales at Indian smoke shops, and the state's attempt to regulate Indian gaming. The Cherokee Nation operates high stakes Bingo parlors.

In terms of American politics, there are Cherokee Democrats and Cherokee Republicans. There were Cherokee supporters of H. Ross Perot and, very likely, there are Cherokee Populists and Cherokee Anarchists. Cherokees are seldom if ever of one mind on any given issue. When it comes to national politics they will only come close to a consensus if the issue at hand is one of tribal sovereignty. For example, every so often a congressman will introduce a bill to abrogate all Indian treaties and terminate all tribal governments. Most likely, nearly all Cherokees would unite in opposing such a bill.

Individual and Group Contributions

Although the Cherokee Nation is but one of over 300 American Indian tribes in the United States, the Cherokees have produced a significant number of prominent people in various areas. In addition to those individuals listed below, any number of other prominent Americans, and at least one Englishman, have claimed Cherokee descent at one time or another: Tom Mix, Monte Blue, John Nance Garner, Iron Eyes Cody, Walter Brennan, Johnny Cash, Burt Reynolds, James Garner, Willie Nelson, Oral Roberts, Cher, Anita Bryant, Loretta Lynn, Kevin Costner, Sir Winston Churchill, and President Bill Clinton (who claims to be one-sixteenth Cherokee, although no documentation has been found to support this).


Cherokee artists and artists of Cherokee descent include Cecil Dick (1915-1992); George Cochran (1911-1992); Willard Stone (1916-1990); Anna Mitchell; Bill Glass, Sr.; Bill Glass, Jr. (1950- ); Virginia Stroud (1949- ), painter and illustrator; Jeanne Walker Rorex (1951- ); Bill Rabbit (1946- ); Robert Annesley (1943- ); Jane Osti; Bert Seabourne (1931- ); Joan Hill (1930- ); Murv Jacob (1945- ); Janna Jacob (1976- ); and Jimmie Durham (1940- ), sculptor, performance artist and poet.


Frank Boudinot (d. circa 1864) moved to New York City in the first half of the nineteenth century to become a professional actor; he used the stage name of Frank Starr; during the Civil War, he was an officer in the Union Army and died of wounds received during that conflict. Victor Daniels (1899-1955), using the professional name Chief Thundercloud, was a successful film actor for over 20 years; among other roles, he played Tonto in the early Lone Ranger films and Chiricahua Apache tribal leader Geronimo in a 1939 version of that story. Clu Gulager (1928- ), whose first name is a version of tlu-tlu, the Cherokee word for a purple martin, is a veteran film and television actor, perhaps best remembered for his role of Deputy, later Sheriff, Ryker on the long-running television series The Virginian, his first series was The Tall Man, in which he played Billy the Kid, and his films include The Killers and The Last Picture Show. Wes Studi (1947- ), full-blood Cherokee, has received critical acclaim for his portrayals of Magua in The Last of the Mohicans, and (1992) Geronimo in the 1994 film Geronimo: An American Legend. He appeared in the film Mystery Men in 1999. Arthur Junaluska (1918- ), Eastern Cherokee, was an actor, playwright, and theatrical director. Dennis Weaver (1924- ), film and television actor, known for his Emmy-winning role as Chester on the long-running television series Gunsmoke, and McCloud in the television series by that same name. Will Rogers (1879-1935) could be categorized in any number of ways; he was a performer in Wild West shows and on stage, later becoming a film actor, radio personality, and nationally syndicated newspaper columnist; during his lifetime, he was probably the best loved man in America, if not in the entire world; and Gary Robinson (1950- ), writer, producer and director.


Sequoyah (c. 1770-1843), inventor of the Cherokee syllabary, was born in the old Cherokee country of what is now Tennessee and moved west before the Trail of Tears. He apparently died somewhere in Mexico. Cherokee writers include John Rollin Ridge (1827-1867), editor of the Sacramento Bee and author of The Life and Adventures of Joaquin Murieta, the Celebrated California Bandit and John Milton Oskison (1874-1947), editor of the New York Evening Post and Colliers' Weekly, and author of Brothers Three and Black Jack Davy ; Norman H. Russell (1921- ), poet and educator, author of Indian Thoughts; Robert J. Conley (1940- ), the award-winning author of Mountain Windsong, Nickajack, The Real People series of novels, The War Trail North and others; Marilou Awiakta (1936- ), poet, storyteller, and author of Abiding Appalachia, Rising Fawn and the Fire Mystery, and Selu: Seeking the Corn Mother's Wisdom; Diane Glancy (1941- ), poet and novelist, and author of Firesticks, Flutie, and The Only Piece of Furniture in the House ; Jean Hager (1932- ), award-winning author of Grandfather Medicine, Night Walker, and others; Carroll Arnette (Gogisgi) (1927-1997), poet, and teacher, author of Rounds, Tsalagi, South Line, Engine, and others; Robin Coffee (1955- ), poet, and author of Voices of the Heart, Sacred Seasons, and others; Ralph Salisbury (1924- ), poet, teacher, and author of A White Rainbow, Spirit Beast Chant, One Indian and Two Chiefs, Pointing at the Rainbow, and others; Gladys Cardiff (1942- ), Eastern Cherokee poet and author of To Frighten a Storm; Ron Rogers (1948- ), poet and writer of short fiction; Thomas King (1943- ), screenwriter, novelist, and author of Green Grass, Running Water and Medicine Rites ; Rayna Diane Green (1942- ), writer, folk-lorist, and editor of That's What She Said: Contemporary Poetry and Fiction by Native American Women; Geary Hobson (1941- ), educator, writer, critic, author of Deer Hunting and Other Poems, and editor of The Remembered Earth: An Anthology of Contemporary American Indian Literature; Lynn Riggs (1899-1954), playwright, and author of Green Grow the Lilacs, which later became the Rogers and Hammerstein musical, Oklahoma; Betty Louise Bell (1949- ), author of Faces in the Moon ; and Robert Franklin Gish (1940- ), author of Dreams of Quivira and When Coyote Howls: A Lavaland Tale.


Carolyn Attneave (1920-1992) is a psychologist and educator. She is also the author of several books, including Family Networks and Beyond Clinic Walls.


Admiral Joseph James (Jocko) Clark (1893-1971), a World War II naval hero, was commander of the seventh fleet during the Korean conflict.


Jack F. Kilpatrick (1915-1967) was a noted composer and long-time professor of musicology at Southern Methodist University; in addition, with his wife Anna, Kilpatrick wrote several books dealing with Cherokee tales and Cherokee language texts. Barbara McAlester is an opera singer who was born in Oklahoma and currently lives in New York City; she has performed around the world.


The Cherokee Advocate.

The official newspaper of the Cherokee Nation since its founding in 1977. Monthly with a circulation of 95,000.

Contact: Lynn M. Howard, Editor.

Address: P.O. Box 948, Tahlequah, Oklahoma 74465.

Telephone: (918) 456-0671.

Fax: (918) 456-6485.

E-mail: tfiedler@cherokee.

Cherokee Observer.

Independent monthly newspaper.

Contact: David Cornsilk, Managing Editor.

Address: P.O. Box 1301, Jay, Oklahoma 74346-1301.

Telephone: (918) 540-2924.


The Cherokee One-Feather.

The official publication of the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians featuring news of interest to the local Cherokee tribe and to American Indians in general.

Contact: Richard L. Welch, Editor.

Address: P.O. Box 501, Cherokee, North Carolina 28719.

Telephone: (704) 497-5513.

Fax: (704) 497-4810.

Cherokee Tribune.

Community weekly newspaper founded in 1934.

Contact: Otis Brumby Jr., Publisher.

Address: Neighbor Newspaper, Inc. P.O. Box 449, Marietta, Georgia 30061.

Telephone: (404) 428-9411.

Journal of Cherokee Studies.

Covers historical and cultural research of Cherokees.

Contact: Duane H. King, Editor.

Address: Museum of the Cherokee Indian, P.O. Box 770A, Cherokee, North Carolina 28719.

Telephone: (704) 497-3481.

Twin Territories.

Privately published, it deals largely with historical material on the so-called Five Civilized Tribes.

Address: P.O. Box 1426, Muskogee, Oklahoma 74402.

UKB News.

Monthy publication of the United Keetoowah Band of Cherokee Indians of Oklahoma.

Contacts: Emma Holand and Anita Ross, Editors.

Address: P.O. Box 746, Tahlequah, Oklahoma 74464.

Organizations and Associations

Cherokee Cultural Society.

The purpose is to build community, preserve Cherokee heritage, and perpetrate the culture. Publishes a monthly email newsletter Cherokee Messenger.

Address: P.O. Box 23187, Houston, Texas 77228.

Telephone: (713) 866-4085.

The Cherokee Nation.

Contact: Chad Smith, Principal Chief.

Address: P.O. Box 948, Tahlequah, Oklahoma 74465.

Cherokee Nation of New Jersey.

Founded in 1997. Seeks to educate people about the American Indian who is of African, Hispanic, Asian, and European mix, and to foster goodwill.

Contact: Chief C.W. Longbow.

Address: c/o C. W. Longbow, 1164 Stuyvesant Avenue, Irvington, New Jersey 071112392.

Telephone: (201) 374-1021.

The Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians.

Address: P.O. Box 455, Cherokee, North Carolina 28719.

Contact: Joyce Dugan, Principal Chief.

Telephone: (704) 497-2772.

Fax: (704) 497-2952.

The United Keetoowah Band of Cherokees in Oklahoma.

Contact: Jim Ross, Chief.

Address: 2450 South Muskogee Avenue, Tahlequah, Oklahoma 74464.

Telephone: (918) 456-5491.

Fax: (918) 456-9601.

Museums and Research Centers

Cherokee National Museum.

Also houses the Cherokee Heritage Center.

Address: Willis Road, Tahlequah, Oklahoma 74464.

Telephone: (918) 456-6007.

Cherokee National Historical Society (CNHS).

Seeks to interest the public in Cherokee history; operates Cherokee Heritage Center, which includes the Cherokee National Museum, and Cherokee Arboretum and Herb Garden (including trees and plants used traditionally by Cherokees for food, fiber, and medicines). Publishes quarterly newsletter Columns

Contact: Mac R. Harris, Executive Director.

Address: P.O. Box 515, Tahlequah, Oklahoma 74465.

Telephone: (918) 456-6007.

Fax: (918) 456-6165.


The Five Civilized Tribes Museum.

Preserves and encourages the continuation of the cultures and traditions of "The Five Civilized Tribes." Holds artifacts and artworks. Includes a research library.

Address: 1109 Honor Heights Drive, Muskogee, Oklahoma 74401.

Telephone: (918) 683-1701.

Fax: (918) 683-3070.



Museum of the Cherokee Indian.

Located on the Cherokee reservation at Highway 441 North and Drama Road in Cherokee, North Carolina. Offers dramatic presentations of Cherokee history and language. Maintains artifact exhibits. Received a $3 million renovation in 1998 to include a walk along the Trail of Tears.

Address: P.O. Box 1599, Cherokee North Carolina 28719.

Telephone: (704) 497-3481.

Sources for Additional Study

Bird, Traveller. Tell Them They Lie: The Sequoyah Myth. Los Angeles: Westernlore Press, 1971.

Brown, John P. Old Frontiers: The Story of the Cherokee Indians from Earliest Times to the Date of Their Removal to the West, 1838. Kingsport, Tennessee: Southern Publishers, 1938.

Collier, Peter. When Shall They Rest? The Cherokees' Long Struggle with America. New York: Holt, Rinehart, and Winston, 1973.

Conley, Robert J. The Witch of Goingsnake and Other Stories. Norman, Oklahoma: University of Oklahoma Press, 1988.

Cunningham, Frank H. General Stand Watie's Confederate Indians. San Antonio: Naylor Company, 1959.

Feeling, Durbin. Cherokee-English Dictionary. Tahlequah, Oklahoma: The Cherokee Nation, 1975.

Fogelson, Raymond D. The Cherokees: A Critical Bibliography. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1978.

Foreman, Grant. Indians and Pioneers. Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1930.

Kilpatrick, Jack Frederick, and Anna Gritts. Walk in Your Soul: Love Incantations of the Oklahoma Cherokees. Dallas: Southern Methodist University Press, 1964.

Mankiller, Wilma P., and Michael Wallis. Mankiller: A Chief and Her People. New York: St. Martin's Press, 1993.

Mooney, James. Myths of the Cherokee. Washington, D.C.: Seventh Annual Report of the Bureau of American Ethnology, 1891.

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ETHNONYMS: Chalaque, Cheraqui, Manteran, Oyata'ge Ronon, Rickahochan, Tallige', Tsa'lagi', Tsa'ragi


Identification. The Cherokee are an American Indian group who now live in North Carolina and Oklahoma. The name, "Cherokee" is apparently of foreign origin, perhaps from the Choctaw chiluk, meaning "cave," an allusion to the Cherokees' mountainous homeland. Historically the Cherokee sometimes referred to themselves as "Ani'-Yun'-wiya'" (real people) or "Ani'-kitu' hwagi" (people of Kituwha) in reference to one of their important ancient settlements.

Location. Aboriginally the Cherokee occupied the region of the southern Appalachian Highlands from 34° to 37° N and 80° to 85°W, mainly in the present-day states of Tennessee and North Carolina in the southeastern United States. Most Cherokee now live in Oklahoma and North Carolina.

Demography. In 1970 the Cherokee population was estimated at 66,150, with 27,197 in Oklahoma, 6,085 in North Carolina, and 32,878 in other states, mainly California, New Mexico, and Texas. In early postcontact times the Cherokee numbered approximately 20,000. In a 1989 Bureau of the Census publication, it was noted that in 1980 there were over 230,000 Cherokee enumerated, which would make them the largest Native American group in the United States.

linguistic Affiliation. The Cherokee language is classified in the Iroquoian family. In aboriginal and early postcontact times there were three dialects: the Eastern or Lower dialect is now extinct; the Middle or Kituwha dialect is spoken in North Carolina; and the Western or Upper dialect in Oklahoma.

History and Cultural Relations

Linguistic, archaeological, and mythological evidence suggest that the Cherokee migrated to the southern Appalachian Highlands from the north prior to European contact in 1540. Native groups bordering the Cherokee territory at that time included the Powhatan and Monacan to the northeast, the Tuscarora and Catawba to the east and southeast, the Creek to the south, the Chickasaw and Shawnee to the west, and the now-extinct Mosopelea to the north. Generally speaking, Cherokee relations with all these groups during the early historic period were contentious.

Continuous contact with Europeans dates from the mid-seventeenth century when English traders from Virginia began to move among native groups in the southern Appalachians. Following contact, the Cherokee intermarried extensively with Whites. Peaceful Cherokee-White relations ended when war broke out with South Carolina in 1759. During the American Revolution the Cherokee allied with the British and continued hostilities with Americans until 1794. White encroachments on their territory led a large number of Cherokee to migrate west between 1817 and 1819. In 1821, after many years of effort, Sequoyah, a mixed-blood Cherokee, developed a Cherokee syllabary, which had the Important result of extending literacy throughout the population. In 1835 gold was discovered in the Cherokee territory and White encroachments increased.

In that same year the Treaty of New Echota arranged for the sale of Cherokee lands to the U.S. government and the removal of the Cherokee to Indian Territory (Oklahoma) and Kansas. As the treaty was opposed by most Cherokee, the removal had to be carried out by force involving seven thousand federal troops. Over four thousand Cherokee, intermarried Whites, and African-American slaves died en route or as a result of the removal. A band of several hundred Cherokee escaped the roundup and in 1842 were granted permission to remain on land set aside for them in North Carolina. The descendants of these two groups make up the present-day Western (Oklahoma) and Eastern (North Carolina) Cherokee.


In aboriginal and early-contact times settlements were clustered near streams and rivers. Because of the rugged topography, they were often separated by considerable distances but were linked by intricate trade networks. Up to sixty towns existed, with populations of 55 to 600, but averaging 250-300 persons. Larger towns were built around a council house and a field for stickball and served as economic, social, and Religious centers for smaller surrounding towns. Warfare, disease, and trade attending European contact undermined the nucleated settlement pattern and resulted in more linear, dispersed settlements.

Since the removal, mixed-blood Cherokee in Oklahoma have tended to settle on rich bottomlands near railroad centers while full-bloods have tended to settle in small isolated villages in the Ozark foothills. At the Qualla Boundary Reservation in North Carolina, the Cherokee population is concentrated in four bottomland areas comprising five townships. Each township has a small center, but most families live on isolated farmsteads on the edges of the bottomlands and along creeks and streams. The community of Cherokee in the Yellow Hill township is the site of numerous tourist attractions, shops, and restaurants. The aboriginal Cherokee house was of wattle-and-daub construction, oval or oblong, with a single door, no windows, and a pitched roof of thatch, reeds, or poles. Today, much Cherokee wood-frame housing is substandard, although improvements have been made Recently.


Subsistence and Commercial Activities. The Cherokee were horticulturalists, raising cereal and vegetable crops on a swidden basis and supplementing their subsistence through hunting, fishing, and collecting. The primary cultigen was maize and the most important game animal the white-tailed deer. Contact with Europeans resulted in the addition of new grains, vegetables, and domesticated animals. During the seventeenth century the European fur trade became a central factor in the Cherokee economy. But the trade declined in the mid-eighteenth century, and the Cherokee adopted more intensive forms of agriculture and animal husbandry.

Prior to contact each Cherokee town maintained a mutual aid society known as the gadu:gi (later known as the Free Labor Company), which coordinated agricultural activities. After contact the cooperative functions of the gadu:gi expanded to include relief to those in need of emergency assistance. In North Carolina the gadu:gi remained a permanent organization until very recent times, while in Oklahoma it became a temporary group constituted to perform specific tasks.

Today the majority of the Eastern Cherokee continue general subsistence farming, with tobacco, garden crops, and beef occasionally raised for cash. At Qualla Boundary, Tourism provides income through retail shops, restaurants, motels, museums, and exhibitions; however, these are not sufficient to provide all families with adequate incomes. Other income is derived from logging, seasonal wage labor, and Government assistance. Among the Western Cherokee there is little industry, tourist or otherwise, and they often rent their land to White ranchers rather than farm it themselves. Cash income is from ranching and other wage labor, government work projects, and government assistance.

Industrial Arts. Aboriginal crafts included metalworking, potting, soapstone carving, and basket weaving. Copper, then brass, then silver were used by Cherokee metalsmiths. Today basket weaving persists among Cherokee women at Qualla Boundary, where the products are sold to tourists.

Trade. A considerable precontact trade was maintained with neighboring Indian groups. Trade with Europeans in the seventeenth century was indirect and inconsequential, but by the early eighteenth century it had become an integral part of the economy. Salt obtained by the Cherokee from saline streams and licks was an important trade item in both pre- and postcontact times.

Division of Labor. Prior to the mid-eighteenth century women did most of the farming, while men were responsible for hunting, fishing, and clearing fields for planting. Women also prepared food, made clothes, made pottery and baskets, and raised the children. Ritual and medicinal activities were carried out mainly by males. After contact, both men and women conducted trade with Europeans. The decline of hunting and the adoption of more intensive agriculture in the eighteenth century altered the traditional division of labor, and men replaced women in the fields and women's work was increasingly confined to the household. Today, at least among the Eastern Cherokee, most women continue to work in the home. Some, however, are employed in tourist services, crafts, factory work, and farm and domestic labor.

Land Tenure. Aboriginally, individuals had the right to occupy, hunt, and cultivate the land with ownership vested in local clan sections. After contact the Cherokee were under constant pressure to sell their lands to Whites, and as a result in the early nineteenth century the Cherokee Nation adopted a system of property law, placing all Cherokee lands under Tribal authority. In 1906, tribal land in Indian Territory was allotted to individuals by the U.S. government. In North Carolina after the removal the Cherokee were prohibited from owning land, and for a time all their lands were recorded under the name of their White benefactor, Will Thomas. Today, the federal government is the trustee of the Eastern Cherokee lands, with actual ownership vested in the Eastern Band itself.


Kin Groups and Descent. Cherokee society was divided into seven matrilineal, exogamous clans, or sibs. Within each town, clan sections formed corporate groups that held and allocated land, regulated marriage, and controlled conflict among local clan members. Age stratification within the clan section constituted the first level of local decision making. Clans rarely, if ever, acted as corporate groups on a tribewide basis. Since the time of contact, intermarriage with Whites and acculturation has gradually undermined the clan system. Among the Eastern Cherokee, clans are no longer meaningful social units except among the very elderly.

Kinship Terminology. Traditional kinship terminology followed the Crow system.

Marriage and Family

Marriage. In the traditional marriage system, members of the mother's and father's matrilineage were forbidden as Marriage partners, while marriage to members of the father's Father's and mother's father's matrilineage was permitted and even favored. Few modern Eastern Cherokee marriages conform to these rules. Marriages were usually monogamous, but polygyny was permitted and occasionally practiced. In the eighteenth century the marriage ceremony was an informal affair in which a man obtained the consent of the prospective bride and her mother before accompanying her to a previously prepared dwelling place. Matrilocal residence was the traditional norm. Divorce was common and could be affected easily by either party.

Domestic Unit. Until recently, small extended families were common. Among contemporary Cherokee the nuclear family tends to predominate. Owing to poverty and high rates of illegitimacy, however, three-generation households also are common.

Inheritance. Since the nineteenth century, property has usually passed to the person who took care of the owner in his or her last years. Since that person has often been the youngest son, ultimogeniture has prevailed by custom.

Socialization. Generally speaking, children were and are raised permissively. Ostracism, ridicule, and the threat of external sanctioning agents"boogers"were and still are used to discipline and control children. Overt and direct expressions of hostility and aggression are discouraged. Parents, many of whom are themselves well educated, encourage their children to remain in high school and often to continue with postsecondary training.

Sociopolitical Organization

Social Organization. In aboriginal and early-contact times age conferred status and the oldest, "beloved" men enjoyed the greatest prestige. Women occupied a position of equality with men, but as the traditional division of labor shifted during the eighteenth century their economic independence lessened and their influence and status diminished. Institutionalized slavery appeared in the form of African slaves before 1700 and became widespread in the nineteenth century. Intermarriage with Whites resulted in a class of mixed-blood Cherokee who, after the American Revolution, increasingly controlled power and wealth within the society. In the nineteenth century they formed a class of wealthy, educated, and acculturated planters set apart from full-blood Cherokee by language, religion, life-style, and values. This class division persists in contemporary Cherokee society.

Political Organization. Prior to contact with Europeans each town was politically independent from the others and had two distinct governmental structuresa White, or peace, government and a Red, or war, government. During the course of the eighteenth century an overarching tribal Government based on the traditional town model was created in response to European expansion. In 1827 a constitution was adopted creating a republican form of government modeled after that of the United States, which remained active until 1906 when it was abolished by the U.S. Congress. In 1948 the Cherokee Nation in Oklahoma was reestablished. The Eastern Cherokee incorporated as the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians in 1889.

Social Control. Eschewing face-to-face conflict, the Cherokee have employed gossip, ostracism, and social withdrawal as important forms of social control. Fear of divine retribution was a powerful form of social control in the past and remains so among some conservative Cherokee today. Conjuring or witchcraft declined in importance during the eighteenth century. In aboriginal and early-contact times serious crimes were adjudicated by the White government. Homicide often led to blood revenge by clan members. In 1898 the Cherokee judicial system was dissolved by the federal government and the group was placed under the jurisdiction of the U.S. federal courts.

Conflict. In the eighteenth century the Cherokee were Divided mainly along lines of age over what the relationship to the European colonies should be. In addition, the introduction and gradual acceptance of the money economy and European values introduced an element of aggression and competition between individuals and towns that previously was unknown in the society. Even more significant was the split over the removal to Indian Territory, first in 1817-1819 and then more seriously in 1838-1839. In general, mixed-bloods favored removal while full-bloods did not. This split broke out into civil war after arrival in Indian Territory and resurfaced during the American Civil War. Beginning in 1896 many full-bloods took part in the nativistic Nighthawk Keetoowah movement to resist the reallotment of tribal lands and mixed-blood support for reallotment. For several decades the Nighthawk movement exercised a powerful force among conservative full-blood Cherokee, but beginning about 1935 its influence waned, owing to internal divisions and the opposition of militant Christian Cherokee. Today the mixed-blood/full-blood division persists, and on occasion the hostility has erupted in violence.

Religion and Expressive Culture

Religious Beliefs. The aboriginal religion was zootheistic and guided by a deep faith in supernatural forces that linked human beings to all other living things. Evil was understood to be the result of a disharmony with nature. Beginning in the early nineteenth century Christian missionaries succeeded in driving native religious beliefs underground, and today the Baptist denomination predominates among Christian Cherokee in Oklahoma and North Carolina. The existence of a supreme being in the native religion is not clear; however, there were numerous animal, elemental, personal, and inanimate spirits. These spirits were believed to have created the world and to reside in seven successive tiers of heaven, on earth, and in the water, where they remain until the exercise of their powers is properly petitioned.

Religious Practitioners. In aboriginal times priests received no special material considerations, although they did exercise considerable influence as a result of their divining and healing roles. In the nineteenth century Christian Cherokee pastors were an important factor in the conversion process.

Ceremonies. The native ceremonial cycle consisted of a series of six festivals, the last three of which were held in quick succession in the autumn, simultaneously with Important meetings of town councils. The Propitiation Festival, held ten days after the first new moon of autumn and the Great New Moon Feast, was the most important and was devoted to ritually eliminating ill will among villagers and promoting local unity. The six festivals have been collapsed into a single Green Corn Festival.

Arts. Singing was an important part of aboriginal and postcontact ceremonial life. For religious and other purposes texts are sung in Cherokee, but tunes and the manner of harmonizing are derived from nonnative sources.

Medicine. In the aboriginal culture disease was understood to be the product of spiritual malevolence brought on by violating taboos. Curing techniques consisted of herbal medicines, ritual purifications, and the enlistment of spirit helpers to drive out the malevolent forces. Western clinical medicine is now the treatment approach, although native conjurors still persist.

Death and Afterlife. Native beliefs ascribed death, like disease, to evil spirits and witches. Death was feared and so, too, were the evil spirits connected with death. There was also a belief in an afterworld, or "nightworld," to which the ghosts or souls of the deceased desired to go. A successful journey to the nightworld, however, depended on one's actions in life on earth. Funeral ceremonies had great religious significance, and among Eastern Cherokee the funeral is the most Important life cycle ritual.


Gearing, Frederick O. (1962). Priests and Warriors: Social Structures for Cherokee Politics in the Eighteenth Century. American Anthropological Association, Memoir 93. Menasha, Wis.

Gulick, John (1973). Cherokees at the Crossroads. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Institute for Research in the Social Sciences.

King, Duane H., ed. (1979). The Cherokee Indian Nation: A Troubled History. Knoxville: University of Tennessee Press.


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The Cherokees have been one of the most historically significant indigenous cultural groups in the southeastern United States. There were three federally recognized Cherokee Indian nations at the beginning of the twenty-first century: the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians (EBCI) in North Carolina, the Cherokee Nation of Oklahoma, and the United Keetoowah Band in Oklahoma. In addition, more than fifty other organizations in at least twelve states, as well as many individuals, claim Cherokee descent. The question of who is legitimately Cherokee and how many individual Cherokee Indians exist in America is a point of contention, and the distinction between individual claims to cultural or biological identity, on the one hand, and legal membership or citizenship in federally recognized tribes or sovereign tribal nations, on the other, is an important one.

Other issues facing Cherokee communities in the early twenty-first century include development and refinement of mechanisms for self-governance, political factionalism, increased economic development of tribal communities (including gaming, tourism, and natural resource management on tribal lands), cultural preservation, and the implementation of tribal programs and services for media, education, health, mental health, and social services. Like many other Native American communities, the Cherokees face high rates of drug and alcohol dependency, suicide, and health issues such as diabetes, and communities are particularly concerned about their at-risk youth.

Cherokees and their ancestral culture, believed to be related to the Iroquois, have lived in the southeastern region for at least 12,000 years. Lands once occupied by the Cherokeesbefore European contact in the 1500s and then forced removal in the 1830s to Oklahomaencompassed parts of what are now nine states, including most of the Southern Appalachian mountain and foothill region. From original lands that covered 250,000 square miles, the Eastern Band maintained its culture on approximately 56,000 acres in western North Carolina as of 2007; the tribal assets of the Cherokee Nation of Oklahoma include about 66,000 acres.


Unlike many of the Plains tribes, the Cherokees were primarily agricultural rather than nomadic and called themselves AniYunwiya, the Principal People. They are matrilineal and matrilocal, meaning that they trace their descent through the women in their society and they live in the mothers or wifes household, since women traditionally owned all property. Traditional Cherokee social organization was structured around seven matrilineal clans, run by a Council of Grandmothers, reflecting the relationship of balance between the natural and spiritual worlds: Anigilo(la)hi (Long Hair); Anisahoni (Blue or Panther); Aniwaya (Wolf); Anigatogewi (Wild Potato); Ani(k)awi (Deer); Anitsisqua (Bird); Aniwodi (Paint). Each clan has traditional vocations, knowledges, and sacred ceremonial affiliations, and marriage within a clan is forbidden.

Throughout the Cherokee year, the communities have traditionally celebrated festivals or religious observances that reflected significant events related to the seasons, such as New Moon Festivals and Green Corn Ceremonies. Such events include feasting, dancing, purifications, sacred fires, and other ceremonies and rituals. The traditional Cherokee wedding is also a distinctive ceremony and a time for community celebration. Cherokees also actively participate in dances and ceremonies within the tribe as well as intertribal powwows to exhibit their traditional dance and music arts.

The arts have been a significant part of Cherokee culture and usually reflect the spiritual relationship between the Cherokees and the stone, wood, river cane, or clay from which various objectsbaskets, pottery, carvingsare shaped. A revitalization of traditional arts is flourishing among the Cherokees through cooperatives and foundations such as the Qualla Arts and Crafts Mutual, Inc.

The Cherokee language, called Tsalagi, a member of the Southern Iroquoian language family, has a number of dialects and was spoken by about 22,000 Cherokees as of 2007 (only about 5 percent of the Cherokee population, due to nineteenth- and twentieth-century U.S. government policies punishing native speakers), although numbers are growing since it has become a required subject in many Cherokee schools and universities.


Spanish explorer Hernando de Sotos entry into Cherokee territory in 1540, in his search for gold and silver, forever changed the way the Cherokees lived. DeSotos party killed and enslaved many Cherokees, and the European invaders brought disease, death, and what would be permanent cultural dislocation to the Cherokees. Some estimate that as many as 95 percent of the Cherokee population died within the first two centuries of European contact.

By the eighteenth century, when waves of European settlers pushed westward into Cherokee territories, treaty lines were created but ultimately failed to protect the Cherokees from encroachment into their lands. Most of the remaining Cherokees reorganized and incorporated many aspects of European society into their dynamic culture to adapt to the changing demands of living near and among the new settlers. A more conservative faction, called the Old Settlers, voluntarily entered into a treaty with the U.S. government in 1817 to receive land in Arkansas in order to avoid assimilation; these were the ancestors of the United Keetoowah Band, the most conservative and traditional of the Cherokees.

A silversmith, Sequoyah, introduced a written form of the Cherokee language, called a syllabary, which was officially adopted by the Cherokee Nation in 1825. This led to widespread literacy and the publication of books, religious texts, almanacs, and newspapers. The tribe adopted a bicameral national government, a constitution, and a Supreme Court by 1827.

However, after white settlers discovered gold on Cherokee lands in north Georgia in the late 1820s, the state and federal government collaborated to confiscate Indian land and then offer this prized land to white settlers through land lotteries. President Andrew Jackson authorized the Indian Removal Act of 1830, beginning the tragic removal period when Cherokees were forced to leave behind their farms, homes, and land. However, the removal was not without opposition and a legal struggle.

Cherokee statesmen and leaders, such as Chief John Ross, and other Americans, including Daniel Webster, Henry Clay, and Samuel Worcester, passionately spoke out against removal and challenged Georgias attempt to extinguish Indian title to land. These legal casesespe-cially Worcester v. Georgia (1832) and Cherokee Nation v. Georgia (1831)became the two most influential decisions in Indian law. The U.S. Supreme Court ruled for Georgia in the 1831 case, but in the 1832 case affirmed Cherokee sovereignty. However, President Jackson defied the Court and ordered the Cherokee removal, using as justification the 1835 Treaty of New Echota, a treaty that had been signed by about 100 Cherokees who agreed to relinquish all lands east of the Mississippi River in exchange for land in Oklahoma and the promise of money, provisions, and other benefits.

The signing and the removal led to bitter factionalism among the Cherokees. However, the U.S. Army, under General Winfield Scott, enforced the Removal Act in 1838 and forced about 15,000 to 20,000 Cherokees from their homeland. An estimated 4,000 died from hunger, exposure, and disease along the Trail of Tears by boats and on foot to Indian Territory in Oklahoma.


However, hundreds of Cherokees in the mountains of North Carolina had been able to escape from forced removal in 1838, and their descendants make up the Eastern Band today. After several years of legal limbo, in 1848 the U.S. Congress agreed to recognize their treaty rights if the state would accept them as permanent residents; it was not until 1866, following the Civil War, that North Carolina agreed, and in 1868, the tribal tripartite government reconstituted and held its first elections since the removal. In the 1870s, the federal government established the Qualla Boundary (a reservation) for about 1,200 Cherokees. By 2006, over 13,000 enrolled members of EBCI lived on the Eastern Cherokee lands held in trust by the federal government.

The EBCI, incorporated in 1889, is a sovereign nation whose members are not subject to county property taxes or state income tax. Enrollment in the EBCI requires 1/32 degree of Cherokee blood through descent from an enrollee on the 1924 Baker Roll, a census carried out the same year that Native Americans were granted U.S. citizenship. Tribal governance is carried out by an elected principal chief and vice chief, a Tribal Council representing the various communities and clan townships, and appointed judicial positions.

Tourism and gaming are the two primary sources of economic development of the modern Eastern Cherokee, with an active tribal Office of Economic Development. With tribal lands nestled in the Blue Ridge and Great Smoky Mountains and surrounded by national parks and forestsas well as the cultural appeal of the Indian heritage attractions such as living heritage museums and an outdoor historical dramatourism has long been the major economic base of the EBCI. Harrahs Cherokee Casino opened in 1997 and became the largest tourist attraction in North Carolina. The introduction of gaming has radically affected living conditions in what was once one of North Carolinas most impoverished areas, because of the advent of the per-capita distribution of tribal and casino profits to all enrolled tribal members (an amount totaling nearly $100 million in fiscal year 2004). In addition to tribal agencies, the independent Cherokee Preservation Foundation works to preserve Cherokee culture, create jobs and other economic development opportunities, and renew the environment on tribal lands.


In Oklahoma, the Trail of Tears survivors soon rebuilt a democratic form of government, churches, and educational system, newspapers, and businesses, with Tahlequah as their capital and center of cultural activity. In 1844, the Cherokee Advocate, printed in both Cherokee and English, became the first newspaper in a Native American language, and the literacy level among the Cherokees became higher than among their white counterparts. Prosperity flourished until the Civil War, when most Cherokees sided with the Confederacy. The government divided what remained of Cherokee tribal land into individual allotments given to Cherokees listed in the Dawes Roll in the late 1890s. Descendants of those original enrollees make up todays Cherokee Nation tribal citizenship.

The Cherokee Nation has the sovereign right, granted by treaty and law, to control and develop tribal assets. With about 280,000 enrolled tribal members as of mid-2007, the Cherokee Nation is the largest American Indian tribal nation (followed closely by the Navajo Nation with approximately 250,000 enrolled members). The land base remaining under federal trust relationship comprises more than 90,000 acres consisting of half tribal land and half allotment land belonging to individual tribal members.

The Cherokee Nation has a tripartite democratic government with a constitution, revised in 1976. Executive power is vested in the elected principal chief, legislative power in the elected Tribal Council, and judicial power in the Cherokee Nation Judicial Appeals Tribunal, comparable to a Supreme Court. It is the highest court of the Cherokee Nation, and it administers the Cherokee Nation Judicial Code as well as district courts and a law enforcement system.

The Cherokee Nation operates several enterprises, including Cherokee Nation Enterprises, which owns casino facilities, retail outlets, and Cherokee Nation Industries, Inc., a supplier to several major defense contractors. The Cherokee Nation also owns a landfill, golf course, ranch, and apartments for the elderly and disabled, and in total employs about 7,000 people, most of whom are tribal members.

SEE ALSO Culture; Gambling; Gold, God, and Glory; Government; Identity; Iroquois; Land Claims; Mankiller, Wilma; Mental Health; Native Americans; Sequoyah; Sovereignty; Trail of Tears


Cherokee Nation of Oklahoma.

Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians.

Ehle, John. 1988. Trail of Tears: The Rise and Fall of the Cherokee Nation. New York: Doubleday.

Finger, John R. 1984. The Eastern Band of Cherokees, 1819-1900. Knoxville: University of Tennessee Press.

Finger, John R. 1991. Cherokee Americans: The Eastern Band of Cherokees in the Twentieth Century. Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press.

Leeds, Georgia Rae. 1996. The United Keetoowah Band of Cherokee Indians in Oklahoma. New York: Peter Lang.

Mooney, James, and George Ellison. 1992. James Mooneys History, Myths, and Sacred Formulas of the Cherokees. Fairview, NC: Bright Mountain Books.

Perdue, Theda. 1998. Cherokee Women: Gender and Culture Change, 1700-1835. Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press.

Perdue, Theda. 2005. The Cherokees. Philadelphia: Chelsea House.

Perdue, Theda, and Michael D. Green, eds. 2004. The Cherokee Removal: A Brief History with Documents, 2nd ed. Boston: Bedford Books.

United Keetoowah Band.

Williams, David. 1993. The Georgia Gold Rush: Twenty-niners, Cherokees, and Gold Fever. Columbia: University of South Carolina Press.

Pamela S. Wilson

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CHEROKEE, an American Indian tribe that, at the time of European contact, controlled a large area of what is now the southeastern United States. Until the later part of the eighteenth century, Cherokee lands included portions of the current states of Tennessee, Kentucky, Virginia, North and South Carolina, Georgia, and Alabama. Cherokees are thought to have relocated to that area from the Great Lakes region centuries before contact with Europeans, and their language is part of the Iroquian langauge

family. Although "Cherokee" probably comes from the Choctaw word meaning "people of the caves," Cherokees have often referred to themselves as Ani-yun-wiya, "real people."

Cherokee society was organized into seven matrilineal clans that structured their daily lives in villages along rivers. Each village had a red chief, who was associated with war and games, and a white chief, who was responsible for daily matters, such as farming, legal and clan disputes, and domestic issues.

The Cherokee economy was based on agriculture, hunting, and fishing. Tasks were differentiated by gender, with women responsible for agriculture and the distribution of food, and men engaged in hunting and gathering. After contact, trade with Europeans formed a significant part of the Cherokee economy.

During the eighteenth century, the Cherokee population was reduced by disease and warfare, and treaties with the English significantly decreased their landholdings. Cherokees fought in numerous military conflicts, including the Cherokee War against the British and the American Revolution, in which they fought against the rebels. Cherokees were known as powerful allies, and they attempted to use warfare to their benefit, siding with or against colonists when they perceived it to help their strategic position.

By the nineteenth century, Cherokee society was becoming more diverse. Intermarriage with traders and other Europeans created an elite class of Cherokees who spoke English, pursued education in premier U.S. institutions, and often held slaves. Missionaries lived within the nation, and an increasing number of Cherokees adopted Christianity.

Following European models of government, Cherokees wrote and passed their own constitution in 1827. Sequoyah invented a Cherokee alphabet in 1821, and the Cherokee Phoenix, a national Newspaper, was founded in 1828.

In the 1820s and 1830s, the Cherokee nation was at the center of many important and controversial decisions regarding Native American sovereignty. American settlers living around the Cherokees were anxious to acquire tribal lands. The U.S. government, particularly during the presidency of Andrew Jackson, pressured the tribe to move west. As early as 1828, some Cherokees accepted land in Indian Territory (now northeastern Oklahoma) and relocated peacefully.

After years of resistance to removal, a small faction of the Cherokee Nation signed the Treaty of New Echota in 1835, exchanging the tribe's land in the East for western lands, annuities, and the promise of self-government. Some moved west at that time, but most rejected the treaty and refused to leave their homes. U.S. troops entered Cherokee lands to force them to leave.

In 1838 and 1839, the majority of Cherokees were forced to make the journey, many on foot, from their

homes in the East to Indian Territory. Over 12,000 men, women, and children embarked upon the trail west, but over one-fourth of them died as a result of the journey. Due to the harsh conditions of the journey and the tragedy endured, the trip was named the Trail of Tears. The Cherokees' trauma has become emblematic of all forced removals of Native Americans from lands east of the Mississippi, and of all of the tragedies that American Indians have suffered at the hands of the U.S. government over several centuries.

A number of Cherokees separated from those heading west and settled in North Carolina. These people and their descendents are known as the Eastern Cherokee. Today, this portion of the tribe, in addition to the United Keetoowah Band and the Cherokee Nation, form the three major groups of contemporary Cherokees.

After the survivors of the Trail of Tears arrived in Indian Territory (they were commonly called the Ross party, due to their allegiance to their principal chief, John Ross), a period of turmoil ensued. Ross's followers claimed

the treaty signers had betrayed the nation, and conflict continued between the Old Settlers (those who had relocated voluntarily), the treaty party, and the Ross party. Although this conflict was eventually resolved, tension remained and was exacerbated by the Civil War. During the war the Cherokee Nation officially allied itself with the Confederacy, but many Cherokee men fought for the Union. The Civil War destroyed Cherokee lives and property, and the Union victory forced the tribe to give up even more of its land.

During the second half of the nineteenth century, members of the Cherokee Nation rebuilt their government. By the end of the century it boasted a national council, a justice system, and medical and educational systems to care for its citizens.

In the 1890s, the U.S. Congress passed legislation mandating the allotment of land previously held in common by citizens of the Cherokee Nation. In 1906, in anticipation of Oklahoma statehood, the federal government unilaterally dissolved the sovereign government of the Cherokee Nation. Many Cherokee landowners were placed under restrictions, forced to defer to a guardian to manage their lands. Graft and corruption tainted this system and left many destitute. Despite this turmoil, many played an active role in governing the new state of Oklahoma, and Cherokees in Oklahoma and North Carolina kept their traditions alive.

In the 1960s, Cherokees pursued ways to commemorate their traditions and consolidate tribal affiliations. They formed organizations such as the Cherokee National Historical Society and initiated the Cherokee National Holiday, a celebration of their arts and government. In 1971, they elected a chief for the first time since Oklahoma statehood, beginning the process of revitalizing their government. In 1987, Wilma Mankiller was elected the first woman chief. The renewed interest in tribal politics and the strength of services continues in the Cherokee Nation.


Ehle, John. Trail of Tears: The Rise and Fall of the Cherokee Nation. New York: Doubleday, 1988.

McLoughlin, William G. After the Trail of Tears: The Cherokees' Struggle for Sovereignty, 1839–1880. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1993.

Perdue, Theda. Cherokee Women: Gender and Culture Change, 1700–1835. Lincoln: University of Nebraska, 1998.

Woodward, Grace Steele. The Cherokees. Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1963.


See alsoCherokee Language ; Cherokee Nation Cases ; Cherokee Wars .

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Cherokee (indigenous people of North America)

Cherokee (chĕr´əkē), largest Native American group in the United States. Formerly the largest and most important tribe in the Southeast, they occupied mountain areas of North and South Carolina, Georgia, Alabama, and Tennessee. The Cherokee language belongs to the Iroquoian branch of the Hokan-Siouan linguistic stock (see Native American languages).

By the 16th cent., the Cherokee had a settled, advanced culture based on agriculture. Hernando De Soto visited them in 1540. They were frequently at war with the Iroquois tribes of New York but proved generally valuable allies for the British against the French. Soon after 1750, smallpox destroyed almost half the tribe. Formerly friendly with Carolina settlers, they were provoked into war with the colonists in 1760, and two years followed before the Cherokee sued for peace.

In 1820 they adopted a republican form of government, and in 1827 they established themselves as the Cherokee Nation, with their capital at New Echota, in N Georgia, under a constitution providing for an elective principal chief, a senate, and a house of representatives. Literacy was aided by the invention of a Cherokee syllabic alphabet by Sequoyah. Its 85 characters, representing the syllables of the Cherokee language, permitted the keeping of tribal records and, later, the publication of newspapers.

The 1830s discovery of gold in Cherokee territory resulted in pressure by whites to obtain their lands. A treaty was extracted from a small part of the tribe, binding the whole people to move beyond the Mississippi River within three years. Although the Cherokee overwhelmingly repudiated this document and the U.S. Supreme Court upheld the nation's autonomy, the state of Georgia secured an order for their removal, which was accomplished by military force. President Andrew Jackson refused to intervene, and in 1838 the tribe was deported to the Indian Territory (now in Oklahoma). Thousands died on the march, known as the "Trail of Tears," or from subsequent hardships. Their leader at this time and until 1866 was Chief John Ross.

The Cherokee made their new capital at Tahlequah (Okla.), instituted a public school system, published newspapers, and were the most important of the Five Civilized Tribes. In the U.S. Civil War their allegiance was divided between North and South, with large contingents serving on each side. By a new treaty at the close of the war they freed their black slaves and admitted them to tribal citizenship, but in 2007 the Cherokee voted to strip the descendants of those slaves of their citizenship; the change took effect in 2011 after it was upheld by the tribal supreme court.

In 1891 the Cherokee sold their western territorial extension, known as the Cherokee Strip; in 1902 they approved the division of the reservation into allotments; and in 1906 tribal sovereignty was abolished. Tribal entities still exist, however, and many Oklahoma Cherokee live on tribal landholdings. With a 1990 population of about 370,000, the Cherokee, while scattered, are by far the largest Native American group in the United States. Close to 6,000, the descendants of the few who successfully resisted removal or returned after the removal, live on the Eastern Cherokee (Qualla) reservation in W North Carolina.


See M. L. Starkey, The Cherokee Nation (1946, repr. 1972); H. T. Malone, Cherokees of the Old South (1956); J. Gulick, Cherokees at the Crossroads (1960); D. H. Corkran, The Cherokee Frontier: Conflict and Survival, 1740–1762 (1962); G. S. Woodward, The Cherokee (1963); I. Peithmann, Red Men of Fire (1964); T. Wilkins, Cherokee Tragedy (1970); J. Ehle, Trail of Tears (1988); L. B. Filler, The Removal of the Cherokee Nation (1988).

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Cherokee Largest tribe of Native Americans in the USA, members of the Iroquoian language family. The Cherokee migrated s into the Appalachian region of Tennessee, Georgia and the Carolinas. They sided with the British during the American Revolution. When gold was discovered on their land in Georgia in the 1830s, they were forced to move w. This tragic ‘Trail of Tears’ (1838) reduced the population by 25%. One of the ‘Five Civilized Tribes’, c.47,000 Cherokee descendants now live in Oklahoma and c.3000 in North Carolina.

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Cher·o·kee / ˈcherəkē/ • n. (pl. same or -kees ) 1. a member of an American Indian people of the southeastern U.S., now living on reservations in Oklahoma and North Carolina. 2. the Iroquoian language of this people, which has had its own script since 1820. • adj. of or relating to this people or their language.

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"Cherokee." The Oxford Pocket Dictionary of Current English. . 11 Dec. 2017 <>.

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Cherokeechokey, croaky, folkie, folky, hokey, hokey-cokey, hoki, jokey, karaoke, Loki, okey-dokey, Okie, pokey, poky, smoky, trochee •adzuki, bouzouki, fluky, kabuki, kooky, pukey, saluki, spooky, Sukie, Suzuki, verrucae •bookie, cookie, hookey, hooky, nooky, rookie •netsuke •clucky, ducky, happy-go-lucky, Kentucky, lucky, mucky, plucky, yucky •bulky, sulky •chunky, clunky, flunkey, funky, hunky, junkie, junky, monkey, punky, spunky •dusky, husky, musky •synecdoche • Malachy • hillocky •bullocky •Andromache, logomachy, theomachy •hummocky • anarchy • monarchy •Cherokee • tussocky •herky-jerky, jerky, mirky, murky, perky, quirky, smirky, turkey •turnkey • Albuquerque

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