Six Surprising Facts About Cherokee Indians
Cherokee Indian in headdress
The Cherokee Indians are the second largest tribe in the United States. They are one of five tribes that are considered to be civilized; the other four are the Chickasaw, Seminole, Choctaw, and the Creek.
There are six things I was surprised to learn about the Cherokee Indians:
1. In the old days, there were no “chiefs” but there were priests, elders, and headman. In later years, they had Indian chiefs.
2. There were never any Cherokee Princes. There were daughters of the priests, elders, and headman.
3. The Cherokee Indian never lived in tipis. They lived in houses made of river cane and plaster with thatched roofs that were just as warm as log cabins. The houses were in settlements with high walls surrounding them. The settlements were located near water.
4. The men did not wear a long feathered headdress; they wear them in modern times for the tourists. The men usually shaved most of their hair and wore a scaplock (Mohawk) style hair cut or crested roach that was made from stiff animal hair with a couple of feathers attached. The roach was made with porcupine guard hair, deer’s tail hair, or moose hair attached to a bone hair ornament or leather base making it stand up from the head like a tuft or crest. They often dyed the roach bright colors.
5. There was a balance of power between the men and women. Women bought and sold property, were in charge of farming, and were in charge of family matters. The women could divorce and remarry at will. The men were in charge of hunting, war, and diplomacy.
6. Cherokee heritage is traced through the mother. There are 7 Cherokee clans (families).You always keep your mother’s clan a secret for spiritual reasons and for protection.
There are three tribes or bands of Cherokee Indians that are recognized by the federal government. The Western Band of Cherokee Indians (numbering 270,000) located in Tahlequah, Oklahoma. The United Keetoowah Band (numbering 16,000) also located in Tahlequah, Oklahoma. And the Eastern Band headquartered in Cherokee, North Carolina.
Information on the Eastern Band of Cherokee
I’m focusing on this band of Cherokee since it is located in an area that I have loved to visit throughout the years.
The Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians own 57,000 acres of land that they bought in the 1800’s. This land is called Qualla Boundary and are mostly woods and mountains in western North Carolina bordering the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. This land is held in trust by the federal government.
The Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians is a sovereign nation within the larger nation of the United States. It is a democratic form of government that is governed by a principal chief, a vice chief, and a tribal council made up of 12 members.
The 12 members consist of two elected representatives from six townships. The representatives are democratically elected. In the last election the voter turnout was 70%. Tribal members also vote in state and national elections.
The tribe pays for its own schools, water, sewer, fire, and emergency services.
The schools are English speaking but now the Cherokee language is systematically being taught in their schools. It is interesting to note that the Cherokee language has no curse words or obscenities.
Many people are interested in tracing their genealogy. Some have heard stories from relatives about their Cherokee heritage and are interested in the steps to take to find out if they are part Cherokee. If you have this interest, I recommend a book written by Tony Mack McClure, Ph.D. called Cherokee Proud. Mr. McClure is well known as the producer-director of the nation’s highest rated television program for over 25 years, Bill Dance Outdoors.