Cherokees, Cherokees and Cherokees


In the 2000 United States Census, more than 875,000 people identified themselves as partially or wholly Cherokee Indian. This is a remarkably high number given that the three recognized Cherokee nations comprise just 316,049 people. In an article for the Tahlequah Daily Press, Eddie Glenn explored the issue of unofficial Cherokees and learned from Cherokee spokesman Mike Miller that over 200 groups refer to themselves as Cherokee. Some are petitioning for federal recognition; others are simply “Cherokee Heritage Groups” that claim a connection and may hold meetings or events but do not seek federal recognition. Miller said that he encourages “people who have family with Cherokee heritage who are interested in the language and culture,” but added that “the problem is when you have groups that call themselves ‘nation,’ or ‘band,’ or ‘tribe,’ because that implies governance.”

The three federally recognized bands of Cherokee are as follows:

1) The Cherokee Nation of Oklahoma, headquartered in Tahlequah, Oklahoma.

Enrollment in this, the most populous Cherokee band, requires a direct ancestral link to a citizen of the nation as listed on the Dawes Rolls. This approach has been known to exclude people who are clearly Cherokee (for instance, the descendant of a sibling of someone who was listed on the Dawes Rolls) but it also includes some people who were given Cherokee status on the Dawes Rolls but were not ethnically Cherokee. This latter category includes some of the Natchez tribe, which was absorbed by the Cherokee in the 19th century, and some Cherokee Freedmen. (The original Freedmen were slaves owned by the Cherokee, and there were quite a few of them—some estimates have a Cherokee population of 21,000 in 1860 owning 4,000 enslaved blacks. The issue of the Freedmen has long been problematic and deserves an article of its own.)

2) The United Keetoowah Band of Cherokee Indians in Oklahoma, also headquartered in Tallequah, Oklahoma.

The UKB limits its membership to those with one-quarter Cherokee blood. To generalize, the Keetoowah are an older strain of Cherokee in Oklahoma, tracing their heritage to the “old settlers” who arrived from the Southeast before the Trail of Tears. The Keetoowah look to the Emigration Roll of 1817 and the Old Settler Roll of 1851 as the key documents for establishing Keetoowah heritage.

3) The Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians, headquartered in Cherokee, North Carolina.

While most Cherokees in the Southeast signed away their land to white settlers or were forced out and ended up in Indian territory (later known as the state of Oklahoma), some holdouts instead retreated to the hills. From this small, rebellious group is descended the Eastern Band of Cherokee. Enrollment in the Eastern Band of Cherokee requires one-sixteenth Cherokee blood.

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nanaiya's picture
Submitted by nanaiya on
Not a bad little article, I enjoyed it, but hate those annoying little innacuracies. Far and away the majority of Cherokee Freedmen have Cherokee blood running through their veins, and irregardless they are-by BINDING US Treaty-Cherokee Citizens. Please surprise me with a good article with real truth for Indian Country! Chi pisa la chike! Stefanie Colbert Stringfellow

jrobertson's picture
Submitted by jrobertson on
We phrased the original post in a way that insinuated that all Cherokee Freedmen had no Cherokee blood, which was incorrect, and we have adjusted the line. Some portion of the Freedmen were at least part Cherokee; how many of them is not for us to say. In the Dawes Rolls, a blood quantum is provided for those people classified as "Cherokee." For those classified as "Freedmen," no blood quantum is supplied.

gamma's picture
Submitted by gamma on
Every single Cherokee from the three Federal tribes I have encountered has been White.

mischka's picture
Submitted by mischka on
I think you meant the word, "pale". "White" denotes a race or socio-ethnicity. Which considering you "encountered" these people, and don't know who they really ARE, leaping to conclusions based on their skin tone instead of their family and tribal connections, I guess you really don't know enough to guess they are "White" and not just simply "pale" due to mixed heritage. When people in the Indigenous community give in to the Feds games of pitting us against each other so we never have a true power base in this country, it sure makes getting things done to secure our sovereign rights a lot harder when we play games of looking down on each other for being too dark or too pale to be "Indian". You make comments about not giving genetic materials in case the Feds get them, but then you play right into their games with your little comment.

evg5000's picture
Submitted by evg5000 on
I agree with both of these comments. I respect Native people who care about their community no matter what they look like. However, there are many Anglo-Americans who do not care about the Native community and identify primarily as white. Then when they think it might benefit them, they suddenly remember that they are Native. Others say things like, "I think our family is Native - what do we get?" without bothering to learn anything about the culture. This type of mentality is disgusting.

shotwell77's picture
Submitted by shotwell77 on
Then you don't travel to the traditional communities in northeastern Oklahoma or North Carolina where the fullbloods live. I have enrolled Cherokee relatives that also Asian-Cherokees and African-Cherokees.