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.