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

This young Cherokee woman demonstrates a method of fishing using a stick.
This young Cherokee woman demonstrates a method of fishing using a stick.
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.

The Cherokee tradition involves participation in rituals and celebrations at a young age.
The Cherokee tradition involves participation in rituals and celebrations at a young age.

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.


Online: .

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.

User Contributions:

Sus-See crosswinds Jones
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Aug 3, 2006 @ 11:23 pm
OSCo/ Hi, I realy like your site... I am 25 charokee, my grand mother lizzy brown, stayed in GA..I am prode to be who Am. she was Full Blood...till we meet again.. all my love comes your way..May the crater,
be with you...sus-see crosswinds Jones PS Email me some times,,,,
Allison Hedge Coke
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Feb 20, 2007 @ 12:00 am
Osiyo, Robert Conley,

I'm back at IAIA teaching Creative Writing. Oscar Hokeah is in one of my classes and researched you recently. He did a fine job on your works and career. I was proud since you remain my dad's favorite writer. I'm looking for other Cherokee who attended IAIA and ended up publishing like me. This spring I'm chairing panels for IAIA impact and want to be sure to include Ron Rogers and anyone else you can think of. I just released my fifth book and edited my sixth collection. Next year, I hope to put together the Indigenous working-class volume and trulym hope to see you in the mix. Please let me hear if you've anyone else to add to the IAIA Cherokee's who went on to publish books and if you have a short piece for the next anthology. All best to you this beautiful evening from New Mexico.


Allison Hedge Coke
Gail Alexander
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Jun 8, 2007 @ 8:20 pm
I enjoyed your website - very informative and interesting. I am doing some research for my father on a beautiful oil painting he has by Cherokee artist George Cochran. I'm wondering if you might possibly advise me of any suggestions you might have. I've found some possibilities on the internet; and also purchased a book of Indians drawings Mr. Cochran published, I think in the 1950's. Any help much appreciated.
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Oct 14, 2007 @ 2:02 am
This is ALL the info I needed!!!
Oh thank you so much!!! Thank you!

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Sep 13, 2009 @ 7:19 pm
Yhis is a very good artical must save and print. Show past present information can use at a later date
Kate Shoemaker
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Oct 11, 2009 @ 10:22 pm
To Whom It May Concern,
I am a nursing student researching a college paper regarding family structure/social support for the Cherokee Nation. I have found many material regarding their value system, communication patterns, nutrition, spirituality/religious beliefs, disease prevalence, and education; however, I have been unable to meet my focus of the family structure and social support of the Cherokees.
If possible, would you please direct me to a resource that may help to educate me on this topic?
Your time and efforts are greatly appreciated.
Respectfully Rendered,
Kate Shoemaker
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Jul 30, 2010 @ 9:09 am
i have the painting named first sighting of the sacramento valley by george m measures about 93x46. i was wondering what the value is as i am going to sell it onine and do you have a list of sights i might list it on...i will send photos if you want...thanks
hannah ambrose
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Nov 23, 2010 @ 7:07 am
Thank you so much for this information! It helped me with my freshman history report. Without this information, I wouldn't have completed this project.
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Mar 7, 2011 @ 4:16 pm
I'm also inquiring about the late Cherokee artist George M. Cochran. In the early 80s my wife was in Oklahoma and met the artist at an art show. She bought a lithograph (I believe that's what it is - not a print) from him entitled "A Page of History." Besides the original signature on the painting, Mr. Cochran signed it again noting that this copy was #176 of 500. Then, upon hearing from my wife that I was a musician, the artist wrote along the bottom margin, "When the spirits of being sing", then signed it once more next to that. I'm having a hard time finding out any information about Mr. Cochran or this painting. I'd appreciate being pointed in the right direction! Thank you.
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Aug 31, 2011 @ 12:12 pm
It is good information but i want to know if there any of cherokee people at life
monisha mani
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Sep 22, 2011 @ 2:02 am
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Oct 4, 2011 @ 2:14 pm
Dee Ann
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Jan 19, 2012 @ 9:21 pm
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Jan 30, 2012 @ 11:23 pm
Thank you Mr. Conely for posting all of this very nice information on the Cherokee history, roots and culture. I've never really considered what it means to be Cherokee. I had no idea about all the struggles we have endured. I know that my great-grandma was a full-blooded Cherokee Indian from Oklahoma, but her and my grandpa died before I was 4 years old. My mom was not raised with her dad, and I have had no cultural experiences. I find it sad that a lot of my cultural identity is lost to the past. I'm in college right now about to finish up my last day of Human Geography/Cultural Studies, and my final report is on my family culture. It has been a great discovery. Your efforts have opened a door in my life I didn't know existed. I hope one day to establish my citizenry, researching the genealogical documents is quite a journey I've been told. Thank you so much. May God bless and protect you always.
Liam McCurry
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Feb 12, 2012 @ 9:21 pm
I have a wonderful, small 5x7 oil on canvas by George M Cochran that looks like an Indian standing alone in a swirling snowstorm with a muted guiding light above. I'd love to know more about this Cherokee Indian artist/author. I have just ordered his Indian Portraits of the Pacific Northwest from Amazon. With a lot of Cherokee blood in my own veins, and as an author, I am intrigued with the painting. Could you send me links to any additional information? Thanks!
DeeAnne (Crurm) Hedrick
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Mar 8, 2012 @ 2:02 am
I'm doing a research project paper on the Cherokee for college( Intercultural Studies). This article has helped me with information for this project. Thank You!
Also, for those curious if there are any Cherokee still alive, yes there are; however, I cannot go into great detail at this time.
How do I cite this website as a source using Turabian style?
As I am studying Intercultural studies in college, is there anything specific you feel the Cherokee would want to relay to missionaries?
Barbara Whitney
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Apr 10, 2012 @ 10:10 am
WE met George M. Cochran at Oklahoma State Fair in 1979 where we were given a 17 x 13 oil painting of a Mohawk indian . We would like to know more about him. He had told us that some of his paintings were displayed in Washington DC.
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Jan 10, 2013 @ 6:18 pm
I'm wondering about a song written and recorded by Moon Milican in the early 1950's called Cherokee Boogie. I have been aware of the song for a number of years. The song struck me the first time I had heard it because my maternal great grandmother was Cherokee. The song has lyrics in it, "hey ho a lina ho ho a witch a na yee", or something similar to that. I have been trying to find out what if anything the lyrics mean. Are they even really Cherokee words? Unfortunately I never had the opportunity to learn the language. Any information you could forward me I would greatly appreciate. Thank you.
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Jan 22, 2013 @ 5:17 pm
I would also like to know if Moon Milican or Johnny Horton (recorded the song) knew any Cherokee. Does "hey-ho-a-lina –ho-ho-na-witch-a-na-eh" mean anything?

Galela Cochran
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Jan 28, 2013 @ 5:17 pm
Osiyo! I am George M Cochran's daughter. It fills me with love that his art is still cherished by others as much as his family. I would be happy to assist any way I can.
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Feb 26, 2013 @ 8:20 pm
I am an affrican american and I just learned Cherokee Indian. My great, great grandparent have Roll numbers and registered Indians. I am learning alot about the tribe. WOW!! I am proud of my ancestors that laid the way for me. I am a business owner in Arkansas and a survivor of Cancer. Id like to recieve email newletters!!
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Mar 27, 2013 @ 8:20 pm
My mother was full blooded Cherokee and my father white. My mother died when I was young And I was raised by my dad's family. Who moved us from Oklahoma to Washington state.As I get older I want to learn more about what it means to be Cherokee.Growing up I felt like there has been a part of me missing. The more I learn about my Cherokee side the closer I feel to my mother and more complete I feel. Thank you for sharing Mr. Conley.
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Dec 14, 2013 @ 11:11 am
I am African American with Cherokee ancestors. My grandfather 's mother, grandmother and great-grandfather were Full blood cherokee. I have always known this, as a child my grandfather would tell me stories about them. I am now older and doing our families genealogy, and now finding more information on our people. Your website has been very informative
Thanks so much for your information.
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Dec 18, 2013 @ 12:12 pm
My great grandmother walked the trail of tears. Her brother dad and sister died
mikion king
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Jan 21, 2014 @ 8:20 pm
I am part Cherokee and I wanted to learn more about my ancestors. I know they are decedents of the Iroquois Nations but wich nation did they come from?
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Oct 2, 2014 @ 8:08 am
How do Cherokee's live today? I'm doing a report and wanted to see how they live today?
Dawn D
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Oct 25, 2014 @ 8:20 pm
Really enjoyed everything on this site . My daughter had a lot of research for her 5th grade class and my husband is Cherokee Indian thanks for the information that was provided it helped a lot .
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Oct 31, 2014 @ 6:18 pm
My 5th generation Grandmother is Cherokee her father or Grandfather was chase across the Mississippi River where they lived in Mo. Bottom area about,They name the City after my 6 time Grandfather Old Chief Fare . Fare or Fair Mo. My spelling can be off. Can anyone help with this information this was in the 1800
I have many gifts handed down Sight healing intuitive ect. I see many in Head dress in my Visions she too spoke a different Language at times she lived to be almost 100 yr old.I carry my Heritage proudly , so did she and my family. My papa her husband hunted had them all through out their home. They moved here to Co. then here to Ca
Many Blessing
Thomas R. Smith
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Dec 5, 2014 @ 1:13 pm
My Great Grandfather & Grandmother were a full blooded Cherokee from the Western Tribe of Oklahoma. My Dad would tells me that my Great Grandfather was a Shaman. Please tell me a little about a Shaman and if they still exist and if so who is the Shaman of the Oklahoma Tribe today. Thank you.
I am 53 years old and my Dad passed away in 2006. All of this family are deceased now so there are no family members that can give me this information. Thank you. Tom
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Aug 10, 2015 @ 2:02 am
im trying to trace back my ancestry through my Cherokee blood line, unfortunately i've hit a block. my grandmother says that we are part of a cherokee tribe called the lost tribe. we are called this because info regarding this tribe was either lost or destroyed. so nobody knows the tribes true name only that they were Cherokee. do u have any info on this?
maddie roberts
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Jan 11, 2016 @ 9:09 am
this was so useful for my class thanks
so much people! I'm so going to get and a+!
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Oct 26, 2016 @ 10:10 am
Thank you so much for this! I am doing a project for my history class and this helped a lot. I am a little Cherokee and some other type of indian. I would love to know more about the Cherokee tribe!
Marybeth Van Winkle
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Nov 1, 2016 @ 7:19 pm
Because my late father-in-law believed himself to be part Cherokee, I have always been interested in your culture and traditions. His ancestors settled in Kentucky after the Revolution and moved to the southern tip of Indiana along the Ohio by 1796. The "Trail of Tears" passed South of them. I suppose there were some drop-outs who were aided by devout Christians as his family was. They were Baptists, separated from the Southern Baptists because they did not "hold" with slavery. It is no doubt, impossible to trace, even with DNA. In any case, I enjoyed reading your scholarly and important page. I am a retired teacher. I believe we do not pay enough attention to this disgraceful land grab. This alone could be used in junior high or high school social studies. My cousin taught among the Alaskan natives for several years. He had to go to teacher preparation courses, language acquisition classed and participate in native celebrations and observances. After a few years, he was considered a "most honored" member of the community. On the holiday on which whaling season began, he was offered the first bite of the first whale that was caught. He remained in Barrow, which is directly across the Bering Strait from Russia, for more than a decade until he became ill and had to return to the lower 48. This should be done with all native American schools. Don't just hire teachers. Train them to integrate the culture and traditions as well as the rudiments of the language into their lessons and lives.
Prarthana Katiyar
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Feb 8, 2018 @ 4:04 am
What were the problems that the Cherokee tribe faced?
Cheryl P
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Mar 27, 2019 @ 9:09 am
Thank you Mr.Conley for this wonderful informative article. I really enjoyed reading it. n I'm researching my Cherokee ancestry. My paternal GG grandmother Sarah was listed on the final Dawes roll. Also my Ancestry Dna revealed I'm 1% Native American. That is how & why I began my ancestral search. I want to learn more. Thanks again
Riley Siltman
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Sep 11, 2019 @ 2:14 pm
I like this page and i just want to say that i find it very interesting because i have many family members that identify themselves as cherokee and others who do n ot. I hope that i can share this with the rest of my faimlly in order to expose them to their culture. thank you very moch.

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