Frequently Asked Questions

Q & A
How do I find a Cherokee Medicine Man(or Woman)?

Although there are many practicing medicine men and women today, they do not advertise nor do they solicit clients. Traditionally, they do not charge set fees for their services. If you are a Cherokee who believes in and practices the traditional Cherokee way, you will already be familiar with who these people are or will know others who can lead you to one. Additionally, Cherokee acquaintances, family or friends may refer you if they are aware of your need. We are not at liberty to suggest such an individual.

We also caution you about the many fraudulent people now online and elsewhere who claim to be a traditional Cherokee medicine man/woman or a "shaman" (Shamanism is not a part of the Cherokee traditional belief system). Many offer to provide or teach ceremonies for a fee, a dead giveaway that they are not legitimate.

Our traditional beliefs and traditional people are highly respected; you can show great respect by not asking traditional people to share ceremony or beliefs if they do not wish to.

Traditional Cherokeesmay consult with medicine people for help with medical problems, dilemmas in their lives or other problems. There are fewer Medicine People alive and practicing today, but those few are still known by traditionalists and others in Cherokee communities. It is not accepted for medicine people to advertise or make their services known in other ways.

The proper way to find a medicine person is to be part of a Cherokee community, ceremonial ground or family and to come to know this person through those connections. Please do not contact Cherokee Nation asking to be put into contact with a Medicine Man or Woman or asking us to help you become one.
What art forms are truly Cherokee?

Arts or crafts considered to be truly Cherokee include double wall basketry, clay pottery, woven textiles, items produced from gourd and things made from river cane and cotton. The Cherokee are renowned for their double-wall baskets made from honeysuckle and buckbrush. Cherokee art is experiencing a renaissance today, as more Cherokee artists research traditional motifs and art forms and apply it to their work. Modern interpretations of Cherokee art forms are also enjoying great popularity and can be found in the finest galleries.

Not all “Indian art” is Cherokee. There are nearly 600 federally-recognized Indian tribes in the United States today, each with their own culture, practices and art forms.

The "dreamcatcher" is not a part of the Cherokee culture. It has been said that it belongs to the Ojibway people of the north, but because of popularity and commercialism, it has developed an inter-tribal identity. The Medicine Wheel rightfully belongs to the Plains people but has become an inter-tribal symbol of goodwill much like cedar, sage and sweet grass.

What are the sacred colors and directions of the Cherokee?
The Cherokee traditionally recognize seven directions, to encompass a three-dimensional world instead of a flat, single-dimensional one. In addition to the four cardinal directions (east, north, west and south), there are: up (above), down (below) and center (which is where you are). The colors are red, blue, black and white (sometimes yellow).
I have a Cherokee artifact, what do I do with it?
Respect it.

If it is truly an artifact in the historical sense, something from antiquity, then it is almost certainly an item from a mound or burial site. It could be something uncovered in some other way; perhaps it was lost or fell into disuse or was simply forgotten by its original owners. These items should be returned to the spots they were found, or taken to a Cherokee elder or other authority who will see that the item is returned to the tribe.

If you have a newly-made item, it is not considered a "historical artifact." It is either a modern-day ceremonial item or a reproduction of one. Certainly, many ceremonial objects are still made and used today. As such, they should be treated with due respect. Ceremonial items are not to be touched by anyone other than those who have authority and reason to use them.

Other items are made by artisans for non-ceremonial or commercial purposes and can be purchased for use as a decorative piece or in a display.

Please note that according to U.S. law, it is illegal to possess the feathers of eagles and other predatory birds unless you are a tribal citizen.

How many Cherokee are there today?

Although there are many people with Cherokee ancestry throughout the world, the total number of citizens of federally-recognized Cherokee tribes is approximately 350,000.

A good comparison to the difference would be to consider this analogy: a person may be of French ancestry, but they are not considered ‘French' unless they are a citizen of France. The Cherokee Nation has more than 320,000 tribal citizens in all. Approximately 126,000 of these citizens live within the jurisdictional boundaries of the Cherokee Nation in Oklahoma (June 2013).

The U.S. Census reports inflated numbers of Cherokees, due to the manner in which the information is collected (self-report from anyone who believes they have Cherokee ancestry).

Who are the Cherokee?

The Cherokee people are made up of three federally-recognized tribes; the only Cherokee tribes formally recognized by the United States government. The Cherokee Nation, headquartered in Tahlequah, Oklahoma, is the largest of the three with more than 320,000 tribal citizens. Its name does not include the words "of Oklahoma" nor is it formally called the "Western Band."

Also headquartered in Tahlequah is the United Keetoowah Band of Cherokee Indians.

The third is the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians, headquartered in Cherokee, North Carolina.

While there are admittedly many people of Cherokee ancestry, not all of them qualify for tribal citizenship in any of these three tribes. Each tribe has its own criteria for citizenship. Those not qualifying for citizenship often find themselves drawn in by other groups around the country who have no legitimate federal, historic or cultural foundation, yet insist on referring to themselves as "bands" or "tribes".

What type of dwellings did the Cherokee originally live in?

For the record: The Cherokee people never lived in tipis. The Plains Indians lived in these portable dwellings since they were easily moved when following herds and hunting.

The Cherokee people historically lived in houses made of mud and clay with roofs of brush and river cane. In the winter time, they lived in even smaller clay and mud houses which included the construction of the roof, as well, in order to keep warm.

By the late 1700s, many Cherokees were living in log cabins; some lived in clapboard houses constructed the same as those of their non-Indian neighbors. Today, Cherokees live in many types of dwellings based on economic status. Many Cherokee still live on family land in small cabins or other small homes.

Who are the Five Civilized Tribes?

The Cherokee, Muscogee (Creek), Chickasaw, Choctaw and Seminole Nations, all of whom were relocated from their original homelands to sections of present-day Oklahoma during the early-to-mid 1800s.

Where is the Cherokee Nation?
The Cherokee Nation is not a reservation; it is a 7,000 square mile jurisdictional area covering all of eight counties and portions of six additional counties in Northeastern Oklahoma. As a federally-recognized Indian tribe, the Cherokee Nation has both the opportunity and the sovereign right to exercise control and development over tribal assets which include 66,000 acres of land as well as 96 miles of the Arkansas Riverbed.
What are the traditional Cherokee musical instruments?
The traditional musical instruments of the Cherokee include the water drum, river cane flute, trumpets made from buffalo horn and other materials, and ceremonial rattles.

The water drum is an earthen pot or kettle with a skin stretched over the top of it. An inch or so of water or other liquid is placed inside before playing.

The river cane flute was said to have been about a foot long with 6 finger holes spaced along its length.

Trumpets were made from buffalo horns and sometimes from long neck gourds or even the thigh bone of the crane. Conch shells were used in very early times.

Turtle shells are used for ceremonial rattles; a single rattle to be held in the hand for use by men; turtle shell shackles worn on the legs of women. Ceremonial hand rattles are sometimes made of gourd instead of turtle shells.
What does the name Cherokee mean?
There are many theories on the meaning of the word Cherokee. The origin of this name is possibly from the word “atsila” or the eastern dialect version, “atsira,” meaning fire, thus the full meaning could be ‘people of the fire.’ This has been inferred from documents dated to the 1800’s. In the Cherokee language, it is pronounced anitsalagi, meaning Cherokee people.

The Cherokee people call themselves aniyvwiya, meaning the Real People. The elders tell us Cherokee people historically have also called themselves anigaduwagi, or Kituwah people. There have been many different spellings of the word Cherokee throughout history by people of other cultures. Some visitors have even speculated that it is a name given by another native people, meaning “Cave People” or “People of a Different Tongue.”

Other names applied to the Cherokee over time:
  • Allegheny (or Allegewi, Talligewi) used by the Delaware people
  • Baniatho used by the Arapahoe People
  • Caáxi (or Cayaki) used by the Osage people
  • Chalaque used by the Spanish people
  • Chilukki (dog people) used by the Choctaw and Chickasaw people
  • Entarironnen (mountain people) used by the Huron people
  • Gatohuá used by the Muscogee (Creek) people
  • Kittuwa (or Katowá) used by the Algonquin people
  • Matera (or Manteran) (coming out of the ground) used by the Catawba people
  • Nation du Chien used by the French people
  • Ochietarironnon used by the Wyandot people
  • Oyatageronon (or Oyaudah, Uwatayoronon) (cave people) used by the Iroquois people
  • Shanaki used by the Caddo people
  • Shannakiak used by the Fox people
  • Tcaike used by the Tonkawa people
  • Tcerokieco used by the Wichita people
How has Cherokee clothing changed over time?

The Cherokee originally wore clothing made from animal skins before the Europeans introduced woven cloth to the tribe. Even into the 1800's the men wore the leggings made of deerhide in order to protect their legs from thorns and underbrush.

The introduction of the hunting jacket and turban as Cherokee dress came about as the direct result of a visit by a Cherokee delegation to the Royal Court of England. The men were thought to be very frightening in appearance with their tattooed heads and bodies. It was decided they would wear what the English called a "smoking jacket" to cover their upper torsos. To cover their heads, they adopted a shorter version of the turbans worn by Muslim servants at Court.

Upon the delegation's return from England, the jacket and turban were rapidly accepted as clothing by the men of the "Five Civilized Tribes". They continue to this day to be a part of our cultural dress style.

Today, though, we are far more likely to see a young man dressed in a ribbon shirt or a young woman wearing a tear dress. While these styles are not historically or culturally old, they are embraced today as traditional Cherokee clothing.

The tear dress is an embellished version of a typical woman's cloth dress from the 1830's. The ribbon shirt is intended simply to compliment the tear dress. There is no intentional significance in color scheme or ribbon adornment.

How do I know what clan I belong to?
The Cherokee society is matrilineal, meaning the clan line is traced through the mother. If your mother is Cherokee, you belong to her clan. If the identity of that clan is not known by any family members, then it has been effectively lost since no tribal records are kept regarding clanship.

Clan membership is traditionally kept private for spiritual reasons. It is possible that one may be adopted into a clan under appropriate circumstances.

The seven current Cherokee clans are:
  • anigilohi, or Long Hair
  • aniwodi, or Paint
  • anitsisqua, or Bird
  • aniwaya, or Wolf
  • anigodagewi, or Wild Potato
  • aniawi, or Deer
  • anisahoni, or Blue
When was the concept of Christianity introduced to the Cherokee?
Frenchman Christian Priber, who is said to have claimed to be a member of the Jesuit order, established himself among the Cherokee in 1736; learned our language and promoted Christian principles as well as a vision for a "utopian society". He was ultimately arrested by the British and imprisoned in Charleston, in what is now South Carolina. Priber's work along with that of other missionaries eventually brought about the conversion of some Cherokees from their own religious ceremonialism and rituals to Christianity.

The first known Cherokee conversion to Christianity was 1773. In 1801, the first permanent Christian mission in the Cherokee Nation was established. It was called the Moravian Mission and was located at Springplace, which is in present day Georgia.
How do I get a Cherokee name?
At one time all Cherokee children were given Cherokee names; obviously, English was not spoken in early Cherokee homes. One tradition most families have held onto today is the traditional naming of their children. Although English names are now given and appear on hospital and state birth certificates, family elders continue giving their children Cherokee names which are used in the home.

Some Cherokee names have literal translations while others have no English meaning. Names like "Running Bear" or "Storm Cloud" are not Cherokee names; they are English words that sound like some Hollywood writer's idea of an Indian name. Some Cherokee names do translate into English like Deer-in-the-Water, but these are special names just like any last name, it is the last name of your family.

Examples of Cherokee first names include Enigi or Geyohi which do not have English translations; others inlcude Usdi which does translate to "little" and Diyesdisgi which means "wakes them up".

If you do not have a Cherokee name or if you are wanting to translate or write your English name into Cherokee, here are some suggestions:

If you do not have a Cherokee name, ask an elder in your family if there is a Cherokee family name suitable for you. Names are normally given by the elder family members and can be an ancestor name or can be based on some characteristic you show or something you have done.

Look up the origin and meaning of your English name; ask a Cherokee speaker to translate the definition into Cherokee. Example, the name Paul would have to be translated to find what the name means. "Paul" is from a Roman family name Paulus, which meant "small" or "humble" in Latin. The translation for "humble" in Cherokee would be "nu-tlv-quo-dv-na". Then you can go to the Cherokee syllabary chart and match up the phonetic sounds to the Cherokee syllabary. Always ask if the translation would be appropriate as a Cherokee name.
When did Cherokees first encounter Europeans?
The first recorded encounters with the Europeans were with Spanish explorer Hernando DeSoto in 1540. DeSoto and his conquistadors were on an expedition seeking gold which took them across much of the "new world", including trekking through what is now Florida, Georgia, the Carolinas, Tennessee, Alabama, Arkansas and Mississippi.
What is the difference between a pow wow and a stomp dance?
Pow wows began in the west with Plains Indians. They were tribal gatherings where people would gather to celebrate and renew family and tribal ties. Modern pow wows began to gain momentum in the late 1940’s and 1950’s. They evolved from tribal to intertribal celebrations and are often times held for competition with prizes being awarded for performance.

Pow wows are not to be confused with the Stomp Dance, which is traditional to the Cherokee and is very much spiritual in nature. It is private; participation is almost always restricted to those who practice traditional ceremonies.
Is there a real Cherokee Princess?

Many people have the impression that the Cherokee historically had princesses. In fact, the title of "princess" in Cherokee culture never existed.

There is the possibility that a chief’s daughter may have been thought of as a princess by other visiting cultures, in much the same way that a king's daughter would have been called a princess. This position or title, however, was never used by the Cherokee.

Today, “Miss Cherokee” is the winner of an academic competition for a scholarship. She holds her title for one year, acting as an ambassador of goodwill on behalf of the Cherokee Nation.

Many people undoubtedly confuse this honor with with being a "Cherokee Princess."

How do I trace my Cherokee ancestry?

Fortunately, Native Americans are able to find a wealth of information on their ancestors. Particularly those who were listed on the Guion Miller rolls. There are many resources for Cherokee geneaology, but the Cherokee Nation does not provide geneaology services. A private researcher, libraries and other organizations may be of some help to you. Here is a list of rolls that may list your Cherokee ancestors:

  • Rolls Before and During Removal
    Reservation Rolls 1817
    Cherokees who chose to accept a plot of land on the Cherokee reservation (in the Eastern homeland).

    Emigration Rolls 1817-1835
    Cherokee who chose to "emigrate" to Indian Territory west of the Mississippi River in present day Oklahoma and Arkansas (prior to the Trail of Tears.)

    Henderson Roll 1835
    Cherokees who were to be removed to Indian Territory on what would later be called the Trail of Tears.

    Mullay Roll 1848
    Cherokees who remained in North Carolina after removal.

  • Post Removal Rolls

    Siler Roll 1851 - Eastern
    Eastern Cherokee entitled to per capita payment.

    Old Settler Roll 1851 - Western
    Recorded those Cherokee (still living) who had emigrated to Indian Territory prior to removal.

    Chapman Roll 1852 - Eastern
    Eastern Cherokee who actually received payment from the government (reference to Siler Roll).
    Drennen Roll 1852 - Western
    Recorded those Cherokee who came to Indian Territory in 1839 on the Trail of Tears.

    Swetland Roll 1869 - Eastern
    Recorded those Cherokees, and their descendants who were listed on the Mullay Roll as residing in North Carolina.

    Hester Roll 1883 - Eastern
    Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians that provides a great deal of detail about those listed.

    Churchill Roll 1908 - Eastern
    Additional roll of the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians which also include those rejected from the Eastern Band.

    Guion Miller Roll 1909 - Eastern and Western
    For Cherokees (east and west) excluding the "Old Settlers."

    Baker Roll 1924 - Eastern
    The final roll of the Eastern Band of the Cherokee in anticipation of allotment. The land was not allotted and the reservation still exists. This roll is the basis for tribal membership in the Eastern Band.

    The Dawes Rolls 1898-1914 - Western
    The final roll of the western Cherokee. Allotment of Cherokee land to Cherokee individuals was based on this roll. Direct descendency from someone on this roll is required for tribal citizenship in the Cherokee Nation today.
  • What is the symbolism of the Cherokee flag?

    The Cherokee Flag contains the Cherokee Seal in the middle with seven stars in the outer field along with a single, black star. Interpretation of the design of the Cherokee Nation seal is found in Cherokee culture and history. The seven-pointed star in the center of the seal represents the seven Cherokee clans (Bird, Wild Potato, Deer, Long Hair, Paint, Blue and Wolf).

    The wreath of leaves and acorns surrounding the star represents the sacred fire of the Cherokee, maintained for hundreds of years by spiritual leaders. Surrounding these elements are the words, “Seal of the Cherokee Nation,” followed by “Tsa la gi hi a ye li” in the native tongue, meaning Cherokee Nation. The Cherokee syllabary, invented by Sequoyah, is used for this lettering. The date of September 6, 1839 represents the signing of the first Cherokee Constitution after removal to Indian Territory.

    The seven stars in the outer field also represent the seven clans, and the one additional star, which is black, is to remember those who died as a result of the Trail of Tears.

    Where did the Cherokee live before 1838 (the Trail of Tears)?
    Before European contact, the Cherokee lived across a very large geographical area which covered all or portions of the present-day states of Georgia, Tennessee, North Carolina, South Carolina, Kentucky, Alabama, Virginia and West Virginia.
    Is there such a thing as a "Cherokee Wedding"?
    Yes, in several different ways. Of course, any time Cherokee people get married, it is a Cherokee wedding. Legally speaking, the Cherokee Nation has a marriage law permitting tribal citizens to marry within the tribal government without a state license, and such a marriage is recognized by all governments of the world. Contact the Cherokee Nation courthouse at 918-458-9440 for more information.

    The people who are licensed to perform weddings under this law range from traditional Cherokee to many Christian denominations. It is a belief system that makes the wedding, not the type or kind of clothing worn for the ceremony. You must ultimately decide if you want a Cherokee tribal wedding instead of a state-licensed one, or if you want a Cherokee traditional belief system wedding. There are traditional leaders who are licensed to do both weddings with state license or tribal license.
    What are considered traditional Cherokee foods?

    Corn, beans and squash are known as the “Three Sisters.” These were our staple foods for many years in addition to deer, turkey, many plants and roots, berries, potatoes, pumpkin, fish, soup, cornbread, and even popcorn. Today, traditional foods include wild onions and eggs, brown beans, kanvtsi (kanuchi), wishi, poke and other greens, crawdads and grape dumplings. Although "Indian Tacos" and fry bread are served and enjoyed in many Cherokee households, they are not traditional Cherokee foods.