8 Truths About “Cherokee” Everyone Should Know
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.”
1-Who were the Cherokee princesses? The Cherokee never had princesses. In fact, Cherokee women were very powerful. They owned all the houses and fields, and they could marry and divorce as they pleased. Kinship was determined through the mother’s line. Clan mothers administered justice in many matters. Beloved women were very special women chosen for their outstanding qualities. As in other aspects of Cherokee culture, there was a balance of power between men and women. Although they had different roles, they both were valued.
2- Did the Cherokee live in tipis? The Cherokee never lived in tipis. Only the nomadic Plains Indians did so. The Cherokee were southeastern woodland Indians, and in the winter they lived in houses made of woven saplings, plastered with mud and roofed with poplar bark. In the summer they lived in open-air dwellings roofed with bark. Today the Cherokee live in ranch houses, apartments, and trailers.
3- What was traditional Cherokee dress? Did they wear headdresses? The Cherokee have never worn feather headdresses except to please tourists. These long headdresses were worn by Plains Indians and were made popular through Wild West shows and Hollywood movies. Cherokee men traditionally wore a feather or two tied at the crown of the head. In the early 18th century, Cherokee men wore cotton trade shirts, loincloths, leggings, front-seam moccasins, finger-woven or beaded belts, multiple pierced earrings around the rim of the ear, and a blanket over one shoulder. At that time, Cherokee women wore mantles of leather or feathers, skirts of leather or woven mulberry bark, front-seam moccasins, and earrings pierced through the earlobe only.
By the end of the 18th century, Cherokee men were dressing much like their white neighbors. Men were wearing shirts, pants, and trade coats, with a distinctly Cherokee turban. Women were wearing calico skirts, blouses, and shawls. Today Cherokee people dress like other Americans, except for special occasions, when the men wear ribbon shirts with jeans and moccasins, and the women wear tear dresses with corn beads, woven belts, and moccasins.
4- Do the Cherokee live on a reservation? The Cherokee do not live on a reservation, which is defined as land given by the federal government to a tribe. The Eastern Cherokee own 57,000 acres of land which they bought in the 1800s, and which is now owned by them but held in trust by the federal government. This land, called the Qualla Boundary, is mostly woods and mountains in western North Carolina, adjacent to the Great Smoky Mountains National Park.
5- How did the Eastern Band escape the Trail of Tears? The Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians is descended from Cherokee people who had taken land under the Treaty of 1819 and were allowed to remain in North Carolina; from those who hid in the woods and mountains until the U.S. Army left; and from those who turned around and walked back from Oklahoma. By 1850 they numbered almost a thousand. Today the Eastern Band includes about 11,000 members, while the Cherokee Nation in Oklahoma claims more than 100,000 members, making the Cherokee the second largest tribe in the United States.
6- Do the Cherokee people want to be called Indians or Native Americans? The legal name for the Cherokee people in North Carolina is: “The Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians.” The North American Indian Women’s Association recommends using the term “American Indians.”
7- What is the Cherokee government, and do the Cherokee people receive money from the federal government? The Eastern Band of Cherokee Nations is a sovereign nation within the larger nation of the United States. The Eastern Band is governed by a Principal Chief and a Vice-Chief and a tribal council made up of twelve members–two representatives each from six townships. These are all elected democratically. Voter turnout at the last major election was 70%. Tribal members also vote in state and national elections. The tribe pays for its own schools, water, sewer, fire, and emergency services.
8- Do Cherokee people still practice their traditional culture?Cherokee arts and crafts are still practiced: basket-weaving, pottery, carving, finger-weaving, and beadwork. The Cherokee language is spoken as a first language by fewer than a thousand people and has declined rapidly because of the policies of federally operated schools. However, since the tribe has begun operation of their own schools, Cherokee language is being systematically taught in the schools. Traditional Cherokee medicine, religion, and dance are practiced privately.