Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians

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The Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians: Q&A Session

1. Who were the Cherokee princesses?
The Cherokee never had princesses. This is a concept based on European folktales and has no reality in Cherokee history and culture. 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 avoid or escape the Trail of Tears?
There were several factors: A) The Cherokee people who had received land under both the Treaty of 1817 and the Treaty of 1819 and were allowed to remain in North Carolina; B) the Cherokee that were exempted from the Indian Removal Act of 1830; C) Indian Agent, and Cherokee Chief, William Holland Thomas’s legal proceedings in Washington before, during, and after the 1835 Treaty of New Echota; D) the Cherokee that hid in the rugged North Carolina mountains and avoided the 1838 Trail of Tears; E) and the Cherokee that returned on foot to North Carolina after their forced removal to Oklahoma during the Trail of Tears.

6. Do the Cherokee people want to be referred to as Indians or Native Americans?
The legal name for the Cherokee people in North Carolina is: "The Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians." Because "Native American" can refer to anyone born in America, the North American Indian Women's Association recommends using the term "American Indians." (On our license plates, one will see the letters "AI", for American Indian. The Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians' common abbreviation is "EBCI")

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. See also How Much Money do Cherokee Indians Receive and How to Receive Cherokee Money.
 

8. What is the Eastern Band reservation and which authorities have legal jurisdiction on the reservation? The Qualla Boundary, also known as the Cherokee Indian Reservation or Eastern Cherokee Indian Reservation, is federal government public trust land held as such only for the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians. Tribal and federal laws apply with jurisdiction by Cherokee Police or federal agencies such as the Federal Bureau of Investigation.

 
9. Do the Cherokee still speak the Cherokee language? The Cherokee language, almost extinct a decade ago, is now being taught in all grades of the Cherokee school system. In addition to speaking English, it is estimated that 20,000 currently speak Cherokee. The Cherokee were also the first American Indians to have their own written language. Invented by Sequoyah, the syllabary contains 86 characters. The Cherokee even had their own newspaper in the mid-1800s called The Phoenix. See also Learn How to Speak, Read, and Write in the Cherokee Language.

10. Do Cherokee people still practice their traditional culture?
Cherokee arts and crafts are still practiced: basketweaving, pottery, carving, fingerweaving, and beadwork. Traditional Cherokee medicine, religion, and dance are practiced privately. "Unto These Hills” outdoor drama is one of the oldest outdoor dramas in the United States. Its first performance was July 1, 1950, and it still runs nightly during the summer in the beautiful mountainside theater. You are encouraged to visit the Eastern Band of Cherokee Nation and experience "Unto These Hills" and our cultures and customs!
 

11. Does the Eastern Band have a museum? One of the top three Indian museums in the United States is the Museum of the Cherokee Indian. In 1998 it underwent a major renovation to make it a highly informative and interactive experience. It is staffed with friendly and knowledgeable members of the Eastern Band. They are very happy to answer your questions while at the museum.

 

12. How has gaming affected the Cherokee?

The Eastern Band of Cherokee has offered bingo games since 1988, when Congress passed a law permitting gaming on Indian lands. In 1997, the tribe opened a casino with video gambling in partnership with Harrah's, Inc. Half of the net profits from gaming go to the tribe for infrastructure expenses. Half of the net profits are disbursed to individual members of the tribe. Children have their payments held in trust until they're eighteen, if they graduate from high school. If they do not graduate from high school, they receive their payments that have been held in trust when they are twenty-one. In 1998, total payments per person were less than $4,000. See also Casino and Gambling: How Much Money do Cherokee Indians Receive and How to Receive Cherokee Money: The Membership Qualifications and Requirements.

13. How can I become a member of the Eastern Band?
Membership in the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians is closed except to those who can prove that they have an ancestor on the Baker Roll of 1924 and who can prove that they are at least 1/16th Cherokee by blood. See our genealogy section.
 

14. Since the United States fought to abolish slavery, or liberate a minority, during the Civil War, why, on the other hand, did it continue a policy of eradicating another minority - the American Indian?

First: There were many causes and origins of the American Civil War; slavery was one of the causes, but not the sole cause. Second: Plain, simple, and to the point, the U.S. government held steadfast to a policy that the American Indian was an “uncivilized, savage and inferior race.” It was, however, the epitome of hypocrisy: "freeing one race while striving to eliminate another." Although slavery was abolished with the ratification of the 13th Amendment in 1865, American Indians, or Indigenous Americans, remained the targets of genocide* for decades after said amendment. American Indians, furthermore, didn't receive U.S. citizenship until the 1924 Indian Citizenship Act; they were not guaranteed that right under the 14th Amendment that had been ratified in 1868. Also in 1868, U.S. Army General William Tecumseh Sherman had stated that "the more [Indians] we can kill this year, the less will have to be killed the next year, for the more I see of these Indians, the more convinced I am that they all have to be killed or be maintained as a species of paupers. Their attempts at civilization are simply ridiculous." And in 1869, General Phil Sheridan believed that "the only good Indian is a dead Indian."

 

*In his State of the Union Address on December 4, 1871, President Ulysses S. Grant stated that "the policy pursued toward the Indians has resulted favorably...many tribes of Indians have been induced to settle upon reservations, to cultivate the soil, to perform productive labor of various kinds, and to partially accept civilization. They are being cared for in such a way, it is hoped, as to induce those still pursuing their old habits of life to embrace the only opportunity which is left them to avoid extermination."

Implementation and enforcement of Grant's policies, however, reflected a course of extermination.

 

15. Is there anything in particular that you would like to say about the Cherokee?

Yes. In the U.S. Declaration of Independence we read: “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.” The United States is by no means perfect, but we are a nation that strives for perfection, or is in the pursuit of perfection, and have made many steps in the right direction. Our nation continues to define and perfect the words of our Founding Fathers: “That all men are created equal.” It is a good thing. And in the Preamble to the Constitution we read: "We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility..." We are all Americans, and may each individual, may each generation, and may each American continue to perfect our great Union and insure domestic tranquility. God bless America.

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For additional information about the Eastern Band, as well as the Cherokee Nation (sometimes referred to as the Western Band), advance to: HISTORY OF THE CHEROKEE INDIANS

Recommended Reading: The Cherokee Nation: A History. Description: Conley's book, "The Cherokee Nation: A History" is an eminently readable, concise but thoughtful account of the Cherokee people from prehistoric times to the present day. The book is formatted in such a way as to make it an ideal text for high school and college classes. At the end of each chapter is a source list and suggestions for further reading. Also at the end of each chapter is an unusual but helpful feature- a glossary of key terms. The book contains interesting maps, photographs and drawings, along with a list of chiefs for the various factions of the Cherokee tribe and nation. Continued below...

In addition to being easily understood, a principal strength of the book is that the author questions some traditional beliefs and sources about the Cherokee past without appearing to be a revisionist or an individual with an agenda in his writing. One such example is when Conley tells the story of Alexander Cuming, an Englishman who took seven Cherokee men with him to England in 1730. One of the Cherokee, Oukanekah, is recorded as having said to the King of England: "We look upon the Great King George as the Sun, and as our Father, and upon ourselves as his children. For though we are red, and you are white our hands and hearts are joined together..." Conley wonders if Oukanekah actually said those words and points out that the only version we have of this story is the English version. There is nothing to indicate if Oukanekah spoke in English or Cherokee, or if his words were recorded at the time they were spoken or were written down later. Conley also points out that in Cherokee culture, the Sun was considered female, so it is curious that King George would be looked upon as the Sun. The "redness" of Native American skin was a European perception. The Cherokee would have described themselves as brown. But Conley does not overly dwell on these things. He continues to tell the story using the sources available. The skill of Conley in communicating his ideas never diminishes. This book is highly recommended as a good place to start the study of Cherokee history. It serves as excellent reference material and belongs in the library of anyone serious about the study of Native Americans.

 

Recommended Viewing: The Trail of Tears: Cherokee Legacy (2006), Starring: James Earl Jones and Wes Studi; Director: Chip Richie, Steven R. Heape. Description: The Trail Of Tears: Cherokee Legacy is an engaging two hour documentary exploring one of America's darkest periods in which President Andrew Jackson's Indian Removal Act of 1830 consequently transported Native Americans of the Cherokee Nation to the bleak and unsupportive Oklahoma Territory in the year 1838. Deftly presented by the talents of Wes Studi, James Earl Jones, and James Garner, The Trail Of Tears: Cherokee Legacy also includes narrations of famed celebrities Crystal Gayle, Johnt Buttrum, Governor Douglas Wilder, and Steven R. Heape. Continued below...

Includes numerous Cherokee Nation members which add authenticity to the production… A welcome DVD addition to personal, school, and community library Native American history collections. The Trail Of Tears: Cherokee Legacy is strongly recommended for its informative and tactful presentation of such a tragic and controversial historical occurrence in 19th century American history.

 

Recommended Reading: The Eastern Band of Cherokees, 1819-1900, by John R. Finger. Review from University of Tennessee Press: This volume presents the story of the Eastern Band of Cherokees during the nineteenth century. This group – the tribal remnant in North Carolina that escaped removal in the 1830’s – found their fortitude and resilience continually tested as they struggled with a variety of problems, including the upheavals of the Civil War and Reconstruction, internal divisiveness, white encroachment on their lands, and a poorly defined relationship with the state and federal governments. Yet despite such stresses and a selective adaptation in the face of social and economic changes, the Eastern Cherokees retained a sense of tribal identity as they stood at the threshold of the twentieth century. Continued below…

“Most scholars, like most Cherokees, have tended to follow the Trail of Tears west with scarcely a backward glance at the more than 1,000 Indians who stayed behind in the North Carolina mountains. In this pathbreaking book, John R. Finger combs federal, state, and local archives to tell the story of these forgotten natives.”

-- Journal of Southern History

“This work is a significant contribution to the literature on this long-ignored group….Finger works [his] sources well and out of them has produced a narrative that is readable and that puts the Eastern Band of Cherokees as a tribal entity into a clear, historical perspective.”

-- American Historical Review

John R. Finger is professor of history at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville.

 

Recommended Reading: Trail of Tears: The Rise and Fall of the Cherokee Nation. Description: One of the many ironies of U.S. government policy toward Indians in the early 1800s is that it persisted in removing to the West those who had most successfully adapted to European values. As whites encroached on Cherokee land, many Native leaders responded by educating their children, learning English, and developing plantations. Such a leader was Ridge, who had fought with Andrew Jackson against the British. Continued below...

As he and other Cherokee leaders grappled with the issue of moving, the land-hungry Georgia legislators, with the aid of Jackson, succeeded in ousting the Cherokee from their land, forcing them to make the arduous journey West on the infamous "Trail of Tears." ...A treasured addition for the individual remotely interested in American Indian history as well as general American history.

 

Recommended Reading: Cherokee Proud, Second Edition, by Tony Mack McClure. Description: Absolutely the "Bible" of Cherokee Genealogy. New, 336 pages, 2nd Edition. If the information in this remarkable new book doesn't lead a person to proof of their Cherokee roots, nothing can! “It is an A-to-Z on organizing and locating the requirements / qualifications for membership.” Continued below...

Are you Cherokee? Are you the individual that has always been told that you are a Cherokee, but have no facts or records to prove it? To claim Cherokee membership means that you must prove it – you must have the facts, so toss the doubt away, get the facts, and claim what is rightfully your heritage by blood quantum. Now, are you ready to prove that you are a Cherokee? It’s not difficult if you take the time to locate the facts. Included are proven resources for tracing your family genealogy, the family tree, roots, bloodline, and for researching your ancestors to prove that you meet the blood requirements (qualifications) for Cherokee membership and tribal enrollment. Those that qualify as “American Indians are American Indians” and are entitled to the rights and benefits of the tribe! Also includes a proven “how to dos” written by the foremost expert in Cherokee history, genealogy and heritage. Cherokee membership is not like joining a gym or paying dues, it’s your blood, so claim it. Are you remotely interested in knowing that you are a “Cherokee Indian” or are you the individual that enjoys genealogy? Do you want to locate and preserve your Native American ancestry? Finding information about ancestors for genealogy and heritage is also a lot of fun. Moreover, you are preserving your own family history and heritage with your relatives and loved ones for generations and generations… Take a look at exactly what is required to locate and organize and present your information to prove that you meet the qualifications as a member of the Cherokee tribe. Cherokee Proud, by Tony McClure, is referred to as the "Bible for Cherokee Genealogy." Cherokee Proud has also been rated a SOLID FIVE STARS by every person that has read and rated it. To see if you meet the 'Cherokee qualification and requirement for membership', then look no further -- purchase Cherokee Proud. Read the reviews and see what people and organizations are saying about it.

Reviews

"Cherokee Proud is the very best book I have ever seen on tracing Cherokee genealogy." -- RICHARD PANGBURN, acclaimed author of Indian Blood, Vol. I & II found in most libraries

"McClure unabashedly loosens his journalistic standards for portions of this book which reach him too emotionally. Understood. Fascinating and enlightening."

BACK COVER: Among the people of this country are individuals in whose blood runs the proud heritage of a noble and resilient people whose ways and talents rank with the finest civilizations the world has known. They are the " Tsalagi ". . . the Cherokee. This book will help you learn if you are one of them. -- BOOK READER

"The contents of Cherokee Proud are exceptional - valuable information that can be used by so many readers and researchers who have Native American (Cherokee) ancestry." -- DON SHADBURN, Famous Georgia historian and noted author of Unhallowed Intrusion and Cherokee Planters of Georgia

"This Cherokee guide is the best yet!" -- LAWTON CONSTITUTION

About the Author: Well known and acclaimed Cherokee author Dr. Tony Mack McClure, a native of Tennessee, is a certified member of the Native American Journalists Association, Wordcraft Circle of Native Writers and Storytellers, and Committeeman for the Tennessee Chapter of the National Trail of Tears Association. His work has appeared in numerous magazines, over 250 newspapers, on all major television networks and many cable systems.

 

Recommended Viewing: 500 Nations (372 minutes). Description: 500 Nations is an eight-part documentary (more than 6 hours and that's not including its interactive CD-ROM filled with extra features) that explores the history of the indigenous peoples of North and Central America, from pre-Colombian times through the period of European contact and colonization, to the end of the 19th century and the subjugation of the Plains Indians of North America. 500 Nations utilizes historical texts, eyewitness accounts, pictorial sources and computer graphic reconstructions to explore the magnificent civilizations which flourished prior to contact with Western civilization, and to tell the dramatic and tragic story of the Native American nations' desperate attempts to retain their way of life against overwhelming odds. Continued below...

Mention the word "Indian," and most will conjure up images inspired by myths and movies: teepees, headdresses, and war paint; Sitting Bull, Geronimo, Crazy Horse, and their battles (like Little Big Horn) with the U.S. Cavalry. Those stories of the so-called "horse nations" of the Great Plains are all here, but so is a great deal more. Using impressive computer imaging, photos, location film footage and breathtaking cinematography, interviews with present-day Indians, books and manuscripts, museum artifacts, and more, Leustig and his crew go back more than a millennium to present an fascinating account of Indians, including those (like the Maya and Aztecs in Mexico and the Anasazi in the Southwest) who were here long before white men ever reached these shores. It was the arrival of Europeans like Columbus, Cortez, and DeSoto that marked the beginning of the end for the Indians. Considering the participation of host Kevin Costner, whose film Dances with Wolves was highly sympathetic to the Indians, it's no bulletin that 500 Nations also takes a compassionate view of the multitude of calamities--from alcohol and disease to the corruption of their culture and the depletion of their vast natural resources--visited on them by the white man in his quest for land and money, eventually leading to such horrific events as the Trail of Tears "forced march," the massacre at Wounded Knee, and other consequences of the effort to "relocate" Indians to the reservations where many of them still live. Along the way, we learn about the Indians' participation in such events as the American Revolution and the War of 1812, as well as popular legends like the first Thanksgiving (it really happened) and the rescue of Captain John Smith by Pocahontas (it probably didn't).

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