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Cherokee facts for kids

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Henry Inman - Sequoyah - Google Art Project.jpg
Sequoyah, creator of the Cherokee syllabary as painted by Henry Inman circa 1830
Total population
316,049 enrolled tribal members
(Eastern Band: >13,000, Cherokee Nation: 288,749, United Keetoowah Band: 14,300)
819,105 claimed Cherokee ancestry in the 2010 Census
Regions with significant populations
United States

California: large ethnic diaspora community, 22,124 registered tribal members
North Carolina: 16,158 (0.2%)
Oklahoma: 102,580 (2.7%) – extends to nearby Arkansas, Kansas, and Missouri

Canada: 11,620 Residents of Canada identified as having Cherokee Ancestry in the 2016 Canadian Census.
English, Cherokee
Christianity, Kituhwa, Four Mothers Society, Native American Church

The Cherokee ( Cherokee: ᎠᏂᏴᏫᏯᎢ, translit. Aniyvwiyaʔi or Anigiduwagi, or Cherokee: ᏣᎳᎩ, translit. Tsalagi) are one of the indigenous peoples of the Southeastern Woodlands of the United States. Before the 19th century, they lived in what is now southwestern North Carolina, southeastern Tennessee, edges of western South Carolina, northern Georgia, and northeastern Alabama.

By the 19th century, White American settlers had classified the Cherokee of the Southeast as one of the "Five Civilized Tribes" in the region. The Cherokees lived in houses made of wood. They farmed the land and began to live the way white settlers did. They had also created their own writing system. Beginning in 1836, the U.S. government used the Indian Removal Act and the Treaty of New Echota to force the Cherokees to move west. This was called the Trail of Tears.

Today, three Cherokee tribes are federally recognized: the United Keetoowah Band of Cherokee Indians (UKB) in Oklahoma, the Cherokee Nation (CN) in Oklahoma, and the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians (EBCI) in North Carolina. The Cherokee Nation is the largest tribe in the United States. It has more than 300,000 tribal members.


Aniyvwiyaʔi (ᎠᏂᏴᏫᏯ) is the Cherokee name for its people. It translates to "Principal People."

Language and writing system

Sequoyah, the inventor of the Cherokee syllabary

Tsalagi (ᏣᎳᎩ) is the Cherokee word for the Cherokee language. The Cherokee language is part of the Iroquoian language group. It is written in a syllabary with 85 letters invented by Sequoyah. Sequoyah is one of the few people in history to invent a widely used writing system by himself. His 6-year-old daughter, Ayokeh, was the first to learn the new syllabary. Over the next few years, most of the Cherokee tribe learned to read.



The Cherokee lived in villages across the southeastern part of the United States. The villages were usually near rivers and had about 50 homes in them. Their homes were built with wooden logs and covered with grass and mud for protection from the weather.


Because the Cherokee did not follow herds of animals like other Native American tribes, they became good hunters, gatherers, and farmers. Their diet included rabbit, deer, turkey, bear, wild plants, corn, squash, and beans. After the Europeans arrived, Cherokee began to grow watermelon, peaches, apples, sweet potatoes, and black-eyed peas.


To travel close to home, the Cherokee walked on trails or used canoes on rivers. They built canoes from hollowed-out logs from large trees. After the Europeans came to America and brought horses with them, some Cherokee used horses to travel as well.

European settlers

Chief John Ross
Chief John Ross, c. 1840

John Ross was an important figure in the history of the Cherokee tribe. His father emigrated from Scotland to North America before the Revolutionary War. His mother was a quarter-blood Cherokee woman whose father was also from Scotland. He began his public career in 1809. The Cherokee Nation was founded in 1820, with elected public officials. John Ross became the chief of the tribe in 1828 and remained the chief until his death.

When white settlers came to America, some in the Cherokee Nation began to move. They crossed the Mississippi River and formed reservations in what would later become Arkansas in Missouri. Congress passed the Indian Removal Act in 1832 and the Treaty of New Echota in 1836, which meant that the U.S. government could force the Cherokee to move west to Oklahoma. Some leaders of the Cherokee tribe signed the Treaty of New Echota, thinking it would at least help them be paid for the land they would lose. Other leaders were angry and did not want to move at all.

The Trail of Tears began in 1836. Some Cherokee stayed on the old reservation lands in Arkansas. Others aligned with the United States (and later the Confederate Army during the Civil War) to get money and be recognized as a sovereign independent state with its own government.

In 1848, a group of Cherokee set out on an expedition to California looking for new settlement lands. The expedition followed the Arkansas River upstream to Rocky Mountains in present-day Colorado, then followed the base of mountains northward into present-day Wyoming before turning westward. The route became known as the Cherokee Trail.

Map of the present-day Cherokee Nation Tribal Statistical Area

The Dawes Act of 1887 and the Curtis Act of 1898 began to take away the rights of the Cherokee. After Oklahoma became a state in 1907, the Federal government appointed chiefs they could control to the Cherokee Nation. However, the Cherokee Nation recognized it needed leadership, and they assembled a general convention in 1938 to elect a chief. They choose J. B. Milam as principal chief, and as a goodwill gesture, U.S. President Franklin D. Roosevelt approved the election in 1941.

The Cherokee Nation has elected its principal chief since then. The chiefs who followed Milam were Ross Swimmer, Wilma Mankiller, Joe Byrd, Chad "Corntassel" Smith, Joe Crittenden, and Bill John Baker. The current principal chief is Chuck Hoskin Jr..

The United Keetoowah Band of Cherokee Indians took a different track than the Cherokee Nation and received federal recognition after the Indian Reorganization Act of 1934. They are descended from the Old Settlers, or Cherokees that moved west before the Trail of Tears.

Cherokee Tribal Members

  • Brad Carson, Former United States Congressman, Head of Cherokee Nation Enterprises
  • Chief Joe Byrd, Former Chief Cherokee Nation, Attempted to overthrow the Cherokee Nation Government in the early 1990s which resulted in the deployment of Federal troops by the United States to restore order on Cherokee Nation Tribal Lands. He was accused of embezzlement of Cherokee Nation funds by the Cherokee Nation Judicial Branch.
  • Hawk Littlejohn, Native American flute-maker and player.
  • Jay Red Eagle, Native American flutist
  • Jeffrey Vernon Merkey, American Computer Scientist, Former Chief Scientist of Novell, Author of Multiprocessor NetWare Operating System,
  • Jerry Ellis, nominated for a Pulitzer Prize for his 1991 book Walking the Trail, One Man's Journey Along the Cherokee Trail of Tears
  • Ned Christie, Famous Outlaw and Frontiersman during Oklahoma Settlement
  • Redbird Smith, Cherokee Leader and Statesman,
  • Wes Studi, actor (full Cherokee)

Individuals who have identifiable Cherokee ancestry

  • Tori Amos, singer (maternal grandfather was part Eastern Cherokee - an Eastern Cherokee with some European ancestry)
  • Kim Basinger, actress (Swedish, German, Cherokee)
  • James Brown, singer (Black, Cherokee)
  • Bryan Callen, actor (1/2 Cherokee, 1/4 Scottish, 1/4 Irish)
  • Cher, singer/actress (1/16 Cherokee)
  • Rita Coolidge, singer
  • Kevin Costner, actor (Cherokee, Irish, German)
  • Johnny Depp, actor (mother half-Irish/half-Cherokee, father German)
  • Carmen Electra, actress (Irish, German, Cherokee)
  • Shannon Elizabeth, actress (Syrian-Lebanese father and mixed Cherokee mother)
  • James Garner, actor
  • Rebecca Gayheart, actress (Irish, Italian, German, and Cherokee descent)
  • Jimi Hendrix, guitarist, singer (Black, Caucasian, Cherokee)
  • Michael Jackson, singer (Black, Cherokee)
  • Val Kilmer, actor (Mongolian, Irish, Scottish, Cherokee, German, Sephardic, Swedish ancestors, paternal great-grandmother was Cherokee)
  • Eartha Kitt, singer (Caucasian father & Black-Cherokee mother)
  • Karen McDougal, model (Cherokee and Irish ancestors)
  • Demi Moore, actress (Welsh, French, and Cherokee heritage)
  • Mandy Moore, singer and actress (English, Irish, Cherokee)
  • Charlie Musselwhite, blues harmonica player and bandleader
  • Wayne Newton, actor and singer (Irish-Powhatan father and German-Cherokee mother) 
  • Joe Nichols, country singer
  • Chuck Norris, actor and martial artist (both parents are half Cherokee and half Irish)
  • Elvis Presley, singer, actor (Welsh, English, Scottish, Irish, French, Dutch, German, Jewish, and Cherokee ancestors)
  • Nikki Reed, actress (Jewish father and Cherokee-Italian mother)
  • Burt Reynolds, actor (Cherokee, Irish, Italian)
  • Salli Richardson, actress (Black-Cherokee mother & Italian-Irish father)
  • Robert Rauschenberg, painter (German, Cherokee)
  • Ronnie Spector, singer (Caucasian father & Black-Cherokee mother)
  • Tina Turner, singer (Black, Cherokee, Navajo)
  • Liv Tyler, actress (father Steven Tyler is Cherokee, Russian, and Italian, mother Bebe Buell is of French descent)
  • Steven Tyler, singer of Aerosmith (Cherokee, Russian, Italian)
  • Michelle White, singer (father Tony Joe White is Caucasian, Cherokee)
  • Tony Joe White, singer (Caucasian, Cherokee)

Interesting Facts about Cherokee

  • Women were important in Cherokee society. The family line and property were carried on through the women.
  • Men did not wear large headdresses full of feathers like some other tribes did. They usually wore one or two feathers tied to the head.
  • To be considered Cherokee, a person has to have a mother who is Cherokee. The ancestry does not pass through the father.
  • Today many Cherokee dress like other Americans except on special occasions.
  • Traditional Cherokee arts included river cane basket weaving, gourd art, pottery, and pipe carving. After being forced to Oklahoma where those materials were not available, Cherokee began using beads and cloth in their art.
  • Cherokee have many important ceremonial dances including the stomp dance and the rain dance.
  • Traditional Cherokee believed that plants, animals, rivers, and mountains had spiritual powers.
  • Squash, corn, and beans are known as the "three sisters" and were used in most meals.
  • After the Europeans arrived in America, the Cherokee traded beeswax, river cane baskets, and deerskins for weapons and tools.
  • New Echota, the capital of the Cherokee Nation, was the location of the first Cherokee newspaper (the Cherokee Phoenix) and their first Supreme Courthouse. It was abandoned for over 100 years after the Trail of Tears.

Images for kids

See also

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