The Cherokee Tribe of today is made of 3 different groups that all descend from the same common tribe.
Cherokee Nation of Oklahoma
Citizens reside within 14 counties in Northeastern Oklahoma, the tribe composes of descendants of those that were forcibly removed from lands in the Southeastern United States during 1838-1839 time period. In addition to those descendants the tribe also comprises of descendants of ‘Old Settlers' which were those that had moved from lands in the east prior to 1833 and are subject to the 1828 and 1833 treaties.
Over 70,000 Cherokee reside within a 7,000 square mile geographical area, which was never a reservation but rather a federally-recognized, truly sovereign nation covering most of northeast Oklahoma. Today its jurisdictional service area encompasses eight entire counties along with portions of six others. As one of only three such federally-recognized Cherokee tribes, the Cherokee Nation has both the sovereign right and the responsibility to exercise control and development over tribal assets, including more than 66,000 acres of land and 96 miles of the Arkansas Riverbed. Tribal citizenship is granted if a Lineal Descendant from the Final Roll of the Dawes Commission 1907 of the applicant can be proven through birth and death records, Minimum Blood Quantum is not used. 1
Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians
Comprising of Descendants of those that resided at the time in North Carolina thru a provision called the Reservation Act of 1819 which excluded them from the Removal act of 1830 or by evading the United States Army in Tennessee and Georgia during the roundups prior to Forced Removal to Indian Territory in 1838-1839. Those that remained behind could not hold property, which by law during this time Native Americans were neither citizens of the United States nor the State where they resided, therefore they could not own or have rights to property. An adopted Cherokee named Will Thomas bought land with money that Cherokees gave him in their behalf; he held the deeds in his name and allowed the fugitive Cherokees to live on and work the land. This ambiguous status continued until after the Civil War when the Cherokee question surfaced again. After several years of legal wrangling, the Cherokee formed a corporation. As a business, the Cherokee could hold the land and the land, which was to become known as the Qualla Boundary, again the land was in Cherokee control. Eastern Band was never subject to the Allotment act of 1889 and was able to fend off attempts to force compliance until the Howard Wheeler Act of 1936 abolished Allotment. Today they live in far western North Carolina in an area known as Qualla Boundary a Land Trust, not a reservation the Tribe owns the land. Enrollment is granted to the applicant if they can prove a minimum Blood Quantum of 1/16th degree of Cherokee blood and Lineal Descendant of an Ancestor that is listed on the Baker Roll of 1924. 2
United Keetoowah Band of Cherokees
Reside in present-day Oklahoma in same 14 counties that the Cherokee Nation of Oklahoma. In 1808, a delegation of Cherokees from the upper and lower towns of the Cherokee Nation went to Washington D.C. to inform the President of the United States that not all Cherokee people wanted to pursue what was deemed a ‘civilized' life. The delegation requested the President divide the upper towns, whose people wanted to establish a Regular government, from the lower towns who wanted to continue living traditionally. On January 9, 1809, the President of the United States allowed the lower towns to send an exploring party to find suitable lands on the Arkansas and White Rivers. Seven of the most trusted men explored locations both in what is now Western Arkansas and also Northeastern Oklahoma. The people of the lower towns desired to remove across the Mississippi to this area, onto vacant lands within the United States so that they might continue the traditional Cherokee life.
In 1817, the United States ceded such lands to the Kituwah people (also known as Old Settlers, or Western Cherokee) in exchange for a portion of the Cherokee lands they had occupied and were entitled to in the East. As many as 4,000 Kituwah Old Settlers came. The Treaty of 1817 with the United States exchanged lands back East for lands in Arkansas. One of the groups that became a part of the Keetoowah band is the Nighthawk societies that had formed after the Civil War and fought against attempts by the Federal Government to force compliance with the Allotment act of 1880. During the 1890's some 5000 “Nighthawks” protested against and actively refused to sign up for the Allotment of land that the Dawes Commission was forcing Cherokees to comply with. But by 1902 after their Leader Red Bird Smith had been jailed the remaining holdouts were allotted land and listed on the Dawes rolls without consent.
In 1907 the group incorporated themselves and for many years were the only informal government that the Cherokees had. In 1936 the Oklahoma Indian Welfare Act was passed and the Keetoowah’s opened a Roll for the first time since 1907 when the Cherokee Nation had been abolished. By 1947 the roll was completed and referred to the BIA for Recognition, However, since the BIA did not have a formal process to accomplish such a process the paperwork languished in limbo for the next 40 years! Federal Recognition was finally granted in 1996 after years of extended negotiations with the BIA. Enrollment today is accomplished by tracing Lineal Descendants from the 1949 Final Roll of the Keetoowah Band of Cherokees or Dawes Roll of 1907 and minimum Blood Quantum of 1/4 degree. Submitted applications are approved on a monthly basis by the Tribal Council. 3
Cherokees of Today
Today all three Federally Recognized tribes are viewed as separate Nations by the BIA but in reality, we are related by Family ties that go back thousands of years. All three groups have made strides in building industry and businesses that employ tribal members within each tribal jurisdiction. In July of 2012 Chiefs from all three Tribes met in Cherokee North Carolina to relight the flame that once burned in our mother Town Kituwah. Although this was a historic moment, we still have a long way to go to repair those bonds that were broken at the time of our ancestors. Much blood was spilled amongst our own peoples in the different politics of that time and although we don't kill each other any longer we still have many political fights such as the ongoing battles between Oklahoma Tribes: Cherokee Nation and United Keetoowah Band over land jurisdiction. Although the BIA has ruled several times on the issue they have yet made a ruling that definitively defines either tribe's role in the land. At issue is the fact that the Cherokee Nation's Government was terminated and in fact ceased to exist after 1907. In the years following the Allotment Act abolishing the Government of the Cherokee Nation, several different acts and resolutions seem to resurrect the Nation. However, since the Cherokees did not take advantage of OIWA of 1936 5 to reform (Several Reasons for this) it took until 1970 for the Principal Chief's act 4 to reform the Cherokee Nation on paper. But even the wording of this act is flawed and further muddying the waters was the BIA on the one hand finally recognizing the United Keetoowah Band in 1996 and on the other hand not defining the most important part to Sovereignty: Land Trust. Another issue in this continuing saga is when a new head of the BIA is named that person decides that another ruling is forthcoming which does nothing to clear up the matter. The main fact that the Cherokee Nation of old is no longer in existence has generally accepted a point of view. What has not been defined is who the successor in interest to the Land is?? Is it Cherokee Nation II formed in 1970 by the Principal Chiefs Act or the United Keetoowah Band formally Recognized in 1996?? Another issue is the Freedman Case who have treaty rights from the 1866 Treaty, as of 2012 they are members of the Cherokee Nation only, the enrollment criteria for either the Eastern Band or United Keetoowah Band would not allow non-Cherokees Citizenship, This would bring up another interesting issue if the BIA were to decide that the United Keetoowah were successor in interest that would include Treaty Obligations which would include the 1866 Treaty, so they would have to include the Freedman into the Tribe or face the same court cases that the Cherokee Nation are presently going thru!
I have been talking about Government to Government relations up to this point this only touches on the subject, the real question is this: What makes a tribe? The answer is the families that are interrelated through Culture and Language that share a common bond going back thousands of years. In Eastern Oklahoma after 1907 when the formal Government and Courts of the Old Cherokee Nation were dissolved. The people who called themselves Cherokee continued to cluster in communities and continued to raise children and taught those children our culture and ways that were handed down generation to generation. Communities such as Oaks, Moodys, Bell, Lyon Switch, Evening Shade, Bunch, Lost City and Rocky Ford just to name a few, they still held Stomp Dances at Grounds that are older than this State.
They formed Indian Churches that only spoke Cherokee and read from the bible that was translated into Cherokee in the 1840's. These communities did not have a government to turn to in those years, so they turned to each other in those communities and took care of their own. These were hard times and as the depression in 1930's hit the rest of the country these communities had already been in a depression the depths that the rest of the country was finally seeing, but they continued to do the best they could. This has always been a strong trait of Native Peoples and that is to band together in close-knit communities and continue to raise children and be Cherokee no matter what the Government name for us. Today in Eastern Oklahoma and In Western North Carolina you can take a drive into the back hills and through these same communities find these old Indian Churches still speaking Cherokee, Still raising their children much as their Grandparents had in the 1920's and long before that, despite what our “Governments” do…
1) History and Culture of the Cherokee Nation of Ok http://www.cherokee.org/AboutTheNation/History/Facts/24449/Information.aspx
2) History and Culture of Eastern Band of Cherokee Indian http://nc-cherokee.com/historyculture/
3) History and Culture of the United Keetoowah Band of Cherokee http://www.keetoowahcherokee.org/documents/history/historyessay.pdf
4) Principle Chiefs act 1970 http://digital.library.okstate.edu/kappler/vol6/html_files/v6p1208b.html
5) Oklahoma Indian Welfare Act of 1936 http://digital.library.okstate.edu/encyclopedia/entries/O/OK059.html
Last Updated on January 9, 2024 by Paul G