Native American Tribes

Learn about one of the great Native American tribes - The Cherokee.

The Cherokees call themselves Ani-Yunwiya, the "Principal People." They were indeed one of the principal Native American tribes of the southeastern United States until they were forced westward by the arrival of the Europeans. Cherokees were one of the Native American Tribes whose ancestral lands covered an area that included parts of Virginia, Tennessee, North and South Carolina, Georgia, and Alabama. Their language and migration legends suggest that the tribe originated to the north of their traditional homeland. An elaborate social, political, and ceremonial structure was reflected in the Cherokee culture. The town was their basic political unit and it consisted of all the people who used a single ceremonial center.

A council, dominated by older men, handled political affairs within each town. Representatives were sent to regional councils by individual towns to discuss policy for the corporate group, especially issues of diplomacy or warfare. Towns were typically made up of thirty to forty households clustered around a central townhouse that was used as a meeting place. Houses were square or rectangular huts constructed of locked poles, weatherproofed with wattle and daub plaster, and roofed with bark. The society of any Native American tribes such as the Cherokees was organized into clans, or kin groups. The seven major Cherokee clans were each identified by a particular animal totem. A variety of clans was represented in each community and performed significant social, legal, and political functions.

Native American tribes were to be found in several areas, but the first sign of the Cherokees was in Texas in 1807. A small band, probably an offshoot of the Arkansas settlements, established a village on the Red River. During that summer, a delegation of Cherokees, Pascagoulas, Chickasaws, and Shawnees sought permission from Spanish officials in Nacogdoches, the easternmost town in Texas, to settle members of their tribes in that province. The request was approved by Spanish authorities, which intended to use the immigrant Indians as a buffer against American expansion.

For the next hundred and twenty years, Cherokees tried to get compensation from Texas for lands lost in 1839. In the mid-1850s the tribe had sent William P. Adair to Washington, D.C., to petition Congress for permission to sue the state of Texas for the return of 1.5 million acres in East Texas. Native American tribes declined the offer of fourteen million acres in the Panhandle as compensation. In 1963, Earl Boyd Pearce, chief council for the Cherokees filed a petition against the state of Texas for redress of the 1839 grievances. Pearce asked for compensation in the form of free education for a thousand Cherokees in state-supported Texas universities. In an opinion handed down in March 1964, Texas attorney general Waggoner Carr denied the validity of the Cherokee claim on the Republic of Texas.

Thirty years ago the Cherokee Nation once again became a federally recognized "sovereign" nation, just as it had been for much of the nineteenth century. The town of Cherokee, located fifty miles west of Asheville, is the hub of that reservation. The Cherokee Nation preserves tribal culture and seeks economic opportunities to provide a better future for its members.

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