Cherokee Bands, Gens, and Clans


Last Updated: 4 years

The Cherokee (ᏣᎳᎩ) are a Native American people historically settled in the Southeastern United States (principally Georgia, the Carolinas and Eastern Tennessee). Linguistically, they are part of the Iroquoian language family. In the 19th century, historians and ethnographers recorded their oral tradition that told of the tribe having migrated south in ancient times from the Great Lakes region, where other Iroquoian-speaking peoples were located.


The Cherokee have 7 clans:

  1. Ani’-wa’`ya (Wolf)
  2. Ani’-Kawĭ‘ (Deer)
  3. Ani’-Tsi’skwa (Bird)
  4. Ani’-wi’dĭ (Paint)
  5. Ani’-Sah’a’ni
  6. Ani’-Ga’tagewĭ
  7. Ani’-Gi-lâ’hĭ

The names of the last 3 cannot be translated with certainty. There is evidence that there were anciently 14, which by extinction or absorption have been reduced to their present number. The Wolf clan is the largest and most important. The “seven clans” are frequently mentioned in the ritual prayers and even in the printed laws of the tribe. They seem to have had a connection with the “seven mother towns” of the Cherokee, described by Cuming in 1730 as having each a chief, whose office was hereditary in the female line.

In the 19th century, white settlers in the United States called the Cherokees one of the “Five Civilized Tribes,” because they had assimilated numerous cultural and technological practices of European-American settlers. According to the 2000 U.S. Census, the Cherokee Nation has more than 300,000 members, the largest of the 563 federally recognized Native American tribes in the United States.

Of the three federally recognized Cherokee tribes, the Cherokee Nation (formerly Cherokee Nation of Oklahoma) and the United Keetoowah Band of Cherokee Indians have headquarters in Tahlequah, Oklahoma. They were forcibly relocated there in the 1830s.

The Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians is located in Cherokee, North Carolina.

Requirements for citizenship (membership) in these sovereign groups vary. The procedures also vary in detail, but in general, include:

(1) Certification of Degree of Indian Blood (DIB), which process is in the hands of the U.S. Department of the Interior, Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA). The rules involve being able to legally establish a “direct lineal descent” from an individual who wasenrolled in the official “final roll“ of citizens, and a computation of DIB based on that ancestor’s blood quantum, as recorded on the final roll.

(2) Direct lineal descent must be established by legal documentation, including items such as state or court based birth and marriage certificates, or a “judicial determination of heirs” which legally establishes one’s nearest enrolled relative.

(3) The minimum DIB is established by each Federally recognized tribal government.

(4) Other requirements may also be established by each tribal government.

As a result of Federal and Tribal Law, some number of people who were of Cherokee heritage lost their citizenship at the time of the respective final rolls.

Opinions vary as to the number, and so far as I know, no official census has ever been taken of those who lost their citizenship.

The current requirements for Cherokee citizenship are:

(1) Cherokee Nation

any degree of Cherokee blood quantum, and
direct lineal descent from a Dawes Roll member.

(2) Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians of North Carolina

(Tribal Ordinance #284 dated June 24, 1996)
1/16 degree of Cherokee blood, and
direct lineal descent from a member of the Baker Roll of 1924, revised.

(3) United Keetoowah Band of Oklahoma

1/4 degree of “Old Settler” and/or Keetoowah Cherokee blood.

Citizens of the Cherokee who were enrolled on the Dawes Roll were enrolled as:
– Citizens by blood
– Minor citizens by blood
– New born citizens by blood

– Citizens by marriage

– Freedmen
– New born Freedmen
– Minor Freedmen

– Delaware Indians adopted by the Cherokee

– Citizens enrolled by an Act of Congress (1914)

The original enrollment closed 01 Sept 1902. Additional children were added until 04 Mar 1906.

The requirements for enrollment in the Cherokee Nation at that time were:
1) applying between 1899-1906,
2) appearing on previous tribal rolls of 1880 or 1896, and
3) having a permanent residence within the Cherokee Nation (now the 14 northeastern counties of Oklahoma).

If the ancestors had separated from the Tribe and settled in states such as Arkansas, Kansas, Missouri, and Texas, they lost their citizenship within the Cherokee Nation.

Only enrolled members of the Cherokee Nation named on the Final Rolls and/or their descendents are furnished Certificates of Degree of Indian Blood (CDIB Cards) and/or tribal membership.

CDIBs are issued only through the natural parents. In cases of adoption, quantum of Indian blood must be proven through the BIOLOGICAL PARENTS to the enrolled ancestor. A copy of the Final Degree of Adoption must accompany the application for CDIB, as well as the STATE CERTIFIED, FULL IMAGE/PHOTOCOPY OF THE BIRTH RECORD.”
(from the Cherokee Nation of Oklahoma, Registration Office)

All other Cherokee citizenship was extinguished by the actions taken around the final rolls.

There is a legal definition of who was an “old settler.” This group was composed of those Cherokee who removed to what is now Arkansas under the treaties of 1817 and 1819. They settled between the Arkansas and White Rivers, west of a line from current Batesville to a spot about midway between today’s Conway and Morrilton. There was no western boundary established. Since “Old Settlers” implies a certain identifiable group, one is able to look at two census rolls to determine whether an ancestor was a member: the Emigration Roll of 1817, and the Old Settler Roll of 1851. The first lists those Cherokee who chose to emigrate to Arkansas Territory under the two treaties above. The second includes those among this group who were still living in 1851, and who were residing in what is now Oklahoma when the main body of Cherokee arrived there in 1839. Those on the 1851 census who enrolled under the Dawes Commission retained their citizenship. Others did not. Only those on the 1817 Emigration roll and the 1851 Old Settler roll are actually “old settlers,” all of whom resided in what is now Arkansas between 1817 and about 1840.

There are many others who are “of Cherokee heritage,” that is people who can today trace and document their ancestry to earlier generations who were at some point Cherokee citizens. These ancestors lost their citizenship as a result of various decisions they made about where they lived.

Today, there is no legal certification process for non-Cherokee citizens. None of the sovereign Cherokee tribes offer any recognition process for descendants of those individuals who surrendered their citizenship, or for those who “disappeared” from earlier rolls.

“State recognized tribes” are Native American Indian Tribes and Heritage Groups that are recognized by individual states for their various internal governmental purposes. “State recognition” confers limited benefits under federal law and is not the same as federal recognition, which is the federal government’s acknowledgment of a tribe as a sovereign nation. However, in some states, state recognition has offered some protection of autonomy for tribes not recognized by the federal government.

The legitimacy of state recognized tribes is contested. The United States Constitution explicitly states that only the United States Congress has power over Indian affairs. However, about 20 states have recognized Native American tribes outside of federal processes. Typically, recognition is undertaken by the state legislature or by state agencies involved in cultural or Native American affairs. Three states have processes by which Native American groups can seek to become state recognized, but have not yet recognized any groups.

In legal parlance, an Indian tribe is a group of Indians with self-government authority, and not just any group of Indians or Indian descendants. Consequently, although many state recognized tribes can prove prior federal recognition which was lost for federal policy reasons unrelated to their legitimacy as tribal governments, other state recognized tribes are arguably better deemed “Native American heritage clubs” of dubious Native ancestry and lacking in tribal governmental authority.

Of the tribes recognized by states which recognize tribes, some tribes have sought and been denied federal recognition and have been denied (including denial for “obvious deficiencies” in their petition for federal recognition).

State recognized tribes may or may not require proof of Native American ancestry for enrollment, a fact which contributes to the controversy over state recognition of tribes.

For example, the Cherokee Nation’s Fraudulent Indians Task Force criticizes state recognized tribes on the basis of such “tribes” as the Cherokee of Georgia Tribal Council, a state recognized “tribe” which does not require ANY proof of Native American ancestry.

A right conferred to members of state-recognized tribes is the right to exhibit as Native American artists under the United States federal law called the Indian Arts and Crafts Act of 1990.

There are over 348 state and non-recognized Cherokee groups.

Some call themselves tribes or nations, others call themselves heritage groups, and some call themselves hobbyist groups. Many are 501c non-profit corporations.

The Delaware Tribe, who became part of the Cherokee Nation in 1867, was previously part of the Cherokee Nation but achieved independence and federal recognition on 28 July 2009, following in the footsteps of the Shawnee Tribe, who were historically part of the Cherokee Nation in the last century but are now once again an independent tribe.

Famous Cherokee