The Cherokee

The Cherokee people were an Indian group who lived in the southeastern United States when Europeans came to North America. They became one of the Five Civilized Tribes, honored by the whites for their civilized ways. Out of the 563 recognized Native American tribes in the USA, the Cherokee are the most numerous.

The language of the Cherokee is similar to the Iroquois. The great lakes region was home to the Iroquois languages, leading to speculation that the Cherokee came originally from this land. Linguistic analysis suggests that this split occurred between 1500 and 1800 B.C.

European fur traders and settlers came in the 1600s. The Cherokee traded in deer skins, obtaining steel tools, firearms, gunpowder and ammunition. From there, the story of the Cherokee is no different than that of any other tribe – a tale of displacement, starvation, disease, and staff. Time and again, treaties were made and broken by the white man.

Beginning in 1838, the Cherokee tribe was forcibly relocated to the western United States. The infamous Trail of Tears refers to the estimated 4000 deaths that happened during the forced march.

The Cherokees settled in Oklahoma. After the Trail of Tears, the political fallout led to political assassinations. Eventually, their population rebounded and today the Cherokee Nation is the most numerous in the USA.

Not all of the Cherokee were evicted. It is estimated that a thousand evaded the soldiers, choosing to live off the land. Any Cherokee living on privately-owned lands was not subject to removal, and in North Carolina a band of around 400 Cherokee living on land owned by a white man (but adopted by the Cherokee as a boy) were allowed to stay, becoming the Eastern Band of Cherokee.

In 1987, the US Congress commemorated the Trail of Tears by designating it a National Historic Trail. This 2200-mile long trail crosses nine states.

Cherokee Nation Courthouse, mid-19th century
Flag of the Cherokee Nation