Cherokee heritage groups

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Cherokee heritage groups are associations, societies and other organizations located across the United States and in other countries made up of people who may have distant heritage from a Cherokee tribe, or who may hold a belief that they have such heritage. Usually such groups are made up of those who do not qualify for enrollment in any of the three, federally recognized, Cherokee tribes.

Some of these groups seek to preserve Cherokee language and culture. However others are not entities that have existed from historical times. While some are steadfast in their desire to be historically and culturally accurate, others may incorporate non-traditional elements such as powwows or Plains Indian dress, and imitations of Plains-style ceremonies.

A heritage group may incorporate study of genealogy and language study, along with providing social events. Some groups sponsor and support protection of geographic areas, buildings, plants, documents, relics or spiritually related information.[citation needed] Many groups are liberal in their membership, with no requirement of Cherokee blood or heritage, and a focus on powwows and other festivals which have not historically been a part of Cherokee culture, while others such as the Original Keetoowah Society are restrictive in membership and meet in secret.

The Cherokee Nation encourages people of Cherokee heritage to become active in Cherokee Nation satellite communities, rather than in heritage groups that have no connection to any of the three Cherokee tribes.


The origins of these groups can sometimes be found in those opposing certain treaties, allotment of lands, the Cherokee Civil War and abandonment of spiritual beliefs in the late 1800s. In the Indian Territory in what is the present-day state of Oklahoma, the Choctaw, Muscogee Creek, Cherokee, and Natchez formed the Four Mothers Society to resist the federal government's attempts of forced assimilation and breakup of the five civilized tribes.

Individual recognition[edit]

Some people who are ineligible for tribal membership join Heritage groups to identify with the Cherokee.[1] The majority of Heritage groups are formed by those who rally around a cause such as "Save Kituwah",[2] language preservation,[3][4] or to maintain cultural art forms such as basket weaving.[5] Both the Eastern and Western Cherokee have master teachers in these art forms with large followings.[6] The rise of Social Media has helped connect individuals with interests in genealogy and heritage.[7] Members of "I am Cherokee and I can prove it" meet only on Facebook and have "virtual hog fries".[8] Eastern European heritage groups use the social media to connect with Cherokee in the U.S. and share information.

Recognized tribes have encouraged the federal government to hold to a system of "Tribal" recognition rather than "Indian" or individual recognition, and an origin benchmark of 1871.

Tribal recognition[edit]

Heritage groups have sometimes sought recognition as Cherokee tribes. The politically active "Keetowah Society" and the spiritual "Nighthawk Keetowah Society" later influenced the formation of the United Keetoowah Band of Cherokee Indians in 1946. The United Keetoowah Band is recognized by the U.S. government and is located north of Tahlequah, Oklahoma. Cherokee Nation spokesman Mike Miller said that some Heritage groups are encouraged (Glenn 2006). Former Eastern Band Chief Jones said "There are non-recognized Indian tribes in the United States that absolutely should have been previously recognized and through unfortunate historical twists of fate have not been."

Cherokee Nation spokesman Mike Miller has discussed that some groups, which he calls Cherokee Heritage Groups, are encouraged.[1] Others, however, are controversial for their attempts to gain economically through their claims to be Cherokee, a claim which is disputed by two of the federally recognized Tribes, who assert themselves as the only groups having the legal right to present themselves as Cherokee Indian Tribes.[10]

While heritage groups may base their membership on cultural and genealogical requirements, tribal recognition is more complex in its adherence to academic, legal, historic, sociological, anthropological and genealogical principles.

In the census for the year 2000, there were 729,533 people who self identified as Cherokee and only about 250,000 people who were enrolled at the time in one of the three Federally Recognized Cherokee Tribes. Many people with genuine Cherokee heritage will never meet the qualifications to become citizens in a federally recognized tribe. The Cherokee Nation does not question anyone's claim of heritage or ancestry.

Listing of Cherokee Heritage Groups[edit]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b Glenn 2006
  2. ^ Save Kituwah, "Kituwah, the Mother Town of the Cherokee", Save Kituwah website, accessed 1 March 2010
  3. ^ Cherokee Preservation Foundation, "Language Revitalization Effort Gains Momentum", Cherokee Preservation Foundation website, accessed 1 March 2010
  4. ^ Cherokees of California, "a 501C-3 non-profit tribal organization incorporated in 1975", Cherokees of California website, accessed 1 March 2010
  5. ^ Cherokee Artists Association, "A Non Profit Promoting & Protecting Native Art & Artists", Cherokee Artists Association website, accessed 1 March 2010
  6. ^ Cherokee Heritage Center, "Education - Cultural Class Series", Cherokee Heritage Center website, accessed 1 March 2010
  7. ^ Government of Singapore, "National Heritage Board Unveils Comprehensive Social Media Strategy", National Heritage Board website, accessed 1 March 2010
  8. ^ The Cherokee Observer, "The Only Independent Cherokee Newspaper", Cherokee Observer website, accessed 1 March 2010
  9. ^ Wilson, L.W. (abt 1936). "Interview with Bird Doublehead" (PDF). Retrieved 2008-04-28.  Check date values in: |date= (help)
  10. ^ Official Statement Cherokee Nation 2000, Pierpoint 2000

External links[edit]