Joe Byrd (Cherokee chief)

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Joe Byrd
Principal Chief of the Cherokee Nation
In office
Preceded by Wilma Mankiller
Succeeded by Chad "Corntassel" Smith
Personal details
Born 1954 (age 60–61)
Muldrow, Oklahoma
Alma mater Northeastern State University

Joe Byrd (born 1954)[1] was the Principal Chief of the Cherokee Nation from 1995 to 1999. Byrd is bilingual, with an ability to communicate in both Cherokee and English. He ran for re-election in 1999, but lost to Chad Smith. He ran again in 2003, but again lost to the incumbent Smith.


Byrd was born in Muldrow, Oklahoma and raised in the rural community of Nicut, Oklahoma. He is the son of Lillian Byrd and Stand Watie Byrd. He is also the father of three children, Joseph Byrd, Candice Byrd, and Julia Byrd.

Joe Byrd attended Northeastern State University and graduated with a Bachelor of Science degree in education in 1978 and a master’s in guidance counseling administration in 1979. He subsequently worked in the field of Indian education. During his career prior to becoming Chief of the Cherokee Nation, Joe Byrd served as the education coordinator for the Cross Cultural Education Center, was a field specialist for the Cherokee Nation Education Department and bilingual educator and coach at Bell Community Public School. He also served as a counselor at Stilwell High School.

Joe Byrd has been actively involved in numerous organizations specifically dealing with Native American issues, including the Cherokee Baptist Association, Native American Diabetes Association, National Indian Education Association, Oklahoma Association for Bilingual Education, Drug Free for Youth program and Inter-tribal Council of the Five Civilized Tribes.

Joe Byrd was appointed by Oklahoma Governor Frank Keating to the Oklahoma Native Culture Board, where he served two terms. He also held an appointment to the Planning Committee of the National Indian Policy Center in Washington, D.C. He has served as Vice President of the Cherokee Nation Higher Education Foundation. He is currently on the Board of Directors of the Native American Diabetes Association.

Joe Byrd is the only full-blood Cherokee to ever serve as the Principal Chief of the Cherokee Nation. He is also the only fluent Cherokee speaker to ever do so.

Principal Chief of the Cherokee Nation[edit]

Joe Byrd was elected Principal Chief of the Cherokee Nation, succeeding Wilma Mankiller. Byrd served one term as Principal Chief of the Cherokee Nation, serving from 1995 to 1999. On January 14, 2012, Byrd was elected to fill the District 1 council seat vacated upon the election of Principal Chief Bill John Baker. He was elected with over 65% of the vote. Byrd was re-elected as Tribal Councilor in 2013 and is currently serving a four-year term.


  1. ^ "A Cherokee Encyclopedia". Retrieved 27 September 2014. 
Preceded by
Wilma Mankiller
Principal Chief of the Cherokee Nation
Succeeded by
Chad "Corntassel" Smith