What is an American Cherokee Indian?

Erin J. Hill

An American Cherokee Indian is a native American who originated in the southeastern United States, primarily the Carolinas, Georgia, and Tennessee. This tribe is the largest remaining tribe of American Indians, with roughly 350,000 members located in North Carolina and Oklahoma, as of 2010. The American Cherokee Indian have a rich history involving hardship and endurance.

Cherokees were forced from their homes in the winter of 1838 by orders of President Andrew Jackson.
Cherokees were forced from their homes in the winter of 1838 by orders of President Andrew Jackson.

In the 19th century European settlers claimed the American Cherokee Indian as one of the five “civilized” tribes because they had more sophisticated ways of life. They had established tight communities and had various technological advances similar to those developed in Europe during the same period. The Cherokee were primarily a peaceful group, unlike many other warring tribes which promoted hostility with the white settlers.

The Cherokee, who referred to themselves as Aniyunwiya, means “people with another language.” In the years following the European settlements in the southeastern United States the Cherokee tribes helped defend the settlers against other Native American tribes. At this time the Cherokee were considered an urban tribe of Christians with a society that was similar to that of the settlers. This made intermarriage between the two groups and friendly relations easier. Unfortunately, this peace was short-lived.

The most noted portion of American Cherokee Indian history is known as the “Trail of Tears.” This refers to the period of time when European settlers forced the Cherokee from their homeland in the southeast to Oklahoma. President Andrew Jackson sent in an army to force the Cherokee from their homes in the winter of 1838. They were not allowed to collect any possessions before leaving, including extra clothes and shoes. This was done despite the fact that congress had ruled Indian removal as unconstitutional.

The American Cherokee Indian tribe was forced to march over 800 miles(1287.5 km) across the United States, and around 5,500 Cherokees died on the way of disease, exposure, and starvation. While the majority of relocated Indians were Cherokee, other tribes in the area were forced to remove themselves as well. They ended their journey in Oklahoma, the place where two of the modern day Cherokee tribes live today.

Currently, there are three nationally recognized tribes of American Cherokee Indians. These are known as the Cherokee Nation, the Keetoowah Band, and the Eastern Band of Cherokee. There are several other tribes who claim to be made up of American Cherokee Indian, although their lineage cannot be verified.

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