What is the Cherokee Indian Tribe?

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  • Written By: J. Leach
  • Edited By: Michelle Arevalo
  • Last Modified Date: 07 October 2019
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The Cherokee Indian tribe is a North American aboriginal group that speaks an Iroquoian language. The group was typically found in the southeastern United States. When colonists arrived in the 17th century, the Cherokee Indian tribe was the largest existing integrated tribe, in fact its name comes from a Creek word meaning people of many languages. It is thought that the group migrated from the Great Lakes Region, where other Iroquoian languages were common.

The Cherokee Indian nation is the largest recognized aboriginal group in the United States. As of the 2000 United States census, it was reported that there were more than 300,000 Cherokee Indians living in the country. Major settlements can be found in Oklahoma and in Cherokee, North Carolina.

Prior to the arrival of the European settlers, the Cherokee Indian tribe controlled areas of the Appalachian Mountains, Georgia, eastern Tennessee, and the western edges of both North and South Carolina. Cherokee settlements were divided into red and white towns. The red towns were in charge of war, had a war chief, and were populated by young men. The white towns were peaceful and responsible for holding religious activities and events. The towns were kept separate because it was believed that warfare was a polluting activity that should not be mixed with religious ceremonies.


The people lived in log cabins and sustained their villages through hunting and farming. The Cherokee Indian tribe cultivated and helped domesticate squash and sunflowers. During the 17th century, the group came into direct contact with Europeans who wanted to settle their land.

The French and Indian War, which lasted from 1754 to 1763, started over a disagreement concerning who controlled the upper Ohio River Valley. The French believed that they owned it, and could determine who settled and traded there. The British, on the other hand, felt that the area belonged to them. The Cherokee Indian tribe allied themselves with the British because the French had allied themselves with a few Iroquoian groups who were the Cherokee’s enemies. In 1759, the British betrayed their aboriginal allies when they began to indiscriminately burn native communities, including ones belonging to Cherokee Indian tribe.

While the Cherokee were known for their ability to quickly assimilate into the social and political structures of the colonists, they, like many other native groups, were pushed out of their homelands. For example, in the 1830s gold was discovered in Georgia, which led to the Cherokee Indian tribe being forcibly removed from the region. This occurred in 1839, in what has come to be known as the Trail of Tears. During this, the Cherokee residents were rounded up and forced to endure a 1,000 mile (about 1,609 km) march to new lands in Oklahoma. Thousands died on the journey.


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