Who are the Eastern Cherokee Indians?

R. Stamm

The Eastern Cherokee Indians, or Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians, are a Native American tribe with lands near the Great Smoky Mountains National Park in North Carolina. They are the descendants of the members of the Cherokee Tribe who maintained their lands and refused to take part in the forced move to Oklahoma Territory on the Trail of Tears during the 1830s. The Eastern Cherokee Indians are not affiliated with the Cherokee Nation, but they still maintain cultural and historical ties and practice the original Cherokee ceremonies. The tribe has its own language, religious practices and government.

The Eastern Cherokee Indians use money from a casino, income from tourism and federal funds to offer health care and other necessities to their members.
The Eastern Cherokee Indians use money from a casino, income from tourism and federal funds to offer health care and other necessities to their members.

Cherokees have always lived in western North Carolina, and tales passed down through generations describe ancient hunts of mastodons. The tribe began to build semi-permanent villages around 8,000 B.C., and over the next 1,000 years, the Cherokee began to institute religion, political structure, perfected agricultural systems and effective archery skills. The Cherokees Indians attempted to coexist with white settlers but were unsuccessful, and most of the tribe was moved west to the Oklahoma Territory in 1838 on the Trail of Tears. The Eastern Cherokee Indians defied removal and maintained their lands near the Smoky Mountains in North Carolina.

The North Carolina government assured the tribe a permanent residence within the state by granting them a land trust supervised by the United States Bureau of Indian Affairs. In 1827, the Eastern Cherokee Indians adopted a constitution and set up their own government, which included an executive branch, led by the principal chief and the vice chief; a legislative tribal council; and a judicial branch. The Eastern Cherokee Indians fund their government with money from various sources, such as a casino and tourism, and through federal funds. These funds are used for infrastructure, health care, support services and utilities.

Cherokee Indians speak Tsalagi, an Iroquoian language with soft, flowing syllables consisting of 86 characters in its alphabet and three separate dialects. The North Eastern Cherokee Indians speak the Middle or Kituhwa dialect, and because of the U.S. government’s removal of children from Tsalagi-speaking homes, the language all but disappeared. In order to preserve this linguistic tradition, the Cherokees instituted a language initiative to make it mandatory for children attending tribal schools to learn Kituhwa as a primary language with English as their secondary language. This initiative has proved to be successful, and the number of Tsalgi-speaking persons has increased.

The Eastern Cherokee Indians are religiously diverse and practice a combination of religions. They blend traditional Cherokee dances and ceremonies along with new age customs. In addition, there are many Christian churches of different denominations spread throughout the community.

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Discussion Comments


New Echota, Ga. is one of the homes of Eastern Cherokee culture. It was the birthplace of the first Cherokee-language newspaper and home to many chiefs and important tribal leaders.

You can't throw a rock in North Georgia, Alabama, North Carolina and East and Middle Tennessee without hitting someone of Cherokee heritage. Nearly everyone has at least one Cherokee ancestor, somewhere.

Being part Cherokee is just a part of life in the South. Everyone knows someone who is part Cherokee. It's not a big deal in the sense that people have not suffered social ostracism. Not at all. It's simply part of the cultural fabric. And we are proud of it.

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