The Cherokee Clans are a traditional social organization of Cherokee society, and currently seven clans are recognized by the Cherokee. Customs of the Cherokee clans have evolved since ancient times; however, traditionalists still observe clan customs regarding marriage and certain social events.The Cherokee society is historically a matrilineal society; meaning clanship is passed through the mother. Among the Cherokee, women were considered the head of household, with the home and children belonging to her should she separate from a husband. The knowledge of a person’s clan is important for many reasons; one of those reasons being that among Cherokee traditionalists today, it is forbidden to marry within your clan as clan members are considered brother and sisters. Knowledge of a person’s clan is also important when seeking spiritual guidance and traditional medicine ceremonies, as it is necessary to name the clan. Seating at ceremonial stomp dances is also delineated by clan.In ancient times, for Cherokees born outside of a clan or outsiders to be taken into the tribe, they had to be adopted into a clan by a clan mother. For a woman who was married to a Cherokee man and given birth to a Cherokee child, she could be taken into a new clan. However, her husband had to leave his clan and live with his wife in her new clan. Men who were not Cherokee but married into a Cherokee household had to be adopted into a different clan by a clan mother because he could not take his wife’s clan.
Blue(A NI SA HO NI), historically this clan made medicine from a blue-colored plant to keep the children well. They are also known as the Panther or Wild Cat Clan.
Long Hair(A NI GI LO HI), are also known as The Twister, Hair Hanging Down or Wind Clan. They wore elaborate hairdos and walked with a proud, twisting gait. Clan members are regarded as peacemakers and Peace Chiefs would often be from this clan. Prisoners of war, orphans of other tribes, and others with no Cherokee tribe were often adopted into this clan, thus a common interpretation of the name ‘Strangers.’
Bird(A NI TSI S KWA), were historically known as messengers. The belief that birds are messengers between earth and heaven, or the People and Creator, gave the members of this clan the responsibility of caring for the birds.
Paint(A NI WO DI), were historically known as a prominent healers medicine people. Medicine is often ‘painted’ on a patient after harvesting, mixing and performing other aspects of the ceremony. They made red paint and prepared teas for vapor therapy specific to each ailment.
Deer(A NI KA WI), were historically known as fast runners and hunters. Even though they hunted game for subsistence, they respected and cared for the animals while they were living among them. They were also known as messengers on an earthly level, delivering messengers from village to village, or person to person.
Wild Potato (A NI GA TO GE WI) historically, members of this clan were known to be ‘keepers of the land’ and gatherers of the wild potato in swamps along streams. They are also known as the Bear, Raccoon, or Blind Savannah Clan.
Wolf (A NI WA YAH), is the largest and most prominent clan throughout time. During the time of the Peace Chief and War Chief government setting, the War Chief would come from this clan. Wolves are known as protectors.
Bibliography Mooney, James. Myths of the Cherokee. Mineola, NY: Dover Publications, 1995: 507-548Cherokee Nation Cultural Resource CenterCherokee, Graphic Arts Center Publishing