The Cherokee Culture

The culture of the Cherokee people is a rich, deep narrative that yearns to be explored.

We are cherokee.

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The Cherokee people are strong, resilient, and creative. This description rings true today as much as it did yesterday.

Much has changed in today’s Cherokee from that of times past, yet many things have stayed the same, especially when it comes to the strength of character of the people, fishing the rivers, living as a tight community, supporting the good of the tribe, educating the young, and loving the land. In other words, the really important things are still here. The native tribal members living in Cherokee today are descendants of the Cherokees who were able to hold on to the land, hide in the mountains, or eventually return to Western North Carolina.

Delicately, carefully protected by the Cherokee Preservation Foundation, Cherokee culture can be seen as a book filled with 11,000 years of artistic invention and intellectual achievement, survival and perseverance, featuring a peace-loving people who proudly dealt with the savagery of war and overcame. But that barely scratches the surface of what makes Cherokee culture a treasure for the curious traveler.

Get to know the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians

The Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians is a sovereign nation with over 15,000 enrolled members. The remarkable legacy of the Cherokee nation is one that reflects a people who remain strong, even in the face of great conflict. Cherokees have always held true to their robust values and deeply rooted principles. Revolving around a deep reverence for the natural world and our connection with it, ancient Cherokee values teach us to continually respect our earth and one another. The Cherokee people hold sacred these ancient truths while they continue to espouse the reinvention of what it means to be Cherokee in our modern world.

Cherokee Core Values


Group Harmony




Strong Individual Character


Sense of Place


Honoring our past


Educating Children


Sense of Humor


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Cherokees begin a story the way their people have for generations. It’s only fitting to start the story of the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians the same way.

Much has changed in today’s Cherokee from that of times past, yet many things have stayed the same, especially when it comes to the strength of character of the people, fishing the rivers, living as a tight community, supporting the good of the tribe, educating the young, and loving the land. In other words, the really important things are still here. The native tribal members living in Cherokee today are descendants of the Cherokees who were able to hold on to the land, hide in the mountains, or eventually return to Western North Carolina.

In 1540, Spanish explorer and conquistador Hernando de Soto came through here looking for gold, demanding food, fighting, enslaving—despite what you may have heard, he wasn’t a great guy. Worse were the diseases that came with him. Lacking the immunity to combat them, indigenous peoples were nearly eradicated, victim to plagues such as smallpox, measles, and influenza. Nevertheless, the Cherokee people continued to work through diplomacy with the newcomers for the next two hundred years.

By the early 18th century, 75 of Cherokee land had been lost through treaties with England and America. Encroachment by settlers forced the Cherokees to fight for their territory through statesmanship with both the new American government and with colonial powers.

Gold was discovered in Georgia in 1828, leading to America’s first gold rush and shifting the entire perception of the region. Peace made alliances irrelevant and mounting pressure from land speculators made the Cherokee an inconvenience. In 1830 Andrew Jackson signed the Indian Removal Act offering territory out west in exchange for the Cherokee people’s homeland. Five years later came the Treaty of New Echota, which ceded to the federal government most of the Cherokee lands east of the Mississippi, resulting in what is now referred to as the “Trail of Tears.” 16,000 Cherokees were gathered, dispossessed and made to walk six months, 1,200 miles west. Roughly 4,000 Cherokees died, succumbing to hunger, disease, exposure, or exhaustion. The North Carolina Cherokees worked against expatriation. Along with other Cherokees who escaped removal or who came back, the group established the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians.

Today’s Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians stands strong and healthy. The success of Harrah’s Cherokee Casinos has provided important income for enrolled members and draws millions of visitors to Cherokee annually. Cherokee’s economic vitality can be seen across the Qualla Boundary, As the tribe looks out into the 21st century, its bright future emanates a light for other tribes to follow.

The Cherokee Seven Clans

The Cherokee Seven Clans are a traditional social organization of Cherokee society. 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 matrilineal, meaning clanship is passed through the mother. Among the Cherokees, women were considered the head of household, with the home and children belonging to her should she separate from her husband. The knowledge of a person’s clan is important for many reasons; one of those reasons is that among Cherokee traditionalists today, it is forbidden to marry within one’s clan as clan members are considered brothers and sisters. Knowledge of a person’s clan is also important when seeking spiritual guidance and in traditional medicine ceremonies, as it is necessary to name the clan.

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 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.

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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.

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Deer (A NI KA WI)

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 messages from village to village, or person to person.

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Long Hair (A NI GI LO HI)

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 were often 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.’

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Historically known as prominent healers. Medicine was often ‘painted’ on a patient after harvesting, mixing and performing other aspects of the ceremony. Clan members made red paint and prepared teas for vapor therapy specific to each ailment.

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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.

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Wolf (A NI WA YAH)

The largest and most prominent clan throughout time. During the time of the Peace Chief and War Chief government setting, the War Chief came from this clan. Wolves are known as protectors.

Bibliography Mooney, James. Myths of the Cherokee. Mineola, NY: Dover Publications, 1995: 507-548. Cherokee Nation Cultural Resource Center Cherokee, Graphic Arts Center Publishing


Proof of perseverance.

In the 1800s the Cherokee tribe went through three major changes, including the development and adoption of a written constitution and the invention of a written Cherokee language. The devastating third change happened in 1838 when the majority of the Cherokee people were removed from Western North Carolina, Georgia, Tennessee, and Alabama and forcibly relocated to Oklahoma by the federal government of the United States. This removal is what began the Trail of Tears, one of the most painful parts of Cherokee history and culture.

In 1879 in Carlisle, Pennsylvania, Captain R.H. Pratt opened the first Native American boarding school to forcibly acculturate Indians to mainstream white society. “Kill the Indian and save the man,” Pratt said. Toward this goal, Indian children throughout North America were taken from their homes and families, given “white” names, wardrobes, and haircuts, and forbidden to speak any language but English. Yet today, their language still flourishes. This achievement continues to be an inspiration to all of us, reminding us of the Cherokee people’s great will to survive and carry on their richly distinctive culture against great odds.

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Cherokee music to rouse your spirit.

Cherokee music has been influenced by many other cultures and includes a wide variety of instruments. Flutes, drums, and rattles are some of the most ancient. As music in America has evolved, so has Cherokee music. Over time Cherokee music has come to include the fiddle, percussion tools, guitar, mandolin, and many more instruments. Cherokee musicians play everything from traditional Native American music, to bluegrass and rock and roll. In Native American history, music is considered sacred; it is often used for healing and building community connections. Tribes carry on their musical traditions by passing them down to the next generation.

Lyrics and vocals in Cherokee music often include tribal stories and chanting. Along with an assortment of traditional and modern instruments, vocals are employed to create a strong rhythmic beat that is ideal for ritual dancing. Until the 1800s, when the Cherokee written language was invented, Cherokee legends were passed down orally through music, song, and dance. When Cherokee Indians sing traditional tribal songs, the intention is to invoke the power of the spirit world—to ask for healing or a plentiful harvest, and to show gratitude to the earth. Many tribal storytellers are accompanied by musical accompaniment. Recordings of Cherokee music can be found at Qualla Arts and Crafts Mutual, of which many of the musicians are members. Contact or visit Qualla Arts and Crafts Mutual during your visit to Cherokee to learn more.

In the 18th century Cherokee music was changed by the introduction of new instruments and musical sensibilities. Some experts say both English and Scottish traders exposed the Cherokee Indians to fiddle playing. Music in the southeastern United States was at the same time being dramatically changed by African music influences burgeoning throughout the South, which in turn influenced Cherokee music. In the 19th century Moravian, Presbyterian, and Baptist missionaries began to teach tribal members hymns and sacred Christian music. Since that time the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians has preserved traditions of fiddle music, English and Cherokee hymns, and ancient tribal songs—which makes for an intriguing and beautiful melting pot of musical expression.

The Museum of the Cherokee People hosts the unforgettable Cherokee Voices Festival, a unique retrospective of traditional and current Cherokee musical performance. Indeed, many of the events offered, provide an exuberant showcase of Cherokee music, dance, and art.


The Warriors of AniKituhwa. Moving to the beat of an ancient drum.

The Warriors of AniKituhwa bring to life the Cherokee War Dance and Eagle Dance as described by Lt. Henry Timberlake in 1762. Designated as official cultural ambassadors by the Tribal Council, the dancers have performed at Colonial Williamsburg, the National Museum of the American Indian, and throughout the United States.

These spirited Cherokee dancers perform pieces traditionally meant to celebrate men going off to war, and which also were performed as statements endorsing the meetings with other nations in the interest of diplomacy and peace. The Warriors perform other traditional dances such as the Bear Dance, the Beaver Hunting Dance, and the Friendship Dance.

For more information about the Warriors of the AniKituhwa, contact Dawn at

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Find out if you’re Cherokee. Learn about Cherokee genealogy.

Many people want to know about becoming a Tribal Member based on a relative being Cherokee or of Cherokee descent. Enrollment in the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians is governed by Cherokee Code, Chapter 49, Enrollment, and restricts enrollment to the following:

  • A direct lineal ancestor must appear on the 1924 Baker Roll of the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians
  • You must possess at least 1/16 degree of Eastern Cherokee blood. Please note: Blood Quantum is calculated from your ancestor listed on the 1924 Baker Roll. No DNA/blood testing is performed or acceptable for this calculation.

The Enrollment Office provides a Cherokee genealogy research service searching records prior to the 1924 Baker Roll. These records date back to 1835 and enumerate the members of the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians within the limits of North Carolina, Tennessee, Georgia, and Alabama. This service does not aid in determining eligibility for enrollment with the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians. Cultural and Ceremonial Questions: If you have an inquiry about the cultural practices or ceremonies of the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians please contact the Tribal Cultural Resources Department at 828.497.1584.

Other Cherokee Contacts: Cherokee Nation of Oklahoma P.O. Box 948 Tahlequah, OK 74465 Main Office – 918.456.0671 Website –

The Warriors of AniKituhwa bring to life the Cherokee War Dance and Eagle Dance as described by Lt. Henry Timberlake in 1762. Designated as official cultural ambassadors by the Tribal Council, the dancers have performed at Colonial Williamsburg, the National Museum of the American Indian, and throughout the United States.

Unfortunately, DNA testing has not advanced to the point of determining tribal affiliation. The Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians accepts DNA testing only in regard to the parentage of an applicant.

The Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians prohibits dual enrollment.

The Indian Child Welfare Act of 1978, 25 U.S.C.§ 1901 et seq, also known as the ICWA, states that there are federal standards governing the removal of Indian children from their families and the placement of such children in foster or adoptive homes.

The purpose of the ICWA is to prevent the breakup of Indian families, and as a result, their tribes. The ICWA was implemented as a result of the wholesale removal and adoption of Indian children and the loss of their tribal rights. Adoption frequently meant tribes lost touch with members who had been adopted, and many adopted children searched to no avail when they sought their family roots.

Under the ICWA, placement preference is given to Indian foster and adoptive parents. Both non-Indian foster and adoptive parents are allowed. The parents or guardians of Indian children, and the tribes they belong to, have specific rights under ICWA. Please see the following link for further information:

Generally the total process takes eight to ten weeks. Unique cases may require an extended amount of time.


The cherished legends of the Cherokee tribe are many. In fact, there are far too many important ones to list them all in a short summary. Yet, here are a few that continue to delight and stir both the Cherokee people and Cherokee cultural enthusiasts.


Aniyvdaqualosgi or Ani-Hyuntikwalaski

These storm spirits are thought of as “Thunderers” who live in the sky and command thunder and lightning. They take on human form. These creatures are powerful and dangerous against certain forces, but generally thought to be friendly to humans.



Pronounced jeese-do: A rabbit whose name is pronounced similar to “jeese-doo.”



Pronounced nun-nay-hee (“travelers”): These creatures take the form of friendly spirits. They are known to be especially sympathetic to the Cherokee people. Nunnehi are very strong, and historically interceded in battles on the Cherokees’ behalf. Like Yunwi Tsunsdi, Nunnehi are usually invisible but sometimes show themselves to humans in the form of regal warriors. Their name is pronounced similar to nun-nay-hee.



Pronounced tlah-noo-wah: In Cherokee legend, these giant birds of prey have impenetrable metal feathers. Their Cherokee name is pronounced tlah-noo-wah.



A great giant of Cherokee legend, whose footprints could sometimes be seen along the banks of the Tuckasegee.



Pronounced ook-tay-nah: Dragon-like horned serpents of Cherokee legend, the original Uktena was said to have transformed from a man in his unsuccessful attempt to destroy the sun. Many Cherokee tales about the Uktena have to do with Cherokee heroes slaying one of these giant horned beasts. They are said to be dangerous and malevolent deadly monsters that seek to destroy their prey.



Pronounced oo-net-la-nuh-hee: The Cherokee word for God or “Great Spirit,” is Unetlanvhi is considered to be a divine spirit with no human form. The name is pronounced similar to oo-net-la-nuh-hee.



“Where the Bears Live”: About a mile above the junction between the Oconaluftee and the Tuckasegee rivers, there is a place where the Cherokee say the water bears live at the bottom of the river in a deep hole. There is a pond nearby that the Cherokee call Yanunatawastiyi (“where the bears wash”), which is said to have purple water and is now nearly dried up. This was the bears’ wallowing spot and was said to have great powers.


Yunwi Tsunsdi

Pronounced yun-wee joon-stee or yun-wee joon-stee-gah: Literally translated as “little people,” Yunwi Tsunsdi is a race of small humanoid nature spirits, sometimes referred to in English as “dwarves” or “fairies.” Usually invisible, they sometimes reveal themselves as miniature, child-sized people. The Yunwi Tsunsdi are benevolent spirits who sometimes help humans in Cherokee stories. They are also imbued with powers and may punish people who are disrespectful toward them. The singular form is Yvwi Usdi (yun-wee oon-stee.)

Delve into the rich tapestry of the Cherokee people

Explore our curated collection of information on Cherokee traditions and heritage.

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Cherokee Beadwork and Beading Patterns
Traditional and Modern Cherokee Food
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Cherokee Traditional Basket Weaving
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The Art and History of Cherokee Jewelry
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The Meaning of the Medicine Wheel in Native Culture
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The Evolution of Cherokee Music
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Cherokee North Carolina 4th of July Powwow
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immerse yourself in the cherokee culture with cultural attractions in cherokee

Oconaluftee Indian Village
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Oconaluftee Indian Village

Museum of the Cherokee People
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Museum of the Cherokee People

Qualla Arts and Crafts Mutual, Inc.
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Qualla Arts and Crafts Mutual, Inc

Cherokee Bonfire
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