˜Cherokee Indian Fact Sheet –
How do you pronounce the word "Cherokee"?
What does it mean?
It's pronounced "CHAIR-uh-kee," and it
comes from a Muskogee word meaning
'speakers of another language.'
The Cherokee originally called
themselves Aniyunwiya, "the principal
people," but they have generally
accepted the name Cherokee, which is
spelled and pronounced Tsalagi in
their own language.
Where do the Cherokees live?
The Cherokees are original residents of the
American southeast, particularly Georgia,
North and South Carolina, Virginia, and
Kentucky. Most Cherokees were relocated
to Oklahoma in the 1800's by the infamous
Trail of Tears, and the descendants of
those who survived this death march
still live in Oklahoma to this day. Some
Cherokees escaped deportation by hiding
in the Appalachian hills, or were
sheltered by sympathetic white neighbors.
The descendants of these people still
live scattered throughout the original
Cherokee homelands, particularly in
North Carolina, where they have their
own federally recognized tribe.
How is the Cherokee Indian nation organized?
There are three federally recognized
Cherokee communities, the Cherokee
Nation of Oklahoma (the largest with
125,000 members), the United Keetoowah
Band in Oklahoma 'with about 7000 members'
and the Eastern Band of Cherokee in
North Carolina (with about 10,000
members). Each Cherokee tribe has its
own government, laws, police, and other
services,just like a small country.
However, the US government still
considers the Cherokees citizens and
controls some of their decisions.
In the past, each Cherokee band
was led by one war chief and one
peace chief,chosen by a tribal
council on the basis of their great
deeds for the tribe. The war
chief was always male, but
the peace chief could be of either
gender. Today,Cherokee government
is similar, but the tribal councils
and chiefs are popularly elected,
just as senators and governors are.
What language do the Cherokees speak?
Most Cherokee people speak English
but more than 20,000 Cherokees also
speak their native Cherokee
language. Cherokee is a musical
language with an innovative writing
system that was invented by the
Cherokee scholar Sequoyah. This
writing system is a syllabary,
which means that each character
represents a consonant and a vowel.
(Another language that uses a syllabary
today is Japanese.) You can see what
the Cherokee syllabary looks like here
and you can hear what some Cherokee
words sound like when they are
spoken here. If you'd like to know
a few easy Cherokee words, "osiyo"
(pronounced oh-see-yoh) is a friendly
greeting,and "wado" (pronounced wah-doh)
means 'thank you.'You can also read a
glossary of some Cherokee words here.
What was Cherokee culture like in the past?
What is it like now? Here are links to the
Cherokee Nation of Oklahoma and Eastern Band
of Cherokees, where you can learn about the
Cherokee people past and present.
How do Cherokee Indian children live,
and what did they do in the past?
They do the same things any children do--
play with each other, go to school and
help around the house. Many Cherokee children
like to go hunting and fishing with their
fathers. In the past, Indian children had
more chores and less time to play, just
like early colonists' children. But they did
have toys and games to play, such as a hoop
game where kids tried to throw a dart
through a moving hoop. Lacrosse was
also a popular sport among teenage
boys as it was among adult men.
As for babies, Cherokee mothers,
like many Native Americans,
traditionally carried their
babies in cradleboards on their backs--
a custom which many American
parents have adopted now.
What were Cherokee homes like in the past?
The Cherokee people lived in settled villages
of houses with plaster and rivercane
walls with thatched roofs. They also
built larger, seven-sided buildings for
ceremonial purposes, and most towns had a
lacrosse field with benches for spectators.
Cherokee villages often had palisades
(reinforced walls) around them, to guard
against attack.Today, Cherokees live
in modern houses and apartment buildings,
Click here for more info just like you.
What was Cherokee clothing like?
Did they wear feather headdresses
and face paint?
The Cherokees didn't wear long headdresses
like the Sioux. Cherokee men usually
cut their hair in the Mohawk style
or shaved it completely except for
a single scalplock, and sometimes
they would also wear a porcupine roach.
(These headdresses were made of
porcupine hair, not their sharp quills!)
Cherokee women always wore their hair
long, cutting it only when they were
in mourning for a family member.
Men tattooed their faces and bodies
extensively and painted themselves
bright colors in times of war, but
unlike in other tribes, Cherokee women
didn't paint or tattoo themselves.
Originally, Cherokee men wore breechcloths
with leather pant legs tied on and the
women wore wraparound skirts and
poncho-style blouses;both genders wore
moccasins on their feet.However, once
they encountered Europeans,the
Cherokees adapted European costume into
their own characteristic style,
including long braided or beaded
jackets, cotton blouses and full skirts
decorated with ribbon applique,
feathered turbans, and the calico
tear dress.Follow the link to our
page on traditional Native American
clothing in general, where you can find
photographs and more links about
these clothing styles. Today, some
Cherokee people still wear moccasins or
a ribbon shirt, but they wear modern
clothes like jeans instead of breechcloths...
and they only wear roaches in their
hair on special occasions like a dance.
What was Cherokee transportation like in the
days before cars? Did they paddle canoes?
Yes--the Cherokee Indians made long
dugout canoes from hollowed-out logs.
When they were on dry land,
Cherokee people usually just walked.
There were no horses in North America
until colonists brought them
over from Europe, so the Cherokees
used dogs to help them carry their
belongings over land.
What was Cherokee food like in the days
The Cherokee were farming people.
Cherokee women did most of the farming, harvesting crops of corn,
beans, squash, and sunflowers. Cherokee men did
most of the hunting, shooting deer, wild turkeys,
and small game and fishing in the rivers and along
the coast. Cherokee dishes included cornbread,
soups, and stews cooked on stone hearths.
What were Cherokee weapons and tools like
in the past?
Cherokee hunters used bows and arrows
and blowguns;fishermen generally used
spears and fishing poles. In war,
Cherokee men used their bows and
arrows or fought with tomahawks and spears.
What are Cherokee arts and crafts like?
The Cherokees were known for their
pipe carving, rivercane baskets,
gourd art, and pottery. When they
were moved to Oklahoma, the Cherokees
couldn't get the materials they used
to use for their traditional crafts,
so they concentrated more on other
crafts such as beadwork and textile
arts. You can see some photographs
and read some more details about
these art forms at our
Native American art site.
These Facts For Kids sections are being
added in response to the many emails we've
been receiving from young people looking
for information about the Cherokees for
school or home-schooling reports.
We encourage students, especially
older kids, to look through our Cherokee
language and culture pages for more
in-depth information about the tribe,
but here are some straightforward
answers to the questions we are most
often asked by children, with Cherokee
pictures and links we believe are
especially suitable for all ages.