American Indians were once lumped together by most whites as being indistinguishable. This was a factor in the way in which the U.S. government and military dealt with tribes, signing a treaty with one group and then believing that the treaty applied to another tribe in that region. Many differences exist between the Cherokee or CWY (Principle People) and the many other tribes of North America.
The Cherokee are believed to have settled in the region that incorporates what is now portions of five U.S. states, including Eastern North Carolina, more than 500 years ago. The Cherokee served as a trading conduit between the peoples of the coast and those of the Mississippi Valley. The Cherokee have a history marked by triumph and heartbreak. Examples of this would be winning the U.S. Supreme Court decision allowing the Cherokee to remain on their lands to President Andrew Jackson's decision to ignore that ruling and force the Cherokee on what would become known as Trail of Tears. At least one-fourth of the Cherokee on the westward march died.
The Cherokee were referred to as one of the “five civilized” tribes because of their efforts to assimilate with American culture based on a European system of values and ideals. All American Indian tribes have a distinctive culture, some of which has been more fully documented then others because some tribes were murdered to the point of extinction before an ethnographic research could be accomplished. Tribes of the Northwest coastal region practiced the potlatch ceremony while Six Nation tribes including the Mohawk created intricate face masks for religious ceremonies.
The Cherokee had a system of beliefs that included spiritual dances like the Bear Dance. The Cherokee were divided into seven clans including the wolf clan. These were further divided into moites, which was meant to prevent marrying a near-relative. Western North Carolina is where one of the three recognized bands of the Cherokee still lives today, on the Qualla Boundary, in large part due to the sacrifice of a Cherokee man named Tsali. The largest band of the Cherokee, the Cherokee Nation, live in Oklahoma as does the third recognized group of Cherokee, the United Keetoowah Band of Cherokee Indians.
The Cherokee were Iroquoian speakers while, for example, the Navajo speak a dialect of the Athabaskan language. Several distinct Indian languages are represented in North America, including Algonquin and Siouan and many others. The Cherokee syllabary was created by a Cherokee man named Sequoya, allowing the Cherokee to write down their own history and traditions in their own language, as well as record traditional stories for future generations. This was the first written language by an American Indian tribe.