The Cherokee Native Americans used to inhabit the southern United States in areas now recognized as Tennessee, Kentucky, Georgia, North Carolina, South Carolina and Virginia. The Cherokee originally called themselves "Aniyunwiya," which means "the principal people," but settlers later called them "Cherokee," which means "speakers of another language." Today, Cherokee Native Americans refer to themselves as the Cherokee.


One interesting fact about the Cherokee language is that about 20,000 people still speak it, although many Cherokees also speak English. A Cherokee scholar named Sequoyah developed a writing system that catalogues the language's sounds.

Another interesting fact about Cherokees is that many members of what is called the Cherokee Tribe renounce the name Cherokee. They prefer to refer to themselves in their native tongue as "Tsalagi."


In order to be considered a Cherokee citizen by the federal government, a person must have one ancestor on the 1906 federal census of the Cherokee. This is enough for citizenship. He does not need a blood quantum, despite what many people believe.

Another relatively unknown aspect of Cherokee citizenship is that many African Americans and Anglo Saxon whites are members. The Cherokee nation has the ability to adopt individuals and welcome them into the tribe. This is the case with many of these non-native Americans.

Population Changes

Towards the end of the 17th Century, the Cherokee tribe's population was around 50,000, but after a series of smallpox epidemics, the population shrank to 25,000 by the end of the 18th Century.

In the U.S. Civil War, the Cherokee lost 25 percent of their population, which ranks among the highest percentage population loss for any race in the war.

Despite trends in which the Cherokee lost a large percentage of the population, today the tribe has between 95,000 and 130,000 members. Many argue that this is a result of liberal citizenship inclusion policies.


The Cherokee tribe has three sub-tribes: Lower, Middle and Over-the-Hill.

Among all of the Cherokee citizens, only three groups gained recognition by the federal government: the Cherokee Nation of Oklahoma, the United Keetoowah Band of Cherokee Indians, and the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians. The reason Oklahoma is home to many Cherokee today is that they were forcibly moved there during the Trail of Tears, their name for a government mandated march that forced the Cherokee off of their land so that white settlers could inhabit the area. This is the reason that nearly 280,000 Cherokee live in Oklahoma today.

Although many people associate the Cherokee with the Iroquois Native Americans, they have distinctly different languages and customs. During the Trail of Tears, many people grouped the Native Americans together, thinking that their customs, language and culture were essentially the same. The Cherokee today try to differentiate themselves from the Iroquois.