The Cherokee people have lived in the southeast United States for thousands of years. Despite their interactions with foreigners, and a series of devastating forced migrations, the Cherokee have retained their unique culture and stayed united as a people. Their ability to survive is in part due to a unique set of characteristics that have allowed them to adapt to changes without losing their cultural identity.
The Cherokee Indians have the distinct physical characteristics associated with Native Americans. This includes high cheekbones, a bent nose, reddish brown skin tone and coarse, dark hair. Almond-shaped, heavy eyes are characteristic of Cherokee Indians, a trait that is due to an extra fold in the eyelid. Sometimes Cherokees have crooked fingers, especially the little fingers. Another physical characteristic is hidden behind the teeth, a ledge that gives the teeth a shovel appearance. An inverted breastbone is also common, a trait that leaves an indentation in the chest; it is sometimes called a "chicken breast." All of their unique characteristics are due to genetic mutations that have been passed down through the tribe over thousands of years. Modern DNA analysis has allowed these traits to be traced and tracked and can help to identify those with Cherokee or other Native American blood.
The Cherokee people believe that decisions affecting the entire tribe must be met and discussed as a group. The Cherokee treat each other with respect and believe that bad deeds are always punished, so they are careful to avoid committing them. When the Europeans arrived in the New World, the Cherokee were quick to welcome them with open arms. They often intermarried with the newcomers and incorporated their foods, philosophies and languages into their own culture. Their open and adaptable nature has allowed them to survive as a tribe into the 21st century, despite the incredible hardships their people have suffered.
The Cherokee claim to have always lived in the southeast region of the United States. Their lifestyle was that of an agricultural society. They lived in permanent settlements along the banks of rivers, raised crops and hunted wild game. The Cherokee are matrilineal, with the line of descent passing through the mother. Men were in charge of hunting and fishing while women tended the gardens, growing vegetables and herbs for both food and medicine. Today's Cherokee people have integrated in with modern society, and run a number of successful businesses, including a chain of casinos; however, the Cherokee still have a deep respect for their roots and many still practice traditional arts, keeping their culture and history alive.
The Cherokee have always been an intensely spiritual people. A traditional way they start the day is to face east and give thanks to the seven directions -- the four cardinal directions, as well as up, down and the center, the place where the individual exists. Numbers play an important part in Cherokee religion, especially the numbers four and seven, which are associated with the directions and the traditional number of Cherokee tribes. Seven is the highest level of spiritual attainment. The Cherokee believed that of all the animals on the Earth, only the owl and cougar had attained this level; they are highly regarded by the Cherokee. The circle is sacred in Cherokee religion and many of the religious dances include circular movements; however, not all Cherokee today practice their traditional religion. Some have converted to Christianity and other western religions.