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Summary Article: CHEROKEE from Cassell's Peoples, Nations and Cultures

A Native North American Nation whose lands once stretched from Alabama to West Virginia. They called themselves Ani‘-Yun’wiya, meaning ‘the real people’. Sedentary farmers, hunters, gatherers and fishers, they spoke an Iroquoian language.

The largest of the so-called FIVE CIVILIZED TRIBES, the Cherokee became heavily involved in the fur trade in the 18th century. They also undertook a remarkable transformation from the 1790s, adopting white culture wholesale in their religion, agriculture and education. They developed their own written language and had their own press. Their relative prosperity, however, highlighted the value of their lands to settlers, who called for them to be dispossessed.

In 1830 President Andrew Jackson approved the Indian Removal Act, which he administered by military force, despite the Cherokees’ successful challenge to its legality in the US Supreme Court. Some managed to hide in North Carolina, where their descendants remain. Most were forced on a brutal death march, known as the ‘Trail of Tears’, to Oklahoma. They re-established their nation and again prospered, though they lost further lands when some sided with the Confederacy during the Civil War. Efforts were also made to eradicate surviving elements of their traditional culture.

In 1906, as Oklahoma became a state, the US government arbitrarily dissolved the Cherokee nation and made the Cherokee US citizens. Only in the 1970s was a Cherokee nation reformed. In 1990 they numbered over 300,000 and were the largest Native American nation in the USA.

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