Visitors at the Cherokee National Holiday fiddler’s contest listen to a fiddling collaboration featuring Cherokee Nation citizens Regina Scott and Jerry Bigfeather. The contest was held Sept. 2 at the Talking Leaves Job Corps gymnasium in Tahlequah, Oklahoma. KENLEA HENSON/CHEROKEE PHOENIX
Fiddler’s contest continues to grow
Cherokee Nation citizen Regina Scott received first place in the juniors, open and no-hold barred divisions. Scott was the only contestant to receive three first place awards during the 65th annual Cherokee National Holiday fiddler’s contest on Sept. 2. KENLEA HENSON/CHEROKEE PHOENIX
TAHLEQUAH, Okla. – Fiddlers from far and wide, young and old competed in the Cherokee National Holiday’s fiddler’s contest on Sept. 2 at the Talking Leaves Job Corps gymnasium.
Jerry Bigfeather, fiddler’s contest coordinator, said fiddle music did not begin with the Cherokees but it has been a part of culture since before Oklahoma statehood.
“Fiddling was part of the Cherokee culture after the removal. Cherokees had to adopt the white man’s ways and part of that was through fiddling and square dancing,” Bigfeather said. “This was way back before we had TVs or electricity. Square dancing and fiddle music was a Saturday event, a social gathering that Cherokees have been a part of ever since.”
The fiddle contest has been a part of the holiday events for many years. However, it wasn’t until 1998 when Bigfeather and a group of fiddlers helped bring the contest out of retirement after a 10-year hiatus. Now fiddlers come from all over to play, compete and listen to fiddle music.
“Many people travel from out of state to compete and listen. There are folks from Minnesota that have come to the contest for 12 years in a row,” he said. “I try to take time to meet and greet and visit with as many folks as I can before and during the contest. I have made many friends like that. I have said a few times that it’s like a reunion because I see the same faces year after year in the audience.”
This year 20 fiddlers competed for more than $3,300 in prize money within five divisions: a Little Britches division for ages 10 and under, a juniors division for ages 11-17, an old timers division for ages 62 and over, an open division and a no-holds barred division for all ages.
Cherokee Nation citizen Regina Scott, 15, of Tulsa, Oklahoma, played in the juniors, open division and no-hold barred divisions. She placed first in all three divisions.
“It felt awesome to find out I won in all three divisions. I mean it’s really fun to win, but it’s also awesome to be here and see and hear the people I see every year play again,” she said. “I don’t think I will use it (fiddling) as a profession, but I will definitely keep up as a hobby and on the side because it is really fun and you meet some really great people.”
While each participant plays the judges face away from the contestant and a number is announced rather than a name to ensure fairness.
“We try to be fair and have a fair contest to determine the winner in each division. A winner is not necessarily who is the best but who had the best score on that day. Sometimes there is only a one- or two-point difference between winners, and next time it may be the other way around. So when a fiddler does not win prize money, many times they just say, ‘maybe next time,’” Bigfeather said.
The contest offers visitors a cool place to get out of the heat and a chance to hear an old style of music that isn’t heard every day. Bigfeather said the music dates back nearly 200 years and is a traditional style of dance music that was common in the “old days.”
“People come to listen because fiddle music is something you don’t hear on the radio or see on TV. Folks tell me every year that they enjoy the friendly relaxed atmosphere and the talented fiddlers that come to compete. I hear stories of how someone’s father, mother, grandfather, grandmother or uncle that used to play the fiddle and how it brings them back good memories when they come to the contest,” he said.
Bigfeather said he aims to “promote and preserve the art of fiddling,” and by holding the fiddling contest annually he hopes to find someone else who will continue that goal in the future.
“This event seems to continue to grow. We see new fiddlers every year. We see a large number of the same ones coming back, and we see a large number of familiar faces in the audience that come to listen year after year,” he said. “My hope is someone will step up and take over my place when that time comes, but I really would like to see it continue.”
TAHLEQUAH, Okla. – Fewer and fewer Cherokee people are speaking their native language, and the Cherokee Nation is losing elder speakers each year, so a monthly gathering of speakers is important for keeping the language alive, Cherokee Speakers Bureau officials said.
On Nov. 9, the CSB held a gathering for Cherokee speakers in the Tsa-La-Gi Community Meeting Room for lunch, fellowship and to speak Cherokee.
The CSB formed in 2007 to give Cherokee speakers an opportunity to speak the language with others. Ten years later, the CSB continues to be important for the language’s preservation.
“This event is very important because we don’t get to talk in Cherokee very much anymore because like places where we work not all co-workers can speak it. So this event allows us to all come together to speak the language,” Kathy Sierra, CN Cherokee Language Program assistant, said. “I come to speak Cherokee, to see all my friends and just be together, you know. One of my speaker friends works at (W.W.) Hastings (Hospital) so we don’t get to see each other and speak Cherokee until this event.”
Along with speaking Cherokee and having lunch, the event consists of storytelling, singing, community reports and word translation.
CN translator specialist Dennis Sixkiller, who serves as the meetings’ facilitator, said attending the CSB and talking with other Cherokee speakers has refreshed his memory of the language.
“I was kind of forgetting how to say some things in Cherokee. But from having a job (at Cherokee Nation) and being around people at the Speakers Bureau that speak Cherokee has really helped my language,” he said. “I just visited with a guy I grew up with, and a few years back I probably couldn’t talk to him in as much Cherokee as I did today, so it really has helped me out, and I really enjoy it.”
For CN translator specialist Bonnie Kirk keeping the language alive is “crucial.” She said not only is it important for the older speakers to keep speaking the language, but it’s also important to teach others so CSB meetings continue.
“I think right now it’s crucial to carry on the language that the Creator gave us. If we don’t, it’s going to be a lost art. We are fighting to keep that culture and teach our kids to speak Cherokee because if we don’t it’s going to be an end to a lot of our culture and to events like this,” she said. “This is our tenth year, and to this day we try to spread the word to different communities, and hopefully it will continue a long time because we really enjoy seeing each other once a month and speaking Cherokee with each other, and I hope that for the next generations, too.”
Although the CSB is designated for Cherokee speakers anyone is welcome to attend, but only Cherokee is spoken.
“We have a lot of students from different areas that just sit and listen, so everyone is welcome,” Kirk said.
The next CSB meeting will be held from 12:30 p.m. to 4 p.m. on Dec. 14 in the same meeting room. For more information, call Roy Boney Jr. at 918-453-5487.
GROVE, Okla. – Nearly 100 descendants and friends gathered for a memorial ceremony on Oct. 28 at Snell Cemetery to honor three Trail of Tears survivors.
The Oklahoma Chapter of the Trail of Tears Association honored Johnaky Snell, Akie (Sharp) Silversmith and Ahnawake “Annie” (Spirit) Snell.
The biography of each survivor was read and metal plaques were attached to their headstones. The plaques read: “In honor of one who endured the forced removal of the Cherokees in 1838-39.” It also includes the Cherokee Nation and TOTA seals.
“We are marking the graves of people who came on the forced removal from the East. I think it is very appropriate that we remember the people that came so we don’t forget the forced removal and what they did by enduring the Trail of Tears and if they had not done that we would not be here. One of the purposes we mark graves is to let people know this is their ancestor that came on the forced removal and to bring them together as a family,” National TOTA President Jack Baker said.
In 1993, TOTA formed to aid the National Parks Service in “protecting and preserving” the Trail of Tears routes, which Congress recognized as a national historical trail in 1987. In 1996, nine state TOTA chapters were organized in Alabama, Arkansas, Georgia, Illinois, Kentucky, Missouri, North Carolina, Tennessee and Oklahoma.
Oklahoma Chapter member David Hampton said each state chapter works on projects, mostly locating and marking trail segments. However, because the removal trails ended at the Arkansas border, the Oklahoma Chapter didn’t have trails to mark.
“Since the Trail generally ended at the Arkansas border and people disbanded when people got into the Cherokee Nation, the Oklahoma Chapter picked marking the graves as one of its projects from the very beginning, so we have been doing that over the last 18 years,” Hampton said.
The Oklahoma Chapter has marked 153 graves in the CN and is looking for more Trail survivors, as well as accepting applications from people wanting ancestors’ graves marked.
“We have specific criteria of what a Trail of Tears survivor is. It started after the roundup in May 1838. If you came (to Indian Territory, now Oklahoma) before that we are currently not marking those people’s graves. They (survivors) also came on a Cherokee detachment that disbanded in early 1839,” Hampton said. “We verify if they’re eligible, and if there are other people in that same cemetery that are eligible…we mark them, too.”
Steven Snell, of Grove, attended the ceremony with his family to honor Johnaky Snell.
“I didn’t realize my heritage going back to the Trail of Tears actually had people buried here in this cemetery. It’s just really nice they’re being recognized like this and being shown some respect,” he said.
Bob Fields, of Diamond, Missouri, attended to honor his great-great grandmother Akie (Sharp) Silversmith. He read her biography during the ceremony.
“I appreciate the Trail of Tears Association for doing this. It was a good ceremony, and I am glad they did it to recognize her life and her endearment on the Trail of Tears and the fact that she got through it. She would have never thought of her family would be here over a hundred years after she died, so I think that’s pretty good deal,” Fields said.
LeeAnn Dreadfulwater, of Park Hill, read the biography of her great-great-great grandmother Ahnawake “Annie” (Spirit) Snell.
“I think it’s a wonderful honor. She was just a little girl when she was on the Trail coming with all her brothers and sisters and her family. I can’t imagine what she must of seen, encountered and endured. It makes me really proud to come from someone like that who went on to live a really incredible life, a very full life where she was able to make a good home in a new land and to live into the new century, which must have been really incredible, too,” Dreadfulwater said.
To nominate an ancestor who survived the Trail of Tears, mail a request to Oklahoma TOTA Chapter President Curtis Rohr at 24880 S. 4106 Road, Claremore, OK, 74019 or call 918-341-4689.
Johnaky Snell was born about 1826 in Cherokee Nation East, most likely on Shooting Creek in what is present-day Clay County, North Carolina. His father was Goo-tah-skah, also known as Pickup in English, and his mother was Wah-li-sah. He had four known siblings or half siblings: Ah-to-he, Oo-yi-yah-sah-nah-ske, Lah-chi-le and Kah-se.
As a young man, he endured the forced removal to the west in a currently unknown detachment.
On July 25, 1865, he married a Cherokee, Katy Schrimsher. They were parents of eight children surviving to adulthood: Jane (Snell) Bushyhead, Ida (Snell) Six Mitchell Scraper, Lulu (Snell) Gourd, Joe Coon Snell, Charles Snell, Alexander Snell, Nona (Snell) O’Fields and Nancy Snell, as well as one daughter who died in infancy, Mary Snell.
During the Civil War, Johnaky served in the Union Army in Company H of the Second Indian Home Guard. After the war he returned to his farm near the Honey Creek area in what is present-day Delaware County, Oklahoma. He died on July 4, 1902, and was buried in the Snell Cemetery.
<strong>Akie Sharp Silversmith</strong>
Akie Sharp was born about 1829 in Cherokee Nation East. She was the oldest of four children to Ah-ne-kah-yah, also know as “Sharp” in English, and Nancy.
As a young girl, Akie and her family were forced on the removal west in the Oldfields/Forman detachment, which left the East on Oct. 10, 1838, and arrived on Feb. 2, 1839. The family then settled in what became the Delaware District of Cherokee Nation, present-day Delaware County, Oklahoma.
By 1851, Akie mothered a daughter by the name Ah-li, who died in childhood. Ah-li’s father was unknown. In 1852, Akie married Albert McGhee, a white man, and the pair had one daughter, Sarah (McGhee) Fields. After separation from Albert, Akie married Wilson Silversmith, a Cherokee. They had two children, John Silversmith and Bettie (Silversmith) Fields. During the Civil War, Wilson died and Akie and her family supported themselves by farming east of Grove in the Delaware District. She died on July 9, 1895, and was buried in Snell Cemetery.
<strong>Ahnawake “Annie” (Spirit) Snell</strong>
Ahnawake or Annie Spirit was born about 1826 on the Etowah River, Cherokee Nation East, near present-day Rome, Georgia. Her father was known as “The Spirit,” and her mother was Chah-wah-yoo-kah. Annie had three full siblings and two half sisters from her mother’s previous marriage to George Vann.
Together the family traveled on the forced removal to the West in the George Hicks detachment, which left the East in September 1838 and arrived in March 1839. Her father was a teamster in the detachment.
After arrival, the family initially settled in the Flint District, present-day southern Adair or northern Sequoyah County, Oklahoma. Spirit appears to have died within a few years after removal.
In 1848, Annie married Samuel Mayes, a white man. They were parents of Sarah (Mayes) Ballard, Elmira (Mayes) Finn Gladney and William (Penn) Mayes. After the Mayes family moved to the Saline District, near Grand River, Samuel died in 1858. In 1862, Annie married Simon Snell, a Cherokee, who was serving in the Union Army. The pair settled in the Delaware District and had one son, Charles Snell. After Simon’s death in 1877, Annie maintained the farm near Honey Creek. She died on Feb. 20, 1910, and was buried near Simon in Snell Cemetery.
ROCKY FORD, Okla. – As part of the tribe’s Community Cultural Outreach community presentation series, Cherokee National Treasure Noel Grayson demonstrated the arts of bow making, flint knapping, blow darts and twining on Nov. 7 at the Rocky Ford Community Center.
“We have a lot of talented people that can do a lot of different things. So those are the kind of things that we’re wanting to highlight in our communities,” CCO officer Dawnena Squirrel said.
Squirrel said with the presentation series, CCO officials want to reach small, rural communities such as Rocky Ford to highlight Cherokee culture.
Grayson spoke to more than 30 people about past Cherokee society and the importance of making weaponry needed for hunting.
“A man’s place in society, in Cherokee society, is actually to bring meat into a household. Now I know a majority of these men around here hunt. They’re bringing meat into their household. They’re doing their job,” Grayson said.
He said in past Cherokee society, people shared community gardens and young boys were sent to the gardens to learn how to hunt small animals that may have been roaming in the gardens such as rabbits, birds and squirrels that tried to feed off the crop.
The boys learned how to make blow darts, and that was their introduction to hunting. Any animals killed were considered “communal meat” and shared among area Cherokees.
Grayson, who became a Cherokee National Treasure in 1998, learned how to make bows as a child. “Me and my brothers would sit around and play with bows and arrows when we were growing up. It’s just a toy I never put down.”
He said he started out making bows out of sticks and eventually learned techniques of carving bows from his father.
Grayson reiterated the notion that knowledge is “meant to be shared.”
“You have to make an act to preserve all of this stuff regardless of what it is. Find somebody and pass it on to them,” Grayson said. “For one, it’s knowledge. You have to share knowledge because we’re not going to be here forever. We have to pass this on to the younger generation or even teach older generations.”
Squirrel said the CCO is trying to reach more communities with presentations such as Grayson’s.
“Sometimes we get focused on Tahlequah, and we’re trying to get out to places like Kenwood and Bell and Rocky Ford,” Squirrel said.
David Blackbird, a CN citizen and Rocky Ford Community Association president, said he would like to see more cultural presentations in Rocky Ford.
“This stuff here, it’s interesting. I’d like to see more of it,” Blackbird said. “It’s just part of our past the way I see it. I know everything’s going modernized but still yet, we need to keep that past with us.”
For more information, email <a href="mailto: email@example.com">firstname.lastname@example.org</a>.
WINSTON-SALEM, N.C. – Tucked away among many of the German scripts of 18th-century Moravian missionaries at the Moravian Archives are perhaps the earliest and longest-running accounts of daily life among the Cherokees. And since 2008, the Cherokee Nation and Cherokee Nation Businesses combined have donated $200,000 to the archives to ensure that those accounts are translated and published.
So far seven volumes in a book series have been published and more are expected.
Secretary of State Chuck Hoskin Jr. and Jack Baker, former Tribal Councilor and current National Trail of Tears Association president, recently toured the Moravian Archives and visited with staff about the production of a book series called “Records of the Moravians Among the Cherokees.”
According to a CN press release, the two saw the process of translating the German writings to English and visited historical sites that tell the story of early Cherokees and their interactions with Moravian missionaries.
“Anytime the Cherokee Nation has an opportunity to help reveal and preserve the story of our people, we want to do so, and our partnership with the Moravian Archives is a unique opportunity to do that,” Hoskin said. “These diaries, letters and reports made by the Moravian missionaries tell us what it was like among Cherokee communities up through the Trail of Tears in 1838, and further translation could uncover stories from the Civil War era and beyond.”
Hoskin called the records “invaluable” and said it is clear that the Moravians were “supporters of the Cherokees 200 years ago.”
The Moravian Church is a Protestant branch with roots in what is today Germany, where early church members gathered to avoid religious persecution in their native Moravia. By the mid-1700s, they had established mission outposts among Native Americans, with the first mission among the Cherokees in 1801 at Springplace in modern-day Georgia.
Baker said Cherokees allowed the mission largely because they saw an opportunity for their children to receive education from the Moravians.
Baker and CN citizen Anna Smith, a Winston-Salem Moravian, founded the Cherokee Moravian Historical Association in 2005 to bring attention to Cherokee history found within the 200-year-old Moravian recordings.
“The Moravians became great friends to the Cherokees,” Baker said. “They recorded eyewitness accounts of treaty negotiations, of our Tribal Council meetings and of day-to-day life. Their insight gives us a look at these items in our history that we would not otherwise have. The records were written in an archaic— and since then, greatly altered—style of German script, which was later banned from being taught in Germany. The fact that fewer and fewer can read it today adds to the significance of getting these documents translated.”
Moravian missionaries became advocates against the Cherokees’ removal in the 1830s. They traveled ahead of the Cherokees and prepared a “new Springplace” mission north of modern-day Tahlequah, Oklahoma. Danish Lutherans took over the property in 1902 and it survives today as Oaks Indian Mission in Oaks.
“I am so grateful that with the Cherokee Nation’s help we can share new details of the struggles and tragedies that strengthened and preserved the Cherokee identity and community, much of which their friends in the Moravian community sought to avoid, then mitigate and comfort,” J. Eric Elliott, Moravian Archives interim archivist, said.
The Moravian Archives staff has been translating and compiling books that include photographs, maps and other records with the CN’s support and additional funding by the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians, the Cherokee Moravian Historical Association, the Wachovia Historical Society and Friends of Moravian Archives. The series is a publication of Cherokee Heritage Press in Tahlequah and is distributed by the University of Oklahoma Press.
For more information on the Moravian Archives or to buy the “Records of the Moravians Among the Cherokees” volumes, visit <a href="http://www.moravianarchives.org" target="_blank">www.moravianarchives.org</a> .
POCOLA, Okla. – George Sabo III, Arkansas Archeological Survey director at the University of Arkansas, spoke about Cherokee Old Settlers on Oct. 16 during the 22nd annual Trail of Tears Conference and Symposium.
“My goal is to examine the experiences and accomplishments of Cherokee Old Settlers in Arkansas within a framework that considers historical events setting the stage for Cherokee arrivals during the late 18th and early 19th centuries,” he said.
Sabo highlighted historical events from the first encounters between Natives and Europeans in the mid-16th century to the French and Spanish alliance with Native leaders that led to early Cherokee settlements in Arkansas. These early settlers are known today as Old Settlers.
In the 17th century, Sabo said French and Spanish documents show that tribes such as the Tunicas, Caddo, Quapaw and Osage inhabited lands in Arkansas.
According to Sabo’s research, some of the first Old Settlers settled along the St. Francis River in northeastern Arkansas after “Anglo-Americans” violated the 1785 Treaty of Hopewell. The Cherokee, Choctaw and Chickasaw had signed the treaty with the new U.S. Congress. By 1805 approximately 1,000 Old Settlers were living along the St. Francis River, but they weren’t alone. People from the Abenaki, Delaware, Illinois, Miami and Shawnee tribes also occupied the area after the Revolutionary War.
Sabo discussed two events that led Cherokees to relocate to Arkansas in the early 19th century. One was an 1808 land cession between Upper Louisiana Gov. William Clark and Osage Chief Pawhuska. Although Pawhuska thought the treaty would secure hunting rights in the territory for the Osage, Clark planned for the territory to be open for settlement by other tribes.
The other event was an earthquake known as the New Madrid earthquake, which it and its aftershocks occurred from December 1811 to February 1812 in northeastern Arkansas and southeastern Missouri. The earthquakes destroyed Native settlements along the St. Francis River, including those of the Old Settlers. Sabo referenced historian Conevery Bolton Valencius, who noted that the earthquakes weren’t just a series of events to the southeastern Natives but “signs portending grave cultural and religious implications.”
Those two events plus the continuous conflict in the eastern Cherokee homelands resulted in the Old Settlers and more eastern Cherokees traveling west to the northern banks of the Arkansas River near present-day Russellville, Arkansas, to settle. Sabo suggests the Quapaw were in “friendly relationships” with the Cherokee newcomers.
“The Quapaws were, indeed, perfectly comfortable with an upstream Cherokee settlement area that could serve as a buffer separating Quapaws from Osages, among whom antagonisms still occasionally flared,” he said.
While in the new territory it was not peaceful for the Old Settlers. The Osage saw the land as theirs and attacked Cherokee settlements. For nearly a decade, the Old Settlers and the Osage warred.
Sabo mentioned one battle between the Old Settlers and Osages in 1817. The Cherokees organized 600 fighters and “attacked” Osage Chief Clermont’s town, killing more than 30 Osage and taking more than 100 prisoners. This event led the Osage to petition for a peace negotiation, which resulted in a land cession known as Lovely’s Purchase. The cession obtained an area of land that extended north of the Arkansas River to southern Missouri and 40 miles west from Fort Smith, Arkansas. Sabo said the ceded land was to act as a “buffer” between the Osages and Old Settlers.
“Cherokee assessments of the continuously changing geopolitical landscape enabled them to gain an upper hand over Osages,” he said.
After securing the land, the Old Settlers advanced in “American-style civilization.” They developed well-structured housing, schools and churches such as the Dwight Mission. Many developed ranches and fenced fields for crops and livestock. Sabo said the Old Settlers also tried to stay true to their culture.
“There were consequently two faces to Cherokee settlements in Arkansas, one illustrating a successful march toward civilization outwardly embracing white American ideals, the other preserving important cultural institutions including social structure, political leadership and religious belief and practice,” Sabo said.
All seemed well for the Cherokees. However, after the Treaty of Ghent was signed in 1814, ending the war between Great Britain, France and the United States, “Anglo-American” settlements in Arkansas multiplied. As the “Anglo” population grew, so did the “racial perspective” of Natives. The tribes that were once viewed as civilized were now seen as “savage.”
“In the view of territorial and federal officials, southeastern Indians including Cherokees should be removed even farther west to make way for the advance of American civilization,” Sabo said. “By the end of the second decade of the 19th century, these sentiments galvanized into legislative action at state, territorial and federal levels across the South to forcibly remove Indians from all lands in the path of expanding Anglo-American settlement.”
Hoping to escape removal, some Old Settler leaders went to Washington, D.C., to convince officials that they should be allowed to purchase their Arkansas lands. The Eastern Cherokees were also in Washington asking to remain on their homelands. Sabo said Congress and President John Quincy Adams’ administration would not budge.
Although the Old Settlers had to abandon their lands, where they were relocated to in 1828 wasn’t far. They settled parts of present-day Sequoyah, Muskogee and McIntosh counties in what is now eastern Oklahoma. Some of them settled again along the Arkansas River and formed the communities of Webbers Falls and Tahlonteeskee, later renamed Gore.
“The one small consolation for the Old Settlers was that their newly granted lands were located a comparatively short distance up the Arkansas River, and the move took place without most of the horror that accompanied the larger-scale Trail of Tears removals that commenced a decade later,” Sabo said. “And here we are today, celebrating a legacy of trial and tribulation but also of perseverance and success.”
PARK HILL, Okla. – Cherokee Family Research Center genealogists Gene Norris and Ashley Vann are trying to set the record straight when it comes to the differences between genealogy, tribal citizenship requirements and DNA testing.
“We basically take care of the clients that come in that are interested in learning about their family tree or finding more information about an ancestor that they believe to be Cherokee,” said Norris. “Somebody in the family has told them they were Cherokee in one generation or another back and they’re trying to find out more information to add to that.”
CFRC is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization operated by the Cherokee National Historical Society. Located within the Cherokee Heritage Center, individuals can use the CFRC genealogy library and research materials to conduct research once admission is paid to enter the CHC museum.
Individuals can also hire Norris or Vann to conduct their search for a fee of $30 per hour or $20 per hour for Cherokee National Historical Society members.
“The three main sources of information that we have are on the tables with the Dawes Roll, the Guion Miller Roll and the Baker Roll,” Vann said. “Our records pertain from 1817 until 1906. Primarily it comes down by location and finding out if that ancestor stayed with the tribe or even came here to be part of the tribe and that’s really the defining point of the research process.”
The Cherokee Nation and the United Keetoowah Band of Cherokee Indians use the Dawes Roll and Guion Miller Roll to determine citizenship, while the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians uses the Baker Roll. The three tribes are the only federally recognized Cherokee tribes.
Norris said it is a common misconception that the CFRC can issue tribal citizenship cards for the three tribes, which it is not able to do.
This situation arises most often with individuals seeking membership with the CN, according to Norris.
“We are not a government office,” he said. “Registration, that is a government office of the Cherokee Nation tribal government, which we are not a government office here. We do not issue cards. We do not take you through the registration process.”
Vann said she understands the confusion that can arise between the two entities, but stresses that the two have different priorities.
“The Registration Department of Cherokee Nation does not do research, nor do they have the manpower or the resources to do so because they are so overwhelmed right now processing (CN) citizenship and Certified Degree of Indian Blood card applications. That’s their priority is getting those out to those who are eligible for citizenship or the CDIB card,” said Vann.
Tribal citizenship can only be granted by one of the three tribes.
The Cherokee Nation, comprised of more than 355,000 citizens, requires that citizenship applicants be able to provide proof of direct lineage to an original Cherokee enrollee listed on the Dawes Rolls or be a descendant of an enrollee listed on either the Delaware Cherokees of Article II section of the Delaware Agreement or on the Shawnee Cherokees of Article III section of the Shawnee Agreement.
In an Aug. 30, 2017, ruling, U.S. District Judge Thomas F. Hogan also opened up CN citizenship to Cherokee Freedmen descendants. U.S. District Judge Thomas F. Hogan ruled that, “the Cherokee Nation can continue to define itself as it sees fit but most do so equally and evenhandedly with respect to native Cherokees and the descendants of Cherokee Freedmen.”
This overturns a March 2007 CN special election in which the Tribal Council was allowed to amend the CN Constitution to limit citizenship to only those with Indian blood.
The United Keetoowah Band of Cherokee Indians also uses the Dawes Rolls to determine lineage, but also has a minimum blood quantum requirement of 1/4 for all 14,034 of its citizens.
The Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians located in Cherokee, North Carolina, requires that each of its 15,568 citizens have a direct lineal ancestor on the 1924 Baker Roll of the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians. Additionally, members must also meet a 1/16-blood quantum requirement. Norris and Vann also stress that DNA testing will not establish tribal affiliation and cannot be used as a form of verification for any of the tribes.
“DNA testing unfortunately will not say that somebody is Cherokee,” Norris said. “It’s not fine tuned enough for it to do that.”
The popular, subscription-based genealogy research company Ancestry.com Inc. offers DNA testing for those interested, but with a disclaimer stating: “The AncestryDNA test may predict if you are at least partly Native American, which includes some tribes that are indigenous to North America, including the U.S., Canada and Mexico. The results do not currently provide a specific tribal affiliation.” It further warns users that the results “cannot be used as a substitute for legal documentation.”
Vann said CFRC tries to debunk groups that claim to test for Cherokee ancestry and would only personally recommend DNA testing in cases involving adoption. She added it’s difficult to perform genealogy services when adoption is involved.
“Unfortunately you don’t have anybody to talk to, so you have very few records to go off of. In that case, I do suggest DNA testing,” Vann said. “It might find other family members from that family who are still living that you may be able to contact to get more information. So that’s the only time I suggest DNA testing, because they need that missing link.”
For more information on the CFRC, visit www.cherokeeheritage.org.