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This article is from the Encyclopedia of North Carolina edited by William S. Powell. Copyright © 2006 by the University of North Carolina Press. Used by permission of the publisher. For personal use and not for further distribution. Please submit permission requests for other use directly to the publisher.

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Cherokee Indians

by William L. Anderson and Ruth Y. Wetmore, 2006
Additional research provided by John L. Bell.

Part i: Overview; Part ii: Cherokee origins and first European contact; Part iii: Disease, destruction, and the loss of Cherokee land; Part iv: Revolutionary War, Cherokee defeat and additional land cessions; Part v: Trail of Tears and the creation of the Eastern Band of Cherokees; Part vi: Federal recognition and the fight for Cherokee rights; Part vii: Modern-day Cherokee life and culture; Part viii: References and additional resources

Part i: An overview

Goingback Chiltoskey carving animal figures from wood, 1967. North Carolina Collection, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill Library.Cherokee Indians once occupied an area encompassing approximately 140,000 square miles that became parts of North Carolina, Tennessee, South Carolina, Georgia, and Alabama. The Cherokee thrived in North Carolina well into the late eighteenth century, but as Euro-American settlers steadily moved into and near Cherokee lands, sharp conflicts arose between Cherokees and whites and between Cherokees themselves, as leaders with competing claims to speak for the tribe secured treaties and formed other agreements with white settlers that were not acknowledged by all Cherokee people. In 1838-39, the U.S. government forcibly removed the Cherokee from their lands in North Carolina, leading them on the infamous Trail of Tears to the Indian Territory (present-day Oklahoma). A small number of Cherokee people successfully resisted removal, however, by claiming North Carolina citizenship and by maintaining the right to remain on lands they owned. These people and their descendants were recognized in 1868 by the federal government as the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians. In the early 2000s these Cherokee, living on the Qualla Boundary in the western part of the state, were the only Indian tribe in North Carolina fully recognized by the federal government. The tribe has more than 13,000 enrolled members.



Keep reading > Part ii: Cherokee origins and first European contact keep reading

Update from N.C. Government & Heritage Library staff: 

The Eastern Band of the Cherokee Indians is self-governed and autonomous.  Governance is by tribal council.  The Principal Chief as of 2018 was Richard Sneed.  His name is the latest in the list of Cherokee leaders, his predecessors being Yonaguska, William Holland Thomas, Salonitah (or Flying Squirrel), Lloyd R. Welch, Nimrod Jarrett Smith, Stillwell Saunooke, Andy Standing Deer, Jesse Reed, Bird Saloloneeta (or Young Squirrel), John Goins Welch, Joseph A. Saunooke, David Blythe, Sampson Owl, John A. Tahquette, Jarret Blythe, Henry Bradley, Osley Bird Saunooke, Walter Jackson, Noah Powell, John A. Crowe, Robert S. Youngdeer, Jonathan L. Taylor, Gerard Parker, Joyce Dugan, Leon Jones, Michell Hicks, and Patrick Lambert.

--Research Branch, North Carolina Office of Archives and History, 2018.


Eastern Band of Cherokee Website:



Dear Angie,

Thank you for visiting NCpedia and especially for sharing your family history and question.

I am replying to you at the email you included in your post and connecting you with Reference Services at the NC Government & Heritage Library.  A reference librarian will contact you shortly to help with your question and suggest resources you can consult to help look into Cherokee heritage.

Best of luck with your search!

Best wishes,
Kelly Agan, NC Government & Heritage Library




my mother name was Iva Mae Richardson she is Cherokee her people live in North Carolina she has 2 cousins that are Cherokee Indians also, My question is this, what do i have to do to be recognize by my tribe?


Hi Deborah,

Thank you for visiting NCpedia.

Here are a number of resources to consult to help you with this investigation:

1. The Bureau of Indian Affairs has resource pages to help you investigate your rights and heritage.  The site has a link to a document you may want to consult:  the U.S. Dept. of the Interior's "A Guide to Tracing American Indian & Alaska Native Ancestry."  The document has a section on p. 4 dealing with the process for enrollment in federally recognized tribes --

And here is the link to the Bureau of Indian Affairs resource page with numerous links to helpful information --  And the Tribal Leaders Directory can be found at You will also find contact information for the Bureau of Indian Affairs and can call them if you have additional questions.

2.  Here are the official websites for the Eastern Band of Cherokee and the Cherokee Nation

3.  Website for the NC Commission on Indian Affairs: This site has tribal information and resources as well as contact information for the state's recognized tribes:

I hope this information helps!

Best wishes,

Kelly Agan, NC Government & Heritage Library


My father raised me believing I was of Cherokee heritage and way of life. Imagine my hurt when a man with proof of being my half brother after 60 says he has proof I am not. I feel ashamed to have presented myself as such. I also feel a lost in my beliefs. Want to apologize to a great people and ask forgiveness


I don't think there is any reason to apologize. It was a simple mistake. Who's to say your half brother is correct? Did you verify the validity of your father's claim that you ARE part Cherokee? Did you verify your half brother's claim that you ARE NOT?
Have you done a DNA testing kit from Start there. Start filling in your family tree.


My Great Grandmother (Annie Tucker was born in 1883, a black Indian), in NC. Can U find a birth certificate and address?


Dear Leonzo,

Thank you for visiting NCpedia and asking your question.

By separate email I'm going to connect with librarians at the Government & Heritage Library at the State Library of North Carolina.  They will be able to help direct you to appropriate agencies and information resources for your question.

Good luck and best wishes,

Kelly Agan, Government & Heritage Library


Dow you anything about the mohawk tribes


Try this article in the online Canadian Encyclopedia:

You may also wish to contact your local public library for additional resources.

Good luck in your research!

Michelle Underhill, Digital Information Management Program, NC Government & Heritage Library

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