Cherokee descent

Cherokee descent, being of Cherokee descent, or being a Cherokee descendant are all terms for individuals who have some degree of documented Cherokee ancestry, but do not meet the criteria for tribal citizenship.[1] Gregory D. Smithers wrote, a large number of Americans belong in this category: "In 2000, the federal census reported that 729,533 Americans self-identified as Cherokee. By 2010, that number increased, with the Census Bureau reporting that 819,105 Americans claimed at least one Cherokee ancestor."[2] By contrast, as of 2012 there were only 330,716 enrolled Cherokee citizens (Cherokee Nation: 288,749; United Keetoowah Band: 14,300;[3] Eastern Band: 14,667[4]).


There are three federally recognized Cherokee tribes: the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians in North Carolina, the United Keetoowah Band of Cherokee Indians (UKB) in Oklahoma, and the Cherokee Nation of Oklahoma (CNO).[5] Enrollment criteria is different for each nation.

  • Eastern Band citizenship requirements are as follows:
"1. A direct lineal ancestor must appear on the 1924 Baker Roll of the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians.[6]
"2. You must possess at least 1/16 degree of Eastern Cherokee blood. Please note: Blood quantum is calculated from your ancestor listed on the 1924 Baker Roll."[6]
  • United Keetoowah Band requirements are as follows:
"The UKB has a minimum blood quantum requirement of one quarter (1/4) degree Keetoowah Cherokee blood."[7]
  • Cherokee Nation requirements are as follows:
The applicant must "provide documents that connect you to an enrolled lineal ancestor, who is listed on the 'DAWES ROLL' FINAL ROLLS OF CITIZENS AND FREEDMEN OF THE FIVE CIVILIZED TRIBES, Cherokee Nation with a blood degree."[8]

Reasons for self-identification without citizenship

There are a number of reasons people have given for self-identifying as Cherokee, or as descendants, despite not meeting enrollment criteria, and in some cases without being part of the Cherokee community:

  • Many Cherokee heritage groups, organizations that explore Cherokee history and culture, exist across the US, as well as unrecognized organizations claiming to be tribes, with one estimate putting the combined number as high as 200.[9] Membership in these groups, in some cases, requires genealogical proof of Cherokee ancestry, but many others have no requirements.
  • Many non-Indigenous American families have a family oral history of Cherokee ancestry.[10] This has sometimes been called "Cherokee Princess Syndrome", or having a family "Blood Myth."[2][11][12]
  • Laura Browder notes that some light skinned African American families in the late 19th and early 20th centuries wrote "themselves into Native American identity and out of whiteness or blackness"[13]
  • Geneticists Kim TallBear describes some individuals discovering what they believe to be Native American ancestry through DNA testing, who begin searching for "Cherokee ancestral lines" after this. She notes, however, that "There is no DNA test to prove you're Native American"[14] and that this group mostly continues to identify as white.[15]


  1. Circe Sturm, Becoming Indian: The Struggle over Cherokee Identity in the 21st Century. Santa Fe: School for Advanced Research Press, 2011, p. 5
  2. "Why do So Many Americans Think They Have Cherokee Blood?". October 2015.
  3. "Pocket Pictorial". Archived April 6, 2010, at the Wayback Machine Oklahoma Indian Affairs Commission. 2010: 6 and 37. (retrieved June 11, 2010).
  4. EBCI Enrollment Office (10 July 2012). "EBCI Enrollment facts". Cherokee One Feather. Retrieved 15 July 2017.
  5. "Tribal Directory: Southeast". National Congress of American Indians. Retrieved June 9, 2017.
  6. "Enrollment".
  7. "Enrollment - United Keetoowah Band of Cherokee Indians in Oklahoma".
  9. "Going 'Native': Why Are Americans Hijacking Cherokee Identity?".
  10. "The Cherokee Syndrome - Daily Yonder".
  11. "Elizabeth Warren and the myth of the Cherokee princess".
  12. R.L. Allen, "Creating Identity at Indian Expense: Public Ignorance, Private Gain." Paper presented at Native Stories and Their Keepers: Telling the Public, Sequoyah Research Center Symposium, University of Arkansas at Little Rock, November15–17,2001.
  13. Browder, Laura (2003-06-20). Slippery Characters: Ethnic Impersonators and American Identities. ISBN 9780807860601.
  14. Geddes, Linda (5 February 2014). "'There is no DNA test to prove you're Native American'". New Scientist. Retrieved 15 July 2019.
  15. Kim Tallbear, Native American DNA, Minneapoli: University of Minnesota Press, 2013. pp132-136.
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