Native American Research  
 Cherokee Tribal Membership

More and more people are seeking to prove their ancestors were Native American Indian. There has been an increase in interest in Indian ancestry because the emphasis that is placed on minority hiring in private industry and other Government agencies, as well as in the BIA, and in services provided by the Bureau of Indian Affairs. This is a complicated matter that requires study and research, and it is not possible to set out all the details in one article, but it is hoped this will help to start you in the right direction.

Whatever their reasons for seeking this recognition, there are certain things people should know before they begin, such as the fact that possession of Indian blood does not, of itself, entitle an individual to rights or benefits provided by the Federal Government. The rights to benefits or any payments made to persons of Indian descent represent their shares of the assets of the tribe with which they are affiliated. Consequently, to be eligible to share in the tribal assets or services, a person must be a member of a federally recognized Indian tribe. For those who seek a federally issued Certificate Degree of Indian Blood card ("CDIB") as a Cherokee, then it must be issued through an application filed with one of these three Cherokee tribes:

The Cherokee Nation, Tahlequah OK
The Keetoowah Band of Cherokees, Tahlequah OK
The North Carolina Band of the Cherokees, Cherokee NC

For those who say that they "only want to be recognized as a Cherokee"-- there is no alternative certification.

Indian policy was based on the General Allotment Act of 1887, which the purpose was to break up tribal land holdings and allot each tribal member land from the tribal lands or reservation, with land title and full U.S. Citizenship. This act did not apply to the Five Civilized Tribes (Cherokee, Choctaw, Chickasaw, Creek and Seminole), the Osage, or the Sac and Fox. However, a similar policy was forced upon them by the Dawes Commission at a later date.

The Final Rolls of the Five Civilized Tribes (commonly called the Dawes roll) contain the names of more than 101,000 enrollees. A Commission to the Five Civilized Tribes was authorized to determine who was eligible for tribal membership and thus entitled to an allotment of land. There is generally a similar "FINAL ROLL" for most tribes, and tracing ancestry to someone on a "Final Roll"' is usually the key to recognition of a person today by the Bureau of Indian Affairs.

The Dawes Commission Roll Book; the Final Rolls of the Five Civilized Tribes, is used for Certification of Degree of Indian Blood, and was compiled during the years 1899-1906. Anyone who died before the enrollment closing date of their particular tribe (Cherokees: 1 Sep 1902) would not have a roll number, as would the people who were born after the closing date (Cherokees: 4 March 1906).

To be enrolled, these applicants had certain requirements, also. Application had to be made during the enrollment period showing membership in the tribe and actual residence within the area occupied by the tribe. In addition, this residence must have been "continuous" from the prior qualifying roll through to the date of the application.

If your direct ancestor was an original enrollee on the Dawes Commission Rolls and you apply for a Certificate of Degree of Indian Blood based on that relationship, you will be required to furnish an unbroken chain of state and/or court certified documents, or a judicial "determination of heirs" showing your relationship to the nearest lineal enrolled ancestor. The burden of proof is completely upon the applicant; If you do not know whether your ancestor was enrolled or the tribe, you must identify your ancestor and learn where they were living in Indian Territory in 1900. You can do this by searching the 1900 Indian Territory census, which can be rented (on microfilm) through your own local library. Finding them on the census will tell you which Indian Nation they were living in, and if the person is Indian, identify the tribe. If you are looking for a tribal member who was not of the Five Civilized Tribes, you should look on the 1900 Oklahoma Territory for your ancestor, then check with Tribal Headquarters or the tribal rolls in the Oklahoma State Historical Society.

The Dawes Commission Roll Books are also available at many repositories in the United States, may be rented (again) through your own public library, and have been published. But you should also realize that "a NAME" does not "A RELATIONSHIP" make! As previously stated; the Final Roll of the Five Civilized Tribes contains 101,000 "names", and although it may contain similar to identical names to your family, you must do the other research in order to determine if this is your ancestor -- or if you are tracing someone else's family.

Some people may never be able to prove Indian heritage.  It was (and normally is) the Universal Common Law.  -- that if a person leaves the country of their nativity and establishes themselves in another country, their citizenship in the country of their origin is not guaranteed. Further, the children born in the new country to these emigrants are legally citizens of the country of their birth. This means that if a person, for whatever reason, had been separated from the country of their birth ("the Indian Nation") and had settled in another country ("the United States"), they forfeited not only their own rights to citizenship in the country of their nativity, but that of their descendants ---- forever. These laws have been challenged in the U.S. Supreme Court and on the floor of the Congress of the United States-- and each time they have been affirmed. These laws, however, are not unique just to the Indian tribes or even to the United States.

For the most part, Indian agents only kept track of persons who were recognized as tribal members (by either the U.S. or the tribal governments). People who remained behind when the bulk of their tribe was moved to Indian Territory, or people who later moved away from the tribe and (in effect) ended their affiliation, will probably be lost as far as official BIA records are concerned. You will have to trace these people by using the basic genealogical methods of putting the families in the proper place and time period, and studying the history of the area; talking to family members, seeking family bible information, marriage, birth, and death records and identifying them on the U.S. census.

Even if you do not prove your Indian ancestry,  you will have made a significant contribution to your family history, and that is a worthy effort. It will be appreciated for many, many years by generations yet to be born.



I would be amiss if I did not mention one other thing. Operating in the United States at this time are over 300 "Lets Pretend that we are Cherokee" groups, some actually calling themselves "Tribes". We have heard several horror stories connected with these groups, and feel that you should at least be made aware that they do exist. These organizations are charging fees "for research", "membership assessments" for something called "legal fees", and a monthly or yearly fee for "belonging" to them.  Check as to exactly what this means before you invest your hopes, dreams and money in membership.

Do not believe them when they tell you that they "have filed for federal recognition and expect to be recognized any day now"! ANYONE with just a bit of common sense could read the Regulations (Department of the Interior, Bureau of Indian Affairs publication 25 CF Part 83) and see that there is no way that they could POSSIBLY qualify for recognition as a tribe! Some of these groups first filed back in the 1970's-- and have never again been heard from ("No further contact"). As long as they do not return the official application to the DI and BIA, then they cannot reject them. Therefore, they can go on touting the tired old phrase "we have filed-- " as long as they can find people to pay their fees!

Joining or being members of these organizations would no more "prove" your Cherokee ancestry than your membership in The Cherokee Bowling League of Las Vegas NV or The Cherokee Health Center of Hoboken NJ!  But if it will satisfy you to have a membership card from these organizations in your billfold to show your friends,-- then go for it! Just remember that the paper content of that card is more valuable than what is written upon it!

Even those who advertise that they are "State Certified" --  this does not obligate the state in any way to any of their members, and the states feel that it might bring in some tourists and add to the local economy. Therefore, the states would "certify" any group-- it's to their advantage.

If they are charging for membership-- then be wary; if  in doubt as to their federal status, check on them at: and/or call the Investigative Branch of the BIA at (202) 208-2753 or (202) 208-3710.

To see the current status (as at 2 March 1999) of groups who have petitioned for federal recognition as
Indian tribes.

Best of luck in your quest!

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