|Eastern Band of Cherokee & Cherokee Nation of Oklahoma|
|Membership in Eastern Band of Cherokee|
|Membership in the Cherokee Nation of Oklahoma|
|Numerically, the Cherokees are the
largest Indian tribe in the United States. In the 1990 census, 308,132
people identified themselves as Cherokees of which greater than half of
them are federally recognized members of either the Eastern Band of
Cherokee Indians in western North Carolina, or the Cherokee Nation of
Oklahoma. The Eastern Band has more than ten thousand members, who are
descended from approximately one thousand Cherokees who avoided forced
removal in 1838 by claiming North Carolina citizenship under an earlier
treaty or by taking refuge in and near the Great Smoky Mountains.
Enrollment in the Eastern Band requires one-thirty-second degree of
Cherokee blood through descent from an enrollee on the 1924 Baker roll.
Modern Eastern Cherokees trace their origins to about one thousand Cherokees who managed to avoid removal. One-third of these—some fifty-seven families—were living outside the Cherokee Nation on the Oconaluftee River in the early nineteenth century and claimed U.S. citizenship under the treaties of 1817 and 1819. Living on nontribal land, these families were not subject to the Treaty of New Echota. They were referred to as the Oconaluftee Citizen Indians by the U.S. Army, which made no attempt to remove them. These Indians were joined in November 1838 by refugees from the Nantahala River area.
Other Cherokees who remained in North
Carolina included those living in the village of Cheoih, near
Robbinsville, which had a close alliance with local whites. A number of
families along the Valley River were also left behind. They were headed
by white males, and the army was unable to obtain a clarification of
their status. Other Cherokees who remained in the East came from such
places as Turtle Town and Duck Town in Tennessee, Fighting Town in
Georgia, and Shooting Creek and Hanging Dog Town in North Carolina.
The Cherokees became incorporated under the laws of North Carolina in 1889 and began conducting business as the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians. Title to tribal lands previously held by the Commissioner of Indian Affairs was transferred to the corporation. By 1890 an incipient cash economy had developed. Unfortunately, the advent of the timber industry, which operated on Cherokee land for a few decades, resulted in the deforestation of the mountains.
In 1919, Cherokee veterans of World War I were made citizens of the United States. In 1924, all American Indians received U.S. citizenship. Also in that year, Cherokee land was placed in federal trust, with the guarantee that the land would always remain in Cherokee possession.
The opening of Great Smoky Mountains National Park in 1940 changed the long-term focus of the Cherokee economy. After World War II, the scenic wilderness of the park began to draw hundreds of thousands of visitors annually. The Cherokee Historical Association was organized in 1948 and premiered its outdoor drama, Unto These Hills, two years later. In 1952, the association opened the Oconaluftee Indian Village. Today tourism is the primary industry in the Qualla Boundary area, providing jobs for about 65 percent of the local population.
Lands currently held by the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians include 56,572.8 acres in five countries of western North Carolina and 76.3 acres in two counties in eastern Tennessee. In North Carolina, tribal holdings include fifty-two tracts or boundaries, which are contained in thirty separate bodies of land. The majority of the land is in Jackson and Swain Counties. A small strip of land is in Haywood County, and scattered residential tracts are in Graham and Cherokee Counties. Possessory title to approximately 80 percent of tribal land is held by individuals, who can transfer land only to other tribal members. Of the more than ten thousand Eastern Cherokees, about sixty-five hundred live on tribal lands.
Membership in the Cherokee Nation of
Oklahoma requires proof of descent from an ancestor on the 1906 Dawes
Commission roll. There is no minimum blood quantum requirement—a policy
that has resulted in a rapid expansion of tribal membership, which has
grown from slightly more than fifty thousand in 1980 to more than one
hundred seventy-five thousand in 1995, with tens of thousands of
applications still pending. The Cherokee Nation of Oklahoma is now the
largest federally recognized tribe in the United States. The United Band
of Keetoowahs was organized among the Oklahoma Cherokees in the 1930s as
a political entity and has held federal recognition since 1946. Two
other Oklahoma Cherokee groups, neither of which is a political entity,
also use the name Keetoowah. In addition to the three federally
recognized groups, more than fifty other organizations in at least
twelve states claim Cherokee descent.
The Cherokee Nation is a source of pride and identity for its members, many of whom live in the original territory of the Cherokee Nation, which is located in fourteen counties of northeastern Oklahoma. Today this land is not a reservation, but a jurisdictional service area. The tribal structure was reorganized in the 1970s, and since then the Cherokee Nation has become a leader in education, health care, housing, vocational training, and economic development in northeastern Oklahoma. The nation currently employs 940 people on staff and in its business enterprises, and its annual payroll exceeds $13 million.
The assets of the Cherokee Nation include ninety-six miles of the Arkansas River bed and more than sixty-one thousand acres of tribal land. Over the past fifteen years, the Cherokee Nation has posted dramatic and steady financial growth while increasing its asset base. The annual operating budget exceeds $50 million, with the funds provided by federal programs and generated from tribal sources.
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