First
People of Tennessee
And the American Southeast



To Be, or Not to Be ...
Federally Recognized Cherokee


Federally Recognized Cherokee
Tribal Membership
by  Glen Davis

       There has been an increasing interest American Indian heritage over the last 25 years or so. As one begins the search of their family history, there are some important facts to keep in mind.

(1)   Tribal membership is a status of citizenship in a sovereign nation.
(2)   Federal and Common Law, and in the case of Indian citizenship, Tribal Law govern the terms of citizenship.
(3)   Any degree of Indian “blood” is irrelevant to tribal membership if the law has established a different basis for enrollment as a citizen.
(4)   In the United States, only the Federal government has the authority to recognize a sovereign foreign nation (foreign indicating a government other than the United States).

There are now three Federally recognized Cherokee “nations” or tribes.
(1)   The Cherokee Nation of Oklahoma, headquartered in Tahlequa, OK;
(2)   The Eastern Band Cherokee Indians of North Carolina, headquartered in Cherokee, NC.
(3)   The United Keetoowah Band of Cherokee Indians, headquartered in Tahlequa, OK;

Requirements for citizenship (membership) in these sovereign groups vary. The procedures also vary in detail, but in general, include:

(1)   Certification of Degree of Indian Blood (DIB), which process is in the hands of the U.S. Department of the Interior, Bureau of Indian Affairs. The rules involve being able to **legally** establish a **direct lineal descent** from an individual who enrolled in the official “final roll“ of citizens, and a computation of DIB based on that ancestor’s blood quantum, as recorded on the final roll.

(2)   Direct lineal descent must be established by legal documentation, including items such as state or court based birth and marriage certificates, or a “judicial determination of heirs” which legally establishes one’s nearest enrolled relative.

(3)   The minimum DIB is established by each Federally recognized tribal government.

(4)   Other requirements may also be established by each tribal government.

As a result of Federal and Tribal Law, some number of people who were of Cherokee heritage lost their citizenship at the time of the respective final rolls.

Opinions vary as to the number, and so far as I know, no official census has ever been taken of those who lost their citizenship.

The current requirements for Cherokee citizenship are:

(1)   Cherokee Nation of Oklahoma

       any degree of blood quantum, and
       direct lineal descent from a Dawes Roll member

(2)   Eastern Band Cherokee Indians of North Carolina

       (Tribal Ordinance #284 dated June 24, 1996)
       1/16 degree of Cherokee blood, and
       direct lineal descent from a member of the Baker Roll of 1924, revised.

(3)   United Keetoowah Band of Oklahoma

       1/4 degree of “Old Settler”*/Keetoowah Cherokee blood.

People are often curious about how a person became eligible to enroll under the Dawes commission roll. Citizens of the Cherokee were enrolled as:
   - citizens by blood
   -       minor citizens by blood
   -       new born citizens by blood
   - citizens by marriage
   - freedmen
   -       new born freedmen
   -       minor freedmen
   - Delaware Indians adopted by the Cherokee
   - citizens enrolled by an Act of Congress (1914)

The original enrollment closed 01 Sept 1902. Additional children were added until 04 Mar 1906.

The requirements for enrollment in the Cherokee Nation at that time were:
“1)   applying between 1899-1906,
“2)   appearing on previous tribal rolls of 1880 or 1896, and
“3)   having a permanent residence within the Cherokee Nation (now the 14 northeastern counties of Oklahoma).”
“If the ancestors had separated from the Tribe and settled in states such as Arkansas, Kansas, Missouri, and Texas, they lost their citizenship within the Cherokee Nation.”
“Only enrolled members of the Cherokee Nation named on the Final Rolls and/or their descendents are furnished Certificates of Degree of Indian Blood and/or Tribal Membership.”

“CDIB’s are issued only through the natural parents. In cases of adoption, quantum of Indian blood must be proven through the BIOLOGICAL PARENTS to the enrolled ancestor. A copy of the Final Degree of Adoption must accompany the application for CDIB, as well as the STATE CERTIFIED, FULL IMAGE/PHOTOCOPY OF THE BIRTH RECORD.”
(from the Cherokee Nation of Oklahoma, Registration Office)

All other Cherokee citizenship was extinguished by the actions taken around the final rolls.

* Of a related concern, are those who were known as “Old Settlers.” There is a legal definition of who was an “old settler.” This group was composed of those Cherokee who removed to what is now Arkansas under the treaties of 1817 and 1819. They settled between the Arkansas and White Rivers, west of a line from current Batesville to a spot about midway between today’s Conway and Morrilton. There was no western boundary established. Since “Old Settlers” implies a certain identifiable group, one is able to look at two census rolls to determine whether an ancestor was a member: the Emigration Roll of 1817, and the Old Settler Roll of 1851. The first lists those Cherokee chose to emigrate to Arkansas Territory under the two treaties above. The second includes those among this group who were still living in 1851, and who were residing in what is now Oklahoma when the main body of Cherokee arrived there in 1839. Those on the 1851 census who enrolled under the Dawes Commission retained their citizenship. Others did not. Only those on the 1817 Emigration roll and the 1851 Old Settler roll are actually “old settlers,” all of whom resided in what is now Arkansas between 1817 and about 1840.

There are many others who are “of Cherokee heritage,” that is people who can today trace and document their ancestry to earlier generations who were at some point Cherokee citizens. These ancestors lost their citizenship as a result of various decisions they made about where they lived.

Today, there is no legal certification process for non Cherokee citizens. None of the sovereign Cherokee tribes offer any recognition process for descendants of those individuals who surrendered their citizenship, or for those who “disappeared” from earlier rolls.



Disclaimer and a Caveat

       This page is presented by TNGenWeb Project to aid genealogists and is intended for educational purposes only. Since TNGenWeb Project is non-political, it is unable to endorse any Cherokee group over another.
       Genealogists may, by using acceptable genealogical methods, be able to document their Cherokee heritage. Proving their Cherokee hertiage does not mean they will automatically meet the enrollment requirements into any group. Each Cherokee Band, whether recognized by the Bureau of Indian Affairs or not, will have their own specific enrollment requirements. It is said that there are over 300 non-recognized Cherokee groups. While it is possible that some are reputable, it is probable that many do a disservice by misleading people. Caveat Emptor!
Fred Smoot





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This page last updated on  Wednesday, June 12, 2002

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