How to become a member of the Cherokee Nation
Joining the Nation - What is Required?
by Christina Berry
At least once a week I receive a question about how to prove Cherokee ancestry or join the Nation. Joining the Cherokee Nation is a common goal among Cherokee genealogy hobbyists. Unfortunately, the majority of the people tracing their Cherokee roots are ineligible to join. There is a great deal of confusion and misunderstanding about tribal membership and what is required to join. I hope the following information will help clear up any misconceptions.
What is required to join the Nation and why are so many Cherokees ineligible?
In order to register with the Cherokee Nation you must be issued a Certificate of Degree of Indian Blood (CDIB) by the Bureau of Indian Affairs. The white card (as the CDIB is often called) certifies your degree of Indian blood (blood quantum) and the tribe you are affiliated with. To obtain a white card, you must provide legal documents that prove your lineage from an ancestor who is listed, with a roll number and a blood degree, on the Final Rolls of Citizens and Freedmen of the Five Civilized Tribes, Cherokee Nation. This roll is commonly known as the Dawes Roll.
What is the Dawes Roll, and who was registered on it?
Congressman Henry Dawes was a big advocate of property ownership and he asserted that it was a necessary component of civilized life. The rest of Congress agreed, and in 1887 they enacted into law the Dawes Act. The Act stated that the United States government would provide for the allotment of lands in Indian Reservations. The Cherokee Nation was divided into thousands of small pieces of land, which would be distributed among the Cherokee people. On the surface the act was an attempt to assimilate the Native people into white society, in itself a less than admirable cause, but in reality the Dawes Act did far more than Anglicize the Native Americans. The Act allowed for widespread fraud by government officials and legally stripped Native Americans of much of their land by allowing land not allotted to be opened to settlers. The Dawes Roll was the official roll of the Dawes Act and was open from 1899-1906. In order to receive a parcel of land Cherokees had to sign the rolls. In order to sign the rolls a Cherokee had to have a permanent residence in the Cherokee Nation and have appeared on previous rolls. Those who signed the Dawes Roll provided their names and blood quantum and in return were granted a piece of land in the location they desired. In addition to the "Cherokee by Blood" portion of the Dawes Rolls, there were separate rolls for Cherokee Freedman and Intermarried whites living in the Cherokee Nation.
Why are so many Cherokee today not able to trace their genealogy to a Dawes Roll signer?
There were a number of Cherokees who did not sign the Dawes Roll. Some Cherokee who lived in the Cherokee Nation and were eligible to sign the roll and receive land refused to do so. After years of broken treaties and bad policies implemented by the US government, many Cherokees were weary of signing the Dawes Roll and "registering" as Cherokee. Other Cherokees of the day were not living within the Cherokee Nation and were therefore ineligible to enroll. Cherokees who had settled in Texas, Arkansas, Kansas, and Missouri were considered US citizens and were ineligible to sign the Dawes Rolls. Anyone descended from these Cherokee will be unable to enroll in the Cherokee Nation, even if they are able to prove their Cherokee heritage.
How do I find out if my ancestors were on the Dawes Roll?
Many libraries will have the Dawes Roll on microfilm. The problem is that without a roll number to search for it's like finding a needle in a haystack. All Things Cherokee offers a solution for not only finding your ancestor on the Dawes Roll, but on ever Cherokee roll with the All Things Cherokee Customized Cherokee Rolls Report.
My ancestors are on the Dawes Roll and I have their roll number. Now what do I do?
If you have the roll number you're half way there. All you need in order to apply for a CDIB card are acceptable legal documents that connect you to an ancestor who is listed with a roll number and blood degree on the Dawes Roll and your birth certificate. Once you have submitted this information they will approve or deny your claim. If your claim is approved you will receive your CDIB (white card). Now you are eligible to apply for membership to the Cherokee Nation (which comes in the form of a blue card). Descendants of Freedman cannot receive a CDIB, because the Freedman roll did not include quantum calculation, but they are eligle for membership in the Cherokee Nation as a descendant of a Dawes Roll signer. (Please note: On March 3, 2006 the Cherokee Nation voted to remove Freedman descendants from its citizenry. The vote can be protested until March 12th, so as of this publishing citizenship regarding Freedman is undetermined.)
Okay, I'm ready to apply for my CDIB and membership. Where do I go?
You can apply for your CDIB and membership card through the Cherokee Nation. You will need to contact the Cherokee Nation Tribal Registration office for more information about what to send and where to send it. You can learn all about the registration process at their website: Cherokee Nation Tribal Registration. Or you can contact them via mail at:
Cherokee Nation of Oklahoma
P.O. Box 948
Tahlequah, OK 74465
(918)456-0671 Fax (918)456-6485
My ancestors are not on the Dawes Roll. What now?
The Cherokee Nation is not the only federally recognized Cherokee Tribe in the US. In fact, there are three: The Cherokee Nation, The Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians, and The United Keetoowah Band of Cherokee Indians. Each tribe has its own requirements for enrolling.
Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians
The Eastern Band requires that a person have a blood quantum of 1/16th or higher and prove they are a descendant of one of the signers of the final roll of the Eastern Cherokee (also referred to as the Baker Roll in 1924). All Things Cherokee offers a Cherokee Rolls report which includes detailed Baker Roll results for whatever surname you submit. You can learn more about membership in the Eastern Band at their website: Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians Enrollment Info, or you can contact them via mail at:
Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians
P.O. Box 455
Cherokee, North Carolina 28719
(207) 497-2771, Fax (704)497-2952 ask for the Tribal Enrollment Office.
United Keetoowah Band of Cherokee Indian
The United Keetoowah Band of Cherokee Indians was organized under the Indian Reorganization Act of 1934 and the Oklahoma Indian Welfare Act of 1936. Membership requires a blood quantum of 1/4 or higher and is limited to persons on the list of members identified by a resolution dated April 19, 1949, and certified by the Superintendent of the Five Civilized Tribes Agency and their descendants. To learn more about the United Keetoowah Band contact them at:
United Keetoowah Band of Cherokee Indians in Oklahoma
P.O. Box 746, Tahlequah, OK 74465-0746
Telephone: (918) 456-5491
FAX: (918) 456-9601
I hope this article has helped answer a few questions. I wish everyone who reads this the best of luck in finding their ancestors and I offer this word of advice: Do not set your hopes on membership (or proof). Researching your Cherokee ancestors is a fun and challenging hobby, which is very rewarding for you and your family. If you find that you are one of the many Cherokees who are ineligible to join one of the three Cherokee tribes, do not give up your search. What matters most is who you are -- not what you can prove to the government.
Warning: Beware of scams. There are countless groups claiming to be Cherokee who are not. While the vast majority of non-recognized Cherokee groups are harmless, there are scam artists who are ready to cash in by using the Cherokee name. Be very wary of any group which requires a fee to join or asks for money in any form. In addition there are groups who will be more than willing to issue you an "ID Card" for a fee. Buyer beware, these cards are not legitimate. While it's sad that we have to operate on this level of suspicion and mistrust, it is necessary as long as people continue to exploit the Cherokee name.
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