Native Americans for Kids
The Cherokee Indians are a Native American tribe. They are largest tribe in the United States. The name Cherokee comes from a Muskogean word that means "speakers of another language". The Cherokee called themselves the Ani-Yunwiya, meaning "principal people".
Cherokee Nation Flag
Where did the Cherokee live?
Before the Europeans arrived, the Cherokee lived in an area of the Southeastern United States which is today the states of North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia, Alabama, and Tennessee.
The Cherokee lived in wattle and daub homes. These homes were framed with tree logs and then covered with mud and grass to fill in the walls. The roofs were made of thatch or bark.
What did they eat?
The Cherokee lived off a combination of farming, hunting, and gathering. They farmed vegetables such as corn, squash, and beans. They also hunted animals such as deer, rabbits, turkey, and even bears. They cooked a variety of foods including stews and cornbread.
How did they travel?
Before the Europeans came and brought horses, the Cherokee travelled by foot or by canoe. They used trails and rivers to travel between villages. They made canoes by hollowing out large tree logs.
Religion and Ceremonies
The Cherokee were a religious people who believed in spirits. They performed ceremonies in order to ask the spirits to help them. They would have special ceremonies before going to battle, leaving on a hunt, and when trying to heal sick people. They would often dress up and dance to music during the ceremony. The largest of their celebrations was called the Green Corn Ceremony which thanked the spirits for their harvest of corn.
A typical Cherokee village would be home to around thirty to fifty families. They would be part of a larger Cherokee clan such as the Wolf Clan or the Bird Clan. The women were responsible for the house, farming, and the family. The men were responsible for hunting and war.
The Cherokee and the Europeans
Living in the East, the Cherokee had early contact with the American colonists. They made many treaties with the colonists over the years. They also fought alongside the French in the French and Indian war in 1754 against the British. When the British won the war, the Cherokee lost some of their land. They again lost more of their land to the United States when they sided with the British in the American Revolutionary War.
Trail of Tears
In 1835 some of the Cherokee signed a treaty with the United States giving the US all of the Cherokee land in return for land in Oklahoma plus $5 million. Most of the Cherokee did not want to do this, but they had no choice. In 1838 the US army forced the Cherokee nation to move from their homes in the Southeast all the way to the state of Oklahoma. Over 4,000 Cherokee people died on the march to Oklahoma. Today this forced march is called the "The Trail of Tears".
Fun Facts about the Cherokee
- Sequoyah was a famous Cherokee who invented a writing system and alphabet for the Cherokee language.
- Cherokee art included painted baskets, decorated pots, carvings in wood, carved pipes, and beadwork.
- They would sweeten their food with honey and maple sap.
- Today there are three recognized Cherokee tribes: Cherokee Nation, the Eastern Band, and the United Keetoowah Band.
- They enjoyed playing a stickball game called Anejodi which was similar to lacrosse.
Take a ten question quiz at the Cherokee Tribe questions page.
For more Native American history:
Back to Native American history for Kids
Back to History for Kids