At least once a week I receive a question about how to prove Cherokee ancestry or join the tribe. Joining the tribe is a common goal among Cherokee genealogy hobbyists. But did you know that there are actually three federally-recognized Cherokee tribes? These tribes are the Cherokee Nation, the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians, and the United Keetoowah Band and there is a great deal of confusion and misunderstanding about tribal membership and what is required to join each tribe. I hope the following information will help clear up any misconceptions.
In order to register with the Cherokee Nation you must be directly descended from a person who was listed 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 assimilate 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 1896-1907. 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.
How do I find out if my ancestors were on the Dawes Roll?
You can view images of all the Dawes Roll as well as all of the applications for the roll on Fold3. Also, 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. A few sites online now offer a search of the roll where you can find the number and then take that to the library to look more indepth.
My ancestors are on the Dawes Roll and I have their roll number. Now what do I do?
The next step would be to apply for your tribal membership and CDIB. A CDIB (Certificate of Degree of Indian Blood) is a card issued by the Bureau of Indian Affairs. This card certifies your degree of Indian blood based on the blood quantum listed for your ancestor on the Dawes Roll. Once you have these records, you are a citizen of the Cherokee Nation. If you’ve found the Dawes roll number for your ancestor, then you’re half way there. All you need in order to apply for you citizenship within the Cherokee Nation is to provide birth records proving your descendancy from the Dawes enrollee.
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 Citizenship.
My ancestors are not on the Dawes Roll. What now?
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.
But the Cherokee Nation is not the only federally-recognized Cherokee tribe in the US. There is the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians in North Carolina and the United Keetoowah Band in Oklahoma. Each tribe has its own requirements for enrolling.
Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians
The Eastern Band bases there enrollment on the Baker Roll of 1924. In order to enroll, you must be directly descended from a Baker enrollee and have 1/16 blood quantum. The Eastern Band has also closed enrollment to adults — only newborn children and teenagers 18 years of age are invited to apply for enrollment. You can learn more about membership in the Eastern Band at their website: Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians Enrollment Info.
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 their website: United Keetoowah Band Enrollment.
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 can be very rewarding and fun for you and your family, regardless of the results. 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.
These books are full of helpful information for researching your Cherokee genealogy.