Cherokee Indian Clans

The Cherokee Indians utilize a social organization among families known as clans. Historically, there were 14 (or more) different clans. Since the 17th century until present times, there are 7 sacred clans. Clans are hereditary and matrilineal. Cherokee children belong to their mother’s clan and the information and name of the clan are used to identify the Cherokee throughout their lives and passed down generations. There are rules clan members must obey. Two members of the same tribe are considered brothers and sisters and strictly forbidden to marry within their own clan. When being medically attended to or spiritually advised by the Medicine People, a Cherokee must always state their clan affiliation. Clans sit together at events and ceremonies. Council Houses that are located in Cherokee every village or town are constructed to house each of the 7 clans comfortably in its 7 sided building. Cherokee clans represent a unique cultural and social qualities within each one.

The Seven Cherokee Clans. source:

The Seven Cherokee Clans.

LONG HAIR CLAN: Subdivisions-Twister, Wind, Strangers.

  • Peaceful
  • Provided Peach Chiefs
  • Adopted various non-Cherokee people including “strangers”, prisoners of war, and orphans of other tribes.

BIRD CLAN: Subdivisions-Raven, Turtle Dove, Eagle.

  • Messengers
  • Responsible for birds
  • Earned Eagle Feathers are presented by  the Bird Clan


  • Fast runners
  • Hunters
  • Cared for the animals hunted
  • Lived among the game
  • Messengers


  • Largest clan
  • Provides War Chiefs
  • Protectors

WILD POTATO CLAN: Subdivision-Wild Savannah

  • “Keeper of the land”
  • Gatherers
  • Wild potato was an early Cherokee food staple


  • Prominent Medicine People
  • “Painted” medicine on people after harvesting

BLUE CLAN: Subdivisions-Panther, Wildcat, Bear

  • Oldest Clan
  • Many important Medicine People who made special medicine for children

If a person didn’t have clan affiliation, it was regarde as one who would present “ill-will” and serious problems for the tribe. Tehy were harshly judged and rejected. Adherence to matrilineal social organization and power as well as clan kinship dominated the Cherokee social structure.Deviations from either was abrasively denounced as “unauthentic” and therefore inferior.

The core of Cherokee culture is one of balance. The Cherokee call this: duyuktv which translates into “the right way.” Hunting was balanced by farming. One life stolen and one life taken. The concept of  “the good of the whole” were established in the individual rights and responsibilities to the family and the tribe.

Gender roles were clearly defined and challenge the order of “balance” from many perspectives. For centuries, lineage traced through the mother and her maternal ancestors. This continues today among the Cherokee people and recognition within the Cherokee Nation is dependent on the matrilineal bloodline.

In the Cherokee culture, women owned land and property including homes, which were inherited from mother to daughter. The matrilineal society follows the bloodline of the mother. Clan affiliation is only inherited through the mother to her children of both genders. Maternal family member: mother, maternal grandmother and female sibling, are held in the highest regard as the most important members of the family structure. Carolyn Johnston author of Cherokee Women in Crisis; Trail of Tears, Civil War, and Allotment, 1838-1907  states in her book: “Women had autonomy and …worked as producers/farmers, owned their own homes and fields … and had significant political and economic power.”  Cherokee women’s roles were not driven in the form of a hierarchy nor were they oppressors or dictators. The women of the tribe possessed equality to men which was unlike the white settlers and colonists of the era.

Cherokee women were in absolute control over: home, family, children, inheritance, family ties and clan membership.

Cherokee women were warriors often times fighting alongside men in battle. They were powerful rulers in the home as well as in goverment. Teh responsibilities of women were many:

  • owned farmland, homes and property
  • dictated blood vengeance
  • participates in councils
  • determines actions towards war captives
  • enjoys autonomy

 Gender determines social order and hierarchy.

Males in the tribe live in their maternal homes until they marry. At which point, they move with their wife into her mother’s home. During the “Annual Festival of the Corn” all the clans gather in order to meet a prospective mate. Upon marriage, the wedding ceremony is simple and (much like today) are conducted by priests. The mother of the bride and her eldest brother represent the bride. The bride’s uncle is the primary male role model to her children, not her husband. He will be the only permitted family member to discipline the children, teach them about spiritual and religious matters and prepare them for warfare, hunting and survival. He takes this oath at the time of the ceremony. The groom is accompanied by his mother and then the bride and groom exchange gifts, usually the bride gives the groom harvested corn and the groom gives the bride a gift of venison. This exchange is a binding promise that he will provide her with meat and she promises her willingness to be a good wife. The bride is given her name by the female elders in her clan, in which she will keep her entire life regardless of her affiliation or blending of cultures should she remarry.

Within the marriage, the wife assumes a very separate life from her husband. She had many responsibilities and assumed many roles to preserve and expand the tribe. Women were independent and led very secretive lives from their husbands. Her husband is often treated and regarded as an outsider since he is not from the same clan of which their family is dependent on. He assumes no rights to punish his children. Divorce was common and easily obtained by the wife simply placing her husband’s belongings and clothes outside, she has denounced their marriage and is free to marry whomever she wants. Many Cherokee women married white settlers without forfeiting their roles, rights or property obtained prior to the union.


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