The Facts on Cherokee Citizenship

MYTH: You need to have a large degree of Cherokee blood to be eligible for citizenship.

FACT: The Cherokee Nation requires no blood quantum.  To be considered a Cherokee citizen, you need one Indian ancestor listed on the 1906 federal census of our people, known as the Dawes Rolls.  With that one Indian ancestor, a person is part of our Cherokee family regardless of what other heritage he or she might have.  For eligibility information, please visit

MYTH: The Cherokee Nation is kicking African-Americans out of the tribe.

FACT: The Cherokee Nation is among the most diverse of Indian tribes with thousands of citizens who share African, Latino, Asian, Caucasian and other ancestry, including more than 1,500 descendants of former slaves.  All have at least one Indian ancestor on the Dawes Rolls.  African-Americans with an Indian ancestor on the Dawes Rolls have been, and will continue to be, citizens of the Cherokee Nation.See for yourself --  watch a video of Cherokee Nation citizens.

MYTH: The March 2007 Cherokee Constitutional amendment election allowed adopted whites with no blood quantum listed on the Dawes Rolls to remain citizens.

FACT: First, the Cherokee Nation has no blood quantum requirement.  To be a citizen, one must have a single Indian ancestor listed on the Dawes Rolls.  Second, the Constitutional amendment affects the citizenship of all non-Indians who were granted citizenship rights under a 2006 tribal court ruling, regardless of their ethnic background.  This means that, in addition to affecting 2,867 descendants of those who were originally enrolled as non-Indian Freedmen, the amendment also affected nine descendants of Intermarried Whites

MYTH: Non-Indians who have long been Cherokee citizens are now being “disenrolled.”

FACT: The March 2007 Constitutional amendment only affected certain people who were granted tribal citizenship under a 2006 tribal court ruling, which came down just one year before the amendment passed.  This vote affirmed the people's passionate belief that you need one Indian ancestor listed on the base roll to be a Cherokee.  Since the amendment's passage, in May 2007, Cherokee tribal courts temporarily reinstated those who had been affected by the amendment pending the outcome of the litigation over this issue.  

MYTH: It is unfair to rely on the Dawes Rolls as the base roll of the Cherokees to prove Indian ancestry.

FACT: The Dawes Rolls are not perfect, but they are the best, most authoritative historical document we have to determine who our Indian ancestors were, going back 100 years.

The Truth About Our History

MYTH: The Freedmen and other non-Indians who were affected by the March 2007 Constitutional amendment had long been part of the Cherokee Nation.

FACT: The non-Indians who were affected by the March 2007 amendment became citizens only following a 2006 tribal court ruling.  Since 1975, the Cherokee people have spoken several times that, to be a citizen, one must have one Indian ancestor listed on the Dawes Rolls.

MYTH: The Cherokee Nation is expelling all the descendants of their former slaves.

FACT: There are more than 1,500 descendants of former slaves who are Cherokee citizens today because they can find an Indian ancestor listed on the Dawes Rolls.  The Cherokee Nation is offering free genealogical expertise to assist any descendant of Freedmen who wants to research whether they can find such an Indian ancestor and thus become a permanent citizen.  That said, slavery was a grave injustice and a painful chapter in our nation's history, when 2% of Cherokees owned slaves.  It should be noted, however, that the Cherokee Nation voluntarily freed these slaves in 1863.

MYTH:  The Cherokee Nation has broken the Treaty of 1866.

FACT: The Cherokee Nation has fully honored its treaty obligations.  Based on the history and the law, today's Freedmen descendants who cannot find an Indian ancestor on the Dawes Rolls have no right to Cherokee citizenship.  Subsequent congressional action in 1902 closed the Cherokee rolls as of that year, limiting enrollment to those already born as of September 1, 1902.  It was in 1975, with the new Cherokee Constitution, that the Nation sought to rejuvenate itself and once again define itself as a tribe made of Indians.  Regardless of what anyone believes, federal and tribal courts are currently reviewing these issues.

The Truth About Legality

MYTH: The special election that the Cherokee Nation held on March 3, 2007 was illegal.

FACT: The election was legal, and not one complaint was filed in tribal court about its conduct.  The Cherokee people cherish our democratic freedoms, and we paid dearly for them.  These include the right to vote and to determine for ourselves the meaning of our Indian identity. The record turnout for this constitutional vote proved that Cherokee identity is an issue that is close to the heart of the Cherokee people. 

MYTH: Voter turnout for the special election was extremely low.

FACT: More than 8,700 people voted, which was a higher turnout than the vote for the Cherokee Nation's Constitution in 2003.

The Truth About Our Motives

MYTH: Cherokees are motivated by racism to only want full-blooded Indians in the tribe.

FACT: This is a vicious lie.  The Cherokee Nation welcomes every eligible Cherokee citizen regardless of his or her other racial heritage and embraces its thousands of citizens who share African, Latino, Asian, Caucasian, and other ancestry.  Race has nothing to do with citizenship.  If you have one Indian ancestor on the Dawes Rolls, you are eligible to be a Cherokee citizen.

MYTH: The Cherokee Nation wants to keep more gaming revenues for itself.

FACT: This issue has nothing to do with gaming revenues or other resources. The Cherokee Nation is one of the few Indian tribes that do not distribute gaming revenues to individuals. Instead, the money benefits the entire community beyond the Cherokees, as we invest gaming revenues in services like health care, education and public roads and bridges. Overall, this is about weaving together a great, multi-ethnic nation through one common thread – a shared connection to our Indian ancestors.

The Truth About the Political Context

MYTH: The March 2007 amendment was orchestrated by Cherokee Nation Chief Chad Smith and tribal leadership.

FACT: The amendment got on the ballot properly through a citizens petition with 3,000 signatures, according to tribal law.  Cherokee Nation officials took no official position on either side of the vote, and the government never sought to influence anyone's vote.  The Cherokee people exercised their cherished democratic right to determine for themselves the meaning of their Indian identity.