The Old Cherokee Wedding

At its most basic, Cherokee marriage practices could be very informal.  The couple gathered with the woman's family at their clan household and exchanged corn and venison to symbolize their promise to provide for each other and the household. Afterwards, the man moved into his new wife's clan household and it was considered done.

 Regardless, a Cherokee wedding ceremony is a very special event, whether it is the old fashioned or 'ancient' ceremony or a modern one. The original ceremony differed from clan to clan and community to community, but basically used the same ritual elements.

Because clanship is matrilineal in the Cherokee society, it is forbidden to marry within one's own clan. As the woman holds the family clan, in a traditional wedding she was represented at the ceremony by both her mother (or clan mother) and oldest brother. The brother stood with her as his vow to take the responsibility of teaching the children in spiritual and religious matters, as that is the traditional role of the maternal uncle (e-du-tsi).

In ancient times, the two would meet at the center of the townhouse, and the groom gave the bride a ham of venison while she gave an ear of corn or some type of bread to him, then the wedding party danced and feasted for hours on end. Instead of exchanging rings, the couple exchanged food.
Venison symbolized his intention to keep meat in the household and her corn symbolized her willing to be a good Cherokee housewife. The groom was accompanied by his mother.

After the sacred spot for the ceremony had been blessed for seven consecutive days, it was time for the ceremony. The bride and groom approached the sacred fire, and were blessed by the priest and/or priestess. All participants of the wedding, including guests were also blessed. Songs were sung in Cherokee, and those conducting the ceremony blessed the couple. Both the bride and groom were covered in a blue blanket. At the right point of the ceremony, the priest or priestess removed each blue blanket, and covered the couple together with one white blanket, indicating the beginning of their new life together.

The gifts of meat and corn also honor the fact that traditionally, Cherokee men hunted for the household, while women tended the farms. It also reflects the roles of Kanati (first man) and Selu (first woman).

The couple drank together from a Cherokee wedding vase. The vessell held one drink, but had two openings for the couple to drink from at the same time. Following the ceremony, the town, community or clans provided a wedding feast, and the dancing and celebrating often times continued all night.

Today, some Cherokee traditionalists still observe portions of these wedding rituals. The vows of today's ceremony reflect the Cherokee culture and belief system, but are in other ways similar to wedding ceremonies of other cultures and denominations.Today's Cherokee brides can be married in a tear dress, a modern wedding gown, or normal attire worn at a Ceremonial Ground, depending on how traditional they are and where the ceremony is taking place. Grooms may wear a ribbon shirt all the way up to a formal tux.

Marriage Under Cherokee Nation Law

As a sovereign government with its own laws, courts and Constitution, the Cherokee Nation has a marriage law, and Cherokee Nation citizens are allowed to marry under this law instead of the State marriage laws.The couple is not required to obtain a license; however, the person(s) conducting the ceremony must be licensed by the Cherokee Nation in order to do so.  Please visit www.cherokeecourts.org for information about marriage via the Cherokee Nation's law, eligibility and other important details.

After the religious leader contacts the Cherokee Nation District Court, the court clerk will prepare a certificate. This paper shows that the couple were indeed married in a ceremony by a religious or spiritual leader licensed to do so. The certificate is returned to the Cherokee Nation District Court after all parties have signed it, and filed in the official records.

Divorce

In old times, divorce was fairly common and the dissolution of a marriage informal. If a man wanted to end the marriage, he simply gathered his belongings and moved out. If a woman wished to dissolve the marriage, she placed her husband's belongings outside the door to signal the end of the relationship.

In the present day, divorce laws vary by state. Be aware that even if you are married under Cherokee Nation law, certain conditions may require that a divorce be handled through the state court system.

For information regarding culture and language, please contact: communications@cherokee.org.