Frequently Asked Questions



Culture Frequently Asked Questions

Can I get a Cherokee medicine man to heal me or perform a ceremony?

Traditional Cherokees may consult with medicine people for help with medical problems, dilemmas in their lives or other problems. There are fewer medicine people alive and practicing today, but those few are still known by traditionalists and others in Cherokee communities. If you are a Cherokee who believes in and practices the traditional Cherokee way, you will already be familiar with who these people are or will know others who can lead you to one. Additionally, Cherokee acquaintances, family or friends may refer you if they are aware of your need. We are not at liberty to suggest such an individual.

We also caution you about the many fraudulent people now online and elsewhere who claim to be a traditional Cherokee medicine man/woman or a "shaman" (Shamanism is not a part of the Cherokee traditional belief system). Many offer to provide or teach ceremonies for a fee, a dead giveaway that they are not legitimate.

Our traditional beliefs and traditional people are highly respected; you can show great respect by not asking traditional people to share ceremony or beliefs if they do not wish to. The proper way to find a medicine person is to be part of a Cherokee community, ceremonial ground or family and to come to know this person through those connections. Please do not contact Cherokee Nation asking to be put into contact with a medicine man or woman, or asking us to help you become one.

What are some traditional Cherokee foods?

The food palate has changed over time but Cherokees still enjoy traditional foods at family get-togethers and other special occasions. Some Cherokee favorites include cornmeal-dredged fried crawdads, wild onions cooked with eggs, fried hog meat, fried fish, brown beans, bean bread, greens such as kochani, poke sallet and watercress, and desserts such as grape dumplings and kanutsi. While fry bread and Indian tacos are enjoyed by many, they are not considered true traditional foods.

How do I used various plants for healing or to do Cherokee medicine?

It takes years of study and familiarity to safely practice and pass along traditional medicine and ceremonies. Out of respect for our traditional healers and their extensive knowledge, this is not information that we can share with the public.

What are some traditional Cherokee games?

Cherokees have long enjoyed games and gaming. The origins of some of our oldest games, such as Cherokee marbles, are lost to time. Many of our popular games were originally a means to teach skills that would translate over to accuracy for hunting or warfare. Examples of that include blow gun contests, cornstalk shoots, and chunkey, a sport where players throw spears at a rolling chunkey stone. The player with the nearest spear when the stone stops receives a point. Anitsodi (stickball) was historically used in place of war to settle disagreements. Modern-day stickball is similar to Lacrosse and consists of two teams battling for control of a small leather ball in order to score points by striking it against a target at the top of a tall pole. Cherokee marbles is a more strategic game, played by throwing stone or billiard ball marbles across an L-shaped course. Cherokees have also adopted horseshoes and hatchet throwing as part of the traditional games lexicon. Traditional games competitions are held throughout the spring and summer in Cherokee communities.

What are some types of Cherokee clothing?

Cherokee attire, just like everyone else’s, has changed through the years. Prior to European contact, Cherokees typically wore buckskin clothing, decorated with beads and shells, including traditional pucker-toe moccasins. As trade between Cherokees and Europeans became common, the clothing style began to reflect that, with a combination of trade cloth shirts and buckskin leggings and skirts often seen towards the late 1700s-early 1800s. Copper and silver jewelry and accessories also became commonly worn items. Earrings were common among both men and women. By the mid-1800s, the majority of Cherokees had adopted European fashions. Today’s Cherokees wear modern clothing reflecting the fashion of our times, but when they wish to wear traditional clothing for a special occasion, women will typically wear a tear dress and men a ribbon shirt. Tear dresses are a modern interpretation of 19th-century dresses and are colorfully made with calico cloth adorned with intricate piecework and ribbons.

Did Cherokees ever live in tipis?

No. It’s thought that Cherokees may have lived in caves centuries ago, transitioning to wattle and daub homes up through the 1700s. In the 1800s log cabins and then brick and board homes became the standard.

Can I arrange for a traditional Cherokee wedding or funeral?

Marriage licenses can be obtained by tribal citizens through the Cherokee Nation court, where there is also a list maintained of those who are licensed to perform weddings under Cherokee Nation law. The type of ceremony is up to the couple, although traditional weddings are more appropriate for couples who follow traditional Cherokee practices. Similarly, funeral services or burial ceremonies are best aligned with how a person lived their life. If they were part of a traditional community while living, a traditional Cherokee ceremony may be held. Otherwise, a more mainstream funeral service is typically adhered to.