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Cherokee Clans

The clan of an individual is traditionally inherited through the maternal side of the family. Clan members are considered brothers and sisters and it is forbidden to marry within your clan. When seeking spiritual guidance, it is necessary to know your clan. The proper seating at ceremonial gatherings is organized by clan.

In 1835, J.P. Evans wrote: "There are no natural boundaries to their clans; the subjects of different clans being mingled. Those of the same clan are considered as belonging to the same family. In fact, this relationship seems to be as binding as the ties of consanguinity. An Indian can tell you without hesitating what degree of relationship exists between himself and any other individual of the same clan you may see proper to point out. A man and woman of the same clan are not allowed to become man and wife. This appearance of ancient custom is yet prevalent to some extent, and the disregard of it disgusting in the eyes of many."

English Name

Cherokee Name

Cherokee Language



Bird Clan

a ni tsi s qua

Bird Clan anitsisqua

Bird Clan anitsisqua

Left of the Deer arbor.

Blue Clan

a ni sa ho ni

Blue Clan anisahoni

Blue Clan anisahoni

Left of the Long Hair arbor.

Deer Clan

a ni a wi

Deer Clan aniawi

Deer Clan aniawi

Left of the Wild Potato arbor.

Long Hair Clan

a ni gi lo hi

Long Hair Clan anigilohi

Long Hair Clan anigilohi

The Long Hair arbor is on the East side and houses the Chiefs and other leaders.

Paint Clan

a ni wo di

Paint Clan aniwodi

Paint Clan aniwodi

Left of the Bird arbor.

Wild Potato Clan

a ni go te ge wi

Wild Potato Clan anigotegewi

Wild Potato Clan anigotegewi

Left of the Wolf arbor.

Wolf Clan

a ni wa ya

Wolf Clan aniwaya

Wolf Clan aniwaya

Left of the Blue arbor.

At one point in Cherokee history, there were up to fourteen clans, but many have merged, and in the case of the priest clan ani-kutani, murdered.

The Bird Clan are known as messengers. The belief that birds are messengers between earth and heaven, or the People and Creator, gave the members of this clan the responsibility of caring for the birds. The subdivisions are Raven, Turtle Dove and Eagle. Earned Eagle feathers are presented by the members of this clan, as they were the only ones able to collect them.

The Blue Clan has subdivisions of the Panther, or Wildcat and Bear. Bear is the oldest clan. This clan produced many people who were able to make special medicines for the children.

The Deer Clan are fast runners and hunters. Even though they hunted for subsistence, they respected and cared for the animals while they were living amongst them. They were also known as messengers on an earthly level, delivering messages from village to village, or person to person.

The Long Hair Clan has subdivisions of Twister, Wind, and Strangers, are known to be a very peaceful clan. The Peace Chief usually comes from this clan. Prisoners of war, orphans of other tribes, and others with no Cherokee tribe were often adopted into this clan, thus the name "Strangers."

The Paint Clan is known for prominent medicine people. Medicine is often "painted" on a patient after harvesting, mixing and performing other aspects of the ceremony.

The Wild Potato Clan is known as the "keepers of the land," and gatherers of food. There is a subdivision known as Blind Savannah. The wild potato was a main staple of the older Cherokee life back east (Tsa-la-gi U-we-ti).

The Wolf Clan is usually the largest clan. Wolves are known as protectors. The War Chief comes from this clan.