Taken from a manuscript prepared by J.P. Evans in 1835: “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.”
Cherokee society is historically matrilineal; meaning clanship comes from the mother. There are seven clans in Cherokee Society: a ni gi lo hi (Long Hair), a ni sa ho ni (Blue), a ni wa ya (Wolf), a ni go te ge wi (Wild Potato), a ni a wi (Deer), a ni tsi s qua (Bird), and a ni wo di (Paint).
The knowledge of a person’s clan is important for many reasons; historically, and still today among Cherokee traditionalists, it is forbidden to marry within your clan. Clan members are considered brother and sisters. In addition, when seeking spiritual guidance and Indian doctoring, it is necessary to name your clan. Seating at ceremonial stomp dances is by clan, as well.
a ni gi lo hi
The Long Hair Clan, whose subdivisions are Twister, Wind and Strangers, are known to be a very peaceful clan. In the times of the Peace Chief and War Chief government, the Peace Chief would come 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.’ At some Cherokee ceremonial grounds, the Long Hair arbor is on the East side, and also houses the Chiefs and other leaders of the ground.
a ni sa ho ni
The Blue Clan’s subdivisions are Panther, or Wildcat and Bear (which is considered the oldest clan). Historically, this clan produced many people who were able to make special medicines for the children. At some Cherokee ceremonial grounds, the Blue arbor is to the left of the Long Hair arbor.
a ni wa ya
The Wolf has been known throughout time to be the largest clan. During the time of the Peace Chief and War Chief government setting, the War Chief would come from this clan. Wolves are known as protectors. At some Cherokee ceremonial grounds, the Wolf arbor is to the left of the Blue arbor.
a ni go te ge wi
The Wild Potato Clan’s subdivision is Blind Savannah . Historically, members of this clan were known to be ‘keepers of the land,’ and gatherers The wild potato was a main staple of the older Cherokee life back east (Tsa-la-gi U-we-ti). At some Cherokee ceremonial grounds, the Wild Potato arbor is to the left of the Wolf arbor.
a ni a wi
Members of the Deer Clan were historically known as fast runners and hunters. Even though they hunted game 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 messenges from village to village, or person to person. At some Cherokee ceremonial grounds, the Deer arbor is to the left of the Wild Potato arbor.
a ni tsi s qua
Members of the Bird Clan were historically 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. Our earned Eagle feathers were originally presented by the members of this clan, as they were the only ones able to collect them. At some Cherokee ceremonial grounds, the Bird arbor is to the left of the Deer arbor.
a ni wo di
Members of the Paint Clan were historically known as a prominent medicine people. Medicine is often ‘painted’ on a patient after harvesting, mixing and performing other aspects of the ceremony. At some Cherokee ceremonial grounds, the Paint arbor is to the left of the Bird arbor.