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Religion According to Chief Jahtlohi Rogers

By Chief Charles Jahtlohi Rogers, M.D.
Cherokee Nation of Mexico
Part 1 - Introduction
Part 2 - Ancient Religious Beliefs Of The Cherokee People
Part 3 - The Great Spirit
Part 4 - Fragments Of The Cherokee Religious Beliefs
Part 5 - Cultural Transformation


A traditional seven sided house. Seven is a sacred number for the Cherokee. (Photo - Right)
A traditional seven sided house. Seven is a sacred number for the Cherokee.

Most historians tend to deal with the political aspects of the Cherokee culture. The white men recognized that religion, or wanting to live good lives, rather than politics, was at the core of the ancient Cherokee life.

In time the fragments of the Cherokee ancient beliefs would be lost as the whites cunningly planned to pierce the Cherokee religion so erosion would set in. White men wanted to capitalize on the Indians. The Cherokees had become a grand and glorious people of influence and prosperity. They knew nothing about the outside world or what was going on in it, and they decided they wanted to learn what they could from the white menís ways. What started out innocently, turned out to be a conversion to the whitesí manner of life. Soon the fragments of their ancient beliefs would be lost in the transformation of their culture.

Although the whites enjoyed trade with the Cherokees, conflicts over land and money would occur. Eventually the Cherokees became outnumbered and outgunned, and they did not have any other alternative but to accept what came their way, due to the fact that the old religion was practiced by only a forty percent minority; a larger consensus would have equaled power to resist negative changes. They became a people of uncertainty. In doubt and confusion, some of the clans began to let the whites guide them as trusting children. Some Cherokees did not permit their clans to marry outsiders. The full bloods began to be persuaded by the whites and mixed bloods, which caused the altering of their festival procedures, and more importantly the practical training of these procedures. For example, the green corn festival originally taught young men to publicly proclaim their work for and support of their mothers (remember, this was before social security or government support).

The mixed bloods began to out number the full bloods. As they increased in number, the power of the Cherokee religion declined. The mixed blood parents convinced the young Cherokees that the old ways, of which they themselves were ignorant, were heathen. Without even knowing that they were rejecting a legacy of direct contact with God, the children soon began to stray away from the ritual lifestyle, while the full blood held on to their personal convictions, even though diluted and fragmented. Ultimately, everything about the Cherokee people became so modified and confused, the old ways began to lose their appearance of having any effectiveness whatsoever.

In 1736, a Jesuit named Christian Priber spent 9 years with the Cherokee people. His mission was both political and religious. He gained great favor and influence with tribal leaders. Priber became an unofficial secretary to the principal headman. Nevertheless, he served both the church and French government. His primary goal was to disrupt tribal relations between the Cherokees and the English traders and colonist. Eventually he was captured and imprisoned by the English.

Later the Catholic Church made attempts to work as missionaries among the Cherokee people. Their efforts to convert and educate were unsuccessful until more contemporary times.

In 1740, Cherokees obtained their first horses and a trail was opened between Augusta, Georgia and the Cherokee Country. Twenty years later, the Cherokees possessed large herds of horses. By 1775, each Cherokee man owned anywhere from two to twelve mounts. They obtained cattle, hogs and domesticated bees. The Cherokees were already farming many European fruits, vegetables, and domesticated potatoes and trading for coffee.

In the late eighteenth century, the English brought over spinning wheels and looms, along with farming tools. Gradually the Cherokee people were becoming a part of the white manís world.

To the east of the Cherokee settlements were the English, to the west were the French and to the south were the Spanish. All three competed for trade advantages and for every piece of land on which they could get their hands. Finally the cooperative trading efforts of the Cherokees became obsolete. Skins and textiles were no longer excepted as exchange for goods. The whites now had currency. Not long afterwards the economic system of the Indians collapsed.

Mr. Ridge was very typical of Cherokees with European admixture.(Photo - Left)
Mr. Ridge was very typical of Cherokees with European admixture.

All wild game began to disappear as the whites grew in population and power. Even fishing became subject to strict restrictions set in motion by the whites. The Cherokees efforts to raise livestock became limited by regulations. The whites began to take charge of lumbering the forests, mining the land, excavating the ground for chemical interests, and taking charge of the water streams and lakes by building dams across the valley where the Cherokee homesteads had stood.

The white menís government began changing as well. The clan tribal loyalty was compromised by the demands of a newly formed republican government. The French and the English became rivals. Immediately both sides acted to pull the Cherokees apart. Although the French were diplomatic, the English were able to supply guns and ammunitions, as well as other militant resources the Cherokees desired.

In the mid 1700s, the French were losing control to the British and the Cherokee leaders of Virginia, North Carolina and Georgia were being pitted against one another. Some Cherokees did discern what was happening and sought to turn the tables on the foreigners.

In the last half of the eighteenth century, the whites began a rivalry for tribal control between the leaders of the towns of great Tellico and Chota. The Cherokees were kept in a constant state of turmoil and their ways of life became forever interrupted by the ways of the new world.

Throughout the late eighteenth century, tribal leader Attakullakulla controlled tribal policy by learning the import ways of the white colonization and began guiding tribal policy away from the old ways of Cherokee life. He encouraged the Cherokees to cooperate more closely with the white settlers. During Attakullakulla tribal reign, farming replaced hunting as the dominant economic factor. The wars between tribes stopped. He also bargained for colonial forts and military garrisons to protect the Cherokees from warring neighbors. None of Attakullakulla efforts resolved the Cherokees problems. Their settlements were always in the way of relentless white settlers, which resulted in waves of wars from 1756 to 1794. Much of the Cherokee settlements were annihilated.

Tame Doe, the sister of Attakullakulla, gave birth to a daughter named Nancy. Nancy grew up and married the noted war leader Kingfisher of the Deer Clan. She was at his side in 1755 when he was killed by the Creek warriors at the battle of Taliwa. Nancy immediately picked up his weapons and gathered the Cherokee warriors to an overwhelming victory. Chota chose her to fulfill the vacant position of a Beloved Woman.

The Cherokees believe that the Supreme Beings spoke to the people through Beloved Women. They were also given the power and authority to make decisions on what to do with prisoners of war.

Nancy also headed up an influential womenís council that consisted of a representative from each Cherokee Clan, and she sat as a voting member of the council of the Chiefs. Later she married a white leader named Bryant Ward, but after 10 years of marriage, he returned to his white wife and children in South Carolina.

Numerous settlements had been made in Cherokee land, which was a direct violation of the royal decree of England. When the Revolutionary War broke out the Cherokees sided with the English They attacked the frontier settlements of Virginia, the Carolinas and Georgia. Seven hundred warriors attacked the settlers of Watuga.

Chief Rogers performs the peace pipe ceremony with the noble governor of Coahuila, Sr. Enrique Martinez y Martinez.(Photo - Right)
Chief Rogers performs the peace pipe ceremony with the noble governor of Coahuila, Sr. Enrique Martinez y Martinez.

Nancy Ward helped Isaac Thomas and two other white men escape from Chota to warn the Watuga area. Soon after she obtained the reputation of being a friend of the settlers.

In 1776, Colonel William Christian led two thousand troops in a horrific raid against the Cherokee towns. Out of respect to Nancy Ward, Chota was spared. In 1780, the Cherokees again prepared an attack on the Watuga settlements while the men were away. Nancy Ward once again warned the whites, but when the soldiers returned from Kingís Mountain and learned of the threat, they set out to teach the Cherokees a lesson they would never forget.

Despite the pleas of Nancy Ward for mercy and friendship, Chota was destroyed along with other Cherokee towns. Afterwards, she and her family were placed into protective custody. Once Nancy was released, she returned to help rebuild Chota. On July 20, 1781, she was the featured speaker for the Cherokees that brought about a peace treaty between the Watugans. She continued her mission to make dramatic pleas for peace between the Indians and the whites. After the war years ended, Nancy Ward settled in Chota, which was no longer the Capital of the nation, but was still a city of refuge. For years she took orphans into her home. Nancy died in 1822 as a woman of honor among the Cherokee and white history.


From 1794 to 1836, the Cherokees fled to hill country to build a thriving community that was run by mixed bloods. Change after change kept coming to the tribe as a whole that eventually shook their traditional faith and beliefs.

In confusion and doubt the Cherokees became more open and responsive to the missionary efforts of the Moravian, Presbyterian, Baptist, Methodist and Quaker Churches. During the next thirty years, the Cherokee nation underwent many changes and moved their tribe closer to the whites to become more a part of their civilization. They began to learn the ways of the white men. The Cherokees wanted to learn to read and write. The full bloods did not welcome the change and considered it bad.

The Presbyterian Church established a mission in Hiawassee, Tennessee in 1803. Their school opened in 1804 with twenty to thirty Cherokees in attendance. The students learned the Bible and how to pray, and to read, spell and write. Due to the cultural differences and the fact the students could not speak English, the first conversion did not take place until 1810.

Domestic and religious changes, intermarriage, loss of confidence, whiskey, contributions of the mixed bloods and the mission schools all took their toil on the Cherokees. They began to wear the white menís clothes and adapt to their lifestyle. The Cherokees had their own cabins and all other amenities just like the white settlers.

Chief Jahtlohi Rogers asks the one Creator for blessings upon the Nation of Mexico & itís families. Pictured are 3 Mexican Governors of Coahuila (our home state), Tamaulipas, and Nueva Leon.(Photo - Left)
Chief Jahtlohi Rogers asks the one Creator for blessings upon the Nation of Mexico & itís families. Pictured are 3 Mexican Governors of Coahuila (our home state), Tamaulipas, and Nueva Leon.

The Green Corn Festivals had now become corrupted with guns and whiskey. The priests became known as conjurers, which caused this once great ancient religion to struggle and waver in what they once believed.

Payne believed the changes were caused by the influx of pagan worshipers. It was a sure sign these were a people in exodus because of the ways of foreigners, both Native American and European. Sickness and tormenting evil spirits now haunted the Indians. The new conjurers were unsuccessful in helping the people spiritually. What once were sacred holy festivals were now tainted with new customs and beliefs from many religious and pagan beliefs.

Before 1750, the Cherokees had a core group of families from which came the Cherokee leaders. These families would also supply the ministers or priests of the Cherokee religion. This system is found in Semitic tribes and some other Native American tribes (Caddo, for example). The thinking or reasoning was that the youths of these families were trained from an early age because the amount of training was considerable by any standards of modern professions; leading families were responsible for training leaders. But as the old religion slipped away, and these families acted in irresponsible, oppressive, and self serving ways, things fell apart; the last trained Uku to come from a ďleading family traditionĒ surrendered his position and it never existed again. However, these truths live on, smoldering, perhaps someday to flame again. Somewhere in time, these Cherokee Native Americans integrated with or were themselves originally a people in exodus; either way, each group became the other. All Cherokees are their descendants.

copyright © 2012 Cherokee Nation of Sequoyah
     Must have permission to use or reprint by Chales Jahtlohi Rogers MD.

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