Customs of the Cherokee clans have evolved since ancient times, however, traditionalists still observe clan customs regarding marriage and certain social events.
The Cherokee society is historically a matrilineal society; meaning clanship is attained through the mother. Prior to Oklahoma statehood, the women were considered the head of household, with the home and children belonging to her should she separate from a husband. 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 traditional medicine ceremonies, it is necessary to name your clan. Seating at ceremonial stomp dances is by clan, as well.
Cherokees born outside of a clan or outsiders who were taken into the tribe in ancient times had to be adopted into a clan by a clan mother. If the person was a women who had borne a Cherokee child and was married to a Cherokee man, she could be taken into a new clan, and her husband was required to leave his clan and live with her in her new clan. Men who were not Cherokee and married into a Cherokee household had to be adopted into a clan by a clan mother, he could not take his wife’s clan.
The Anigotegewi or 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 (Tsalagi Uweti). At some Oklahoma Cherokee ceremonial grounds, the Wild Potato arbor is to the left of the Wolf arbor.
The Anigilohi or the Long Hair Clan, whose subdivisions are Twister, Wind and Strangers, are regarded as peacemakers and Peace Chiefs would often be from this 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 a common interpretation of the name 'Strangers.' At some Oklahoma Cherokee ceremonial grounds, the Long Hair arbor is on the East side, and also houses the Chiefs and other leaders of the ground.
The Anikawi or 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 messengers from village to village, or person to person. At some Oklahoma Cherokee ceremonial grounds, the Deer arbor is to the left of the Wild Potato arbor.
Anitsisqua or 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 Oklahoma Cherokee ceremonial grounds, the Bird arbor is to the left of the Deer arbor.
The Anisahoni or the Blue Clan subdivisions are Panther, or Wildcat and Bear. Historically, this clan produced many people who were able to make special medicines for the children. At some Oklahoma Cherokee ceremonial grounds, the Blue arbor is to the left of the Long Hair arbor.
The Aniwodi or 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 Oklahoma Cherokee ceremonial grounds, the Paint arbor is to the left of the Bird arbor.
The Aniwaya of 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 Oklahoma Cherokee ceremonial grounds, the Wolf arbor is to the left of the Blue arbor.
Elias Boudinot wrote the following article in The Cherokee Editor on February 18, 1829 regarding Cherokee Clan marriage customs: