Why Do So Many People Claim They Have Cherokee In Their Blood

With Thanksgiving in the air, it seemed like there was no better time to address lingering American myths and how they’ve shaken our culture. This one involves Miley Cyrus, tribes, and the most deceitful Sicilian in Hollywood. Let’s dive in.

“I don’t have much tolerance for caffeine…think it might be my Native American heritage,” said a man who was hitting on me recently. He was, well, white.

“Oh, let me guess. You’re Cherokee?” I said.

“Yeah! I’m technically Cherokee.” He spoke with confidence. And who knows, he might have really had Cherokee heritage. I’d just heard the joke far too many times to believe him.

Cher, Johnny Depp, Bill Clinton, Miley Cyrus, Johnny Cash, and Elizabeth Warren are all members of the not-so-elite tribe my would-be suitor belonged to — people who declare having Cherokee blood, but have no real way to back it up. Call it the tribe of the Wannabes, the Cherokee Syndrome, or a blood myth, but the number of Americans claiming to be one-sixteenth Cherokee or who “think” they “probably” had a great grandmother who was a Cherokee princess is a vastly growing group. Perhaps more rapidly growing than any Native American tribes on Earth, and that’s because there are no documents to prove the validity or invalidity of any of their claims.

Could those five self-assured kids in your high school who claimed they were Cherokee actually be correct? Let’s do the math. According to the 2010 U.S. Census, the Oklahoma-based Cherokee Nation had more than 314,000 members, the largest of the 566 federally recognized Native American tribes. It follows that the three federally recognized Cherokee tribes — the Cherokee Nation, the United Keetoowah Band of Cherokee Indians, and The Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians — are comprised of the 819,000-plus people claiming Cherokee ancestry on the U.S. census. That’s only about .2% of the total population.

Call it the tribe of the Wannabes, the Cherokee Syndrome, or a blood myth, but the number of Americans claiming to be one-sixteenth Cherokee or who “think” they “probably” had a great grandmother who was a Cherokee princess is a vastly growing group.

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