Osiyo! The 64th Cherokee National Holiday will be celebrated from September 2-4 this year. The annual holiday commemorates the signing of the 1839 Cherokee Constitution and the Act of Union reuniting Cherokees both East and West after the Trail of Tears. The three-day festival is one of the largest in Oklahoma, where traditional and modern sports, games and music are played, and local museums showcase the history of the Cherokee Nation. The event also includes storytelling, crafts, dancing and an inter-tribal powwow. The Principal Chief of the Cherokee Nation delivers the annual State of the Union address during the celebration as well. It is a notable commemoration of documents that mark the unification and the future life of a people.
Two groups convened on July 12, 1839 to deliberate the union of two Cherokee groups separated by politics and geography: the Eastern Cherokee led by Chief John Ross (aka the Ross Party) and the Old Settlers. Sequoyah worked with John Ross to bring the two groups together. The Eastern Cherokee had just arrived in Indian Territory (now Oklahoma) in spring 1839 after being removed by the U.S. government from their homes in the Southeastern United States. On September 6, 1839, the Act of Union and the Cherokee Constitution was signed. The Act of Union states,
“…thus bringing together again the two branches of the ancient Cherokee family, it has become essential to the general welfare that a union should be formed, and a system of government matured, adapted to their present condition, and providing equally for the protection of each individual in the enjoyment of all his rights: Therefore we, the people composing the Eastern and Western Cherokee Nation, in National Convention assembled, by virtue of our original and unalienable rights, do hereby solemnly and mutually agree to form ourselves into one body politic, under the style and title of the Cherokee Nation.”
The Act of Union was signed by President of the Eastern Cherokee, George Lowrey; President of the Western Cherokee, Sequoyah; Principal Chief of the Eastern Cherokee, John Ross; Speaker of Council, Going Snake; Acting Principal Chief of the Western Cherokee, John Looney; and representatives of both the Eastern and Western Cherokee.
The Constitution’s opening paragraph sounds quite similar to the Preamble of the Constitution of the United States in describing the needs of its people:
“The Eastern and Western Cherokees having again re-unit[e]d, and become one body politic, under the style and title of the Cherokee Nation : Therefore, We, the people of the Cherokee Nation, in National Convention assembled, in order to establish justice, insure tranquility, promote the common welfare, and to secure to ourselves and our posterity the blessings of freedom—acknowledging, with humility and gratitude, the goodness of the Sovereign Ruler of the Universe in permitting us so to do, and imploring His aid and guidance in its accomplishment—do ordain and establish this Constitution for the government of the Cherokee Nation.”
The President of the Cherokee Nation of Oklahoma, Ross Swimmer, signed the 1975 Constitution that superseded the 1839 Constitution; this version included a bill of rights, three branches of government, specifications for tribal citizenship and rules for elections. The constitution was then revised and updated by the Cherokee Nation in 1999.
The Law Library holds numerous copies of the Cherokee Nation’s Constitution and the Act of Union, both in digital and print format. If you cannot make it to the Cherokee nation’s historic capital in Talequah to celebrate their union—and they welcome everyone—“Wi tse do lv i (Y’all come!)”—then you might consider viewing the Law Library’s impressive collections of Cherokee legal documents and research that we hold on the shelf.
Law Library Resources
The many copies of the Cherokee Constitution, laws, and the Act of Union include reprints and digital copies. Researchers can use the materials offsite or in the Library.
Indigenous Law Portal: Oklahoma
KIG2000.5.A3 1827 Cherokee Nation, Oklahoma. Constitution of the Cherokee nation, made and established at a general convention of delegates, duly authorised for that purpose, at New Echota, July 26, 1827.
KIG2000.5 .A3 1827 Cherokee Nation, Oklahoma. Cherokee laws. Enacted by the General Council, of the Cherokees residing in the direction of the east; passed from time to time at the Council ground: beginning in the year 1808. And also the laws enacted by the Cherokees known as the “Old settlers” residing in the direction of the west. Beginning in the year 1824. Together with the laws of the United Cherokees formerly residing in the direction of the east and west. And also the constitution and laws here enacted; beginning with the year 1839 and continuing to 1849. Printed by order of the General council. Tsunitsutlâhitû, interpreter. Damaga publisher.
KIG2006 .C44 1840 Cherokee Nation, Oklahoma. The constitution and laws of the Cherokee Nation: passed at Tah-le-quah, Cherokee nation, 1839.
KIG2006 .C44 1852 Cherokee Nation, Oklahoma. The Constitution and laws of the Cherokee Nation: passed at Tahlequah, Cherokee Nation, 1839-51.
KF8228.C5 A5 1870 Cherokee Nation, Oklahoma. Constitution. The Act of union between the Eastern and Western Cherokees.
KIG2006 .C44 1875 Cherokee Nation, Oklahoma. Constitution and laws of the Cherokee Nation. / Published by authority of the National Council.
KIG2006 .C44 1875a Cherokee Nation, Oklahoma. [Constitution and laws of the Cherokee Nation]. In Cherokee.
KIG2006 .C5 1881 Cherokee Nation. Laws, statutes, etc. [Compiled laws of the Cherokee Nation, published by authority of the National Council]. In Cherokee.
KIG2006.C44 1893a Cherokee Nation, Oklahoma. [Constitution and laws of the Cherokee nation. Published by an act of the National council] 1892. (In Cherokee. Also available in English.)
KIG2006 .C44 1998 Cherokee Nation, Oklahoma. Compiled laws of the Cherokee Nation with an introduction by Michael Weber. Originally published in Talequah, Indian Territory: National Advocate Print, 1881.
KIE16.C66 1973 Vol. 5 Cherokee Nation. Laws, statutes, etc. Laws of the Cherokee Nation adopted by the Council at various periods: printed for the benefit of the nation.
KIE16.C66 1975 Vol. 1 Cherokee Nation. Constitution (1839). The Constitution and laws of the Cherokee Nation, passed at Tah-le-quah, Cherokee Nation, 1839. Includes laws passed at the annual sessions 1840-1843.
KIE16 .C66 1975 Vol. 3 The Act of union between the eastern and western Cherokees, the Constitution and amendments, and the laws of the Cherokee Nation, passed during the session of 1868 and subsequent sessions.
[Pamphlets on Indians of North America. Part 1]. [Constitution and laws of the Cherokee nation]