Cherokee DNA

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First, the readers should understand that if any commercial DNA lab returns tests results that state a percentage of DNA for a particular Southeastern Native American tribe, the report should be considered fraudulent. The American Society of Human Genetics has not certified any DNA test markers to be associated with a particular Southeastern American Indian tribe.1 The technique for creating indigenous DNA markers is to sample a statistically reliable number of “ethnically pure” members of a tribe than average their DNA profiles. Since the people who met the first European explorers on the shores of the Atlantic, Gulf and Pacific are genetically not the same people calling themselves Native Americans today, it is a very difficult task. Virtually, no citizen of a federally recognized Southeastern tribe could maintain their membership, if it was based solely on the DNA profiles of pre-Spanish Conquest individuals.

There are DNA test markers for some other indigenous peoples in the Americas, such as the Nahuatl, Totonac, Maya, Purepeche, Tupi-Guarani and Quechua peoples. Some labs will provide an overall percentage of Asiatic DNA then ascribe a certain percentage to known DNA markers. Creek and Seminole descendants usually carry some identifiable DNA markers from Mexico, Central America and South America. Test results showing such ancestry are probably reliable.

Several commercial DNA labs for years have been trying to identify a pattern of DNA markers that would prove Cherokee ancestry. The reason is that perhaps over a million Americans claim Cherokee ancestry. There is big money to be had in people who think that their great-grandmother was a Cherokee Princess.

DNA Spectrum and 23ANDME DNA labs specifically advertise for Cherokee DNA tests in Google, but do not give reports that say a person is “Cherokee.” When a person searching the web double-clicks “Cherokee DNA tests” they are transferred to promotional web pages that do not mention “Cherokee.”

As DNA tests became more sophisticated in the first decade of the 21st century, some people who thought they were of Cherokee descent begin getting reports that told them they carried Jewish, Semitic or Middle Eastern DNA, but made no mention of Native American DNA. The test subjects originally thought that they had been defrauded. They KNEW that they had Cherokee ancestors on tribal rolls!

DNA Consultants Cherokee Study

Map of Known Human Migrations
Map of Known Human Migrations

In 2008 DNA Consultants, Inc. initiated comprehensive DNA testing of the Cherokees living on the Qualla Reservation in western North Carolina. The North Carolina Cherokees were chosen because after 180 years in the west, Oklahoma Cherokees are so thoroughly mixed with other ethnic groups, that any DNA test marker obtained would be meaningless.

The laboratory immediately stumbled into a scientific hornet’s nest when the results were issued on a press release in April 2010.2 That Cherokee princess in someone’s genealogy was most likely a Middle Eastern or North African princess. Its scientists have labeled the Cherokees not as Native Americans, but as a Middle Eastern-North African population. The implication is that they are indeed, the Ten Lost Tribes of Israel. DNA Consultants, has now tested a much larger population on the North Carolina Reservation and gotten similar results.   The Cherokees seem to be the people that Brent Kennedy thought the Melungeons were.

The Cherokees tested had high levels of DNA test markers associated with the Berbers, native Egyptians, Turks, Lebanese, Hebrews and Mesopotamians. Genetically, they are more Jewish than the typical American Jew of European ancestry. So-called “full-blooded” Cherokees had high levels of European DNA and a trace of Asiatic (Native American) DNA. 80 Some “card-carrying” Cherokees had almost no Asiatic DNA. The European DNA contained a much higher level of DNA test markers associated with the Iberian Peninsula that was typical of Caucasian Americans. The level of haplogroup T in the Cherokee (26.9%) approximated the percentage for Egypt (25%), one of the only lands where T attains a major position among the various mitochondrial lineages. The lab claims that their skin color and facial features are primarily Semitic in origin, not Native American.

Another commercial DNA lab, Family Tree in Houston, TX has recently announced its own Cherokee Study Project. Family Tree has worked with Melungeon organizations for eight years. Family Tree has not made any public announcements concerning the results of its tests.

Statistical Bias

The scientific procedures of statistical analysis mandate a random population sample. Soliciting DNA tests from volunteers automatically makes the results biased. This is especially relevant to the North Carolina Cherokee Reservation. Cherokee citizens with the highest percentage of non-Northern European DNA tend to live in remote mountain cabins and avoid contact with non-Cherokees. They would be far less likely to participate in a voluntary DNA sampling effort than those Cherokees with high levels of European DNA. This has been a fact of Cherokee culture since the creation of the Cherokee Nation in Georgia in 1794.

Inadequate Geographical Coverage

There are major inaccuracies in most articles about this controversy. Both DNA Consultants and journalists are inferring that the research results from the Qualla Reservation apply to all Cherokees. Genetic research associated with the filming of the History Channel’s “America Unearthed” found separate populations of Cherokees outside the reservation with very different genetic profiles. In several counties, the “Cherokees” had profiles identical to Georgia Creeks, and often carried Maya DNA like the Georgia Creeks. In one Georgia county, the “Cherokees” had much higher levels of probable Native American DNA than found on the Cherokee Reservation in North Carolina. However, their Native American DNA was predominantly Quechua from South America, or else mixed Quechua, Maya and probable Creek.3

Many of the residents of the Snowbird Cherokee Reservation in Graham County, NC look like the Zoque Indians of Mexico, who created the Olmec Civilization.4 These Cherokees are called “Moon Faces” by the Cherokees on the main reservation. There is also a significant portion of the Snowbird Cherokees, who were originally Yuchi Indians from the Cohutta Mountains of northern Georgia. The Snowbird Cherokees evidently were not tested by DNA Consultants, Inc. or at least not treated as a separate DNA Study Group – Their “Oriental” physical appearance suggests a much higher level of Native American DNA than was found on the main Cherokee Reservation.

There is also the problem of the Lower and Valley Cherokees. Their former town names indicate a significant Muskogean and Caribbean heritage. Although the languages of these two original branches of the Cherokees became extinct because of disastrous military losses to the Creeks and British military forces, there was much intermarriage between Cherokee towns prior to then in order to cement political ties. Families descended from these two branches of the Cherokee will have very different DNA patterns than those descended from Overhill and Middle Cherokees (Qualla Reservation area.)

Ethnic Isolates

In 1794 the Federal government gave the Cherokees most of northwest and north central Georgia. In the mountainous sections of this new Cherokee Nation, were other ethnic groups. Their names survive as the names of mountains, creeks and rivers. There are relatively few true Cherokee place names in the entire Southern Highlands. From that day forward, the federal government labeled these minorities as “Cherokees.” Since the Cherokees were more interested in the fertile, riverine bottomlands of northwest Georgia, most, if not all of the minorities were allowed to remain. Because of their relatively small numbers, these minorities were far more likely to have concealed their locations from federal and state troops assigned to round-up the Cherokees. However, virtually all their descendants in Georgia today call themselves Cherokees. Physically, they bear little resemblance to Qualla Cherokees.

Impact of Slave Raids

The interpretation of the Cherokee DNA study completely ignored the typical tactics of Rickohocken and Cherokee slave raiders. It is well documented that when at the peak of their military power, slave raiders labeled “Cherokee” ranged from Lake Erie to southern Florida to the Mississippi River. They targeted pre-adolescents, teenage females and young females. Teenage and adult males were killed in battle or tortured to death afterward. The heads of toddlers who were too young to walk to coastal slave markets were bashed against rocks. The elderly were left to starve to death. Particularly attractive young females were often kept as concubines, slaves or even wives rather than sold at slave markets on the Atlantic Coast. This is why Cherokee pottery seems to be the creation of women who were not fully trained in the sophisticated techniques of pottery making and decoration seen in Muskogean, Mississippi Basin and Caddo societies in the Southeast.

There were two genetic results of these brutal tactics. Mitochondrial DNA from much of eastern North America was imported into the Cherokee Nation. A much lesser proportion of Y-chromosome DNA from Eastern North America was imported from the male pre-adolescents.

Perhaps the biggest flaw in the interpretation of the Cherokee DNA study was this statement; “The Middle Eastern DNA could not possibly have resulted from post-1492 mixing.” This statement was an effort to present the Cherokees as the Lost Ten Tribes of Israel. The DNA interpretation assumed that the Cherokees had always lived in western North Carolina, and therefore the parent population in 1492 already carried Middle Eastern DNA. Several of the Middle Eastern DNA test markers were traced back to pre-Roman Period female ancestors. It was then interpolated that this is when the ancestors of the Cherokees arrived in western North Carolina from the Middle East. The report stated that it was impossible for the offspring of intermittent reproduction between Cherokee females and Middle Eastern males in the Colonial Period to produce a widespread presence of Middle Eastern DNA test markers in the Cherokees. Such would not be the case, if the base population was Middle Eastern colonists and the Native American component was added on an intermittent basis.

Mysterious Core Group of the Cherokees

Despite all the official Cherokee histories, official State of North Carolina proclamations, “Cherokees-were-the-original-Native-Americans” documentary films and unofficial Cherokee History web sites to the contrary, there is absolutely no archaeological or linguistic evidence that the Cherokee Indians were in North Carolina until the very late 1600s, if not later. Multiple eyewitness accounts by Spanish, French and English explorers placed the Shawnees, Muskogeans, more recently arrived Arawaks/South Americans, Spanish/Portuguese speaking colonists and African colonists throughout the “Cherokee Homeland” as much as 125 years before the word “Cherokee” appeared in an official document.

Whatever Native American tribe entered the Southern Appalachians from the west, as described by Principal Chief Charles Hicks, was a genetic admixture to a Middle Eastern colonial population, not the other way around. About the only factual clues that might aid the discovery of this mystery tribe’s identity is that this group used the prefix or suffix “ani” to mean nation, province, clan or tribe. It is also known that the Cherokees originally built round huts that were supported by large posts in the walls.

At this time, the ethnic identity of the people who entered the Southern Appalachians from the west remains a mystery. It is fairly certain that this tribe was militarily powerful, because it caused a complete reshuffling of ethnic locations in the Southeast and became the core of an alliance that dominated the Southeast between 1717 and 1738.   The British created a mega-tribe around the core of these invaders to successfully thwart French colonial ambitions.

The core group of Cherokees may have well been the offspring of multi-ethnic spouses with Native American spouses, or perhaps two multi-ethnic spouses. Throughout the early history of the Southeast, the offspring of mixed-ethnic marriage often married in different directions. Those that looked the most “white” either married similar looking spouses or sought to completely “whiten” the appearance of their children by marrying a full-blooded European. Those who looked the most “non-white,” married spouses, who were from non-white parents.

This pattern was evident in the author’s own family during the late 18th and all of the 19th century. Because of the extreme Creek Indian taboo against miscegenation, young people traveled repeatedly from Ruckers Bottom, GA to Ninety-six, SC, Anderson County, SC, Hawkinsville, GA and Irwin County, GA to find spouses. During that period these were other Itsate Creek communities from which the young people could chose spouses who looked like Creek Indians, but not closely related by family or clan ties.

In 1848 a journalist from Kentucky arrived on Newman’s Ridge in northeastern Tennessee. Upon returning home, he told the legend of the Melungeons.5 He wrote that they were descended from Portuguese adventurers who had mixed with the Indians in the Carolinas and upon their arrival in Tennessee had mixed with the Indians, whites and blacks of that area. Given the evidence, this is as good as explanation as any. The Melungeons may be the descendants of Mediterranean-African-Indigenous-North European intermarriages that didn’t really look “Indian” but didn’t look Northern European either.

The origin of the core group of Cherokees may well have been the offspring of mixed-ethnic pairings who looked so non-European that they coalesced into bands and villages, then in to small tribes, then upon the manipulation of British officials, into a large Cherokee Tribe. After then, wave after wave of Native American captives or refugees from remnant tribes added Native American DNA to the gene pool. This theory is one of the few that could explain why a region in northeastern Tennessee that contained Spanish/Portuguese-speaking towns, African settlers, mullato settlers, Middle Eastern settlers, Jewish settlers and northern European settlers during the late 1600s, could also be simultaneously labeled the original heartland of the Cherokee People in the 1700s.

Perhaps something else should be mentioned. “Ani”, the Cherokee word for nation, province, tribe or clan, is also the name of the medieval capital of Armenia, when it composed most of eastern Anatolia. It was known as the “City of Churches” and with 200,000 people, was one of the largest cities in the world.

The word “ani” in Christian Eastern Anatolia meant nation or capital city. It still means the same in non-Turkish regions of eastern Anatolia. Muslim Turks use the word in a pejorative manner to mean “small town” or the boonies. As stated in an earlier chapter, the letters of the Late Medieval writing system used in the city of Ani are virtually identical to the letters of Sequoya’s original syllabary, but are different than the Cherokee syllabary used today, that was created by Rev. Samuel Worcester and Elias Boudinot.

Armenia was the first Christian nation in the world. It was conquered by the Muslims in the late Middle Ages. During the 1500s, it was a bloody killing field as Muslim Turks and Muslim Persians fought over the region. In 1604, the Persians deported about 300,000 Christian Anatolians living in the region around Mount Ararat (as in the story of Noah’s Ark.) These Christians were not wanted in Muslim Turkey and so were forced to wander about the Mediterranean Basin.

The people of eastern Anatolia are a mixture of many ethnic groups that include Greeks, Galatians (Celts), Turks, Mesopotamians, Jews, Egyptians, North Africans, Romans and Circassians. Their DNA profile would probably be very similar to those obtained by DNA Consultants, Inc. at the North Carolina Cherokee Reservation. As stated above, a mid-19th century newspaper reporter described the Melungeons as looking like Circassians.

The word, Anatolia, literally means, “Land of the Sunrise” in Greek.  When British officials asked the famous Cherokee leader, Atta Kulla Kulla, from where the Cherokee’s ancestors came. He said, “Our ancestors came from the Land of the Sunrise.” The Cherokee chief’s real name was Atta Kullak Ula, which means “Rider of a roan colored horse” in Anatolian.

There is still much research to be done in the Southern Appalachians.

Footnotes

  1. Marks, Jonathon & Shelton, Brooks Lee, Genetic Markers- Not a Valid Test of Native Identity 

  2. Cherokee DNA Project 

  3. Thornton, Richard. South American and Mayan DNA Discovered in Southern Appalachians. Examiner.com. January 10, 2012. 

  4. The author camped out near the Snowbird Reservation in the winter and spring of 2010. He has traveled extensively in southern Mexico and conversed with Zoque Indians there. 

  5. Unknown. The Melungens. Littel’s Living Age. March 1849 



MLA Source Citation:

AccessGenealogy.com. Web. 14 September 2014. http://www.accessgenealogy.com/native/cherokee-dna.htm - Last updated on Aug 6th, 2014


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