The Ani Chota
The Cherokee nation was the largest nation of eastern North America. They were probably also the most important. But they did not call themselves the Cherokee. They called themselves the Ani Chota. That means the people of Chota, their capital. Or they called themselves the Ani Yunwiya, which means “the main people”. Probably Cherokee people were originally part of the Iroquois people. Their language is related to Iroquois. And they themselves believed that they came from the north-east, but they split off and moved south, probably about 1500 BC, in the Late Archaic period.
Cherokee history – the Woodland period
After that, during the Woodland period, the Cherokee lived in south-eastern North America. That’s mainly modern Tennessee, North Carolina, and Arkansas, but also South Carolina, Virginia, Georgia and Alabama. By about 800 AD, the Cherokee were probably a Mississippian group. They built burial mounds and towns like other Mississippian people, even though they did not live right on the Mississippi river and there are some differences in the way they lived.
By around 1000 AD, in the Mississippian period, Cherokee people began to grow corn, squash, sunflowers, and beans for some of their food. They grew tobacco, too. Sometime around 1200 AD, they may have started to keep tame turkeys for food too.
Cherokee history – Mississippian period
During the Mississippian period, Cherokee people were not united under one chief. They lived in a bunch of small independent city-states. Probably these city-states were unified as a confederacy, like the Iroquois confederacy. Probably the Cherokee considered themselves one people. They often made decisions as a group by consensus or by voting. We might consider this to be a complex chiefdom. There were at least sixty Cherokee towns, and there may have been more. Each town had about 300 to 400 people living in it.
Cherokee trade contacts with the Aztecs
By this time, Cherokee people were trading with Mississippians who were trading with Pueblo people, who were trading with the Aztecs in Mexico. You can see similarities between the Cherokee statues in the picture and Aztec statues.
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