A couple dozen members of The North Cherokee Nation of the Old Louisiana Territory took part in an annual reunion in Columbia last weekend.
The tribe has about 10,000 members scattered across the country, but are headquartered in Columbia, Mo. Beverly Baker has served as the chief of the nation for 27 years and has worked to uncover the tribe’s history, which she says dates back to Spanish documents from 1721.
“I was one of the fortunate ones who found my Cherokee ancestry on the first Cherokee roll of 1835. So I am very fortunate in that way,” Baker said.
The tribe requires members to be a direct descendent of a Cherokee Indian from the census rolls taken during the 19th century and early 20th century. Members have ancestry from Missouri, Arkansas and Oklahoma.
Head Elder Mike Ballard believes a lot of information was not passed on because of the difficulty of being a native Indian in Missouri during the early 20th century.
“Up until about 1928 it was illegal to be an Indian in Missouri," Ballard said. "So your family was suddenly Black Dutch or Black Irish or even Mexican. You were safer with that."
Three years ago Vickie Stahl traced her heritage back to 1721 when her ancestors from Ireland intermarried with Cherokee Indians. Stahl received her native name at the reunion, which is an important step in membership.
Former Missouri Governors have recognized this tribe at the state level. But the Northern Cherokee Nation of the Old Louisiana Territory is not federally recognized, although Baker says they are attempting to gain status.
“I’ve been struggling with this for thirty years," Stahl said. "We meet one obstacle after another. But we are also breaking down these obstacles one after another.”
For most members, there is no other option but to keep trying.