Cherokee Wedding Ceremony
The Cherokee wedding ceremony is a very beautiful event,
whether it is the traditional or ancient ceremony, or a modern variation.
The original ceremony differed from clan to clan and community to
community, but basically used the same ritual elements.
clanship is matrilineal in Cherokee society, it is forbidden to marry
within one's own clan. Because the woman holds the family clan, she is
represented at the ceremony by both her mother (or clan mother) and her
oldest brother. The brother stands with her as he gives his vow to take
the responsibility of teaching the children in spiritual and religious
matters, as that is the traditional role of the 'uncle' (e-du-tsi).
In ancient times, the matrimonial couple would meet at
the center of the townhouse, and the groom gave the bride a ham of
venison while she gave an ear of corn to him, then the wedding party
danced and feasted for hours on end. In those early days, venison
symbolized his intention to keep meat in the household and her corn
symbolized her willingness to be a good Cherokee housewife. The groom is
accompanied by his mother.
After the sacred setting for the ceremony has been
blessed for seven consecutive days, it is time for the ceremony. The
bride and groom approach the sacred fire, and are blessed by the priest
and/or priestess. All participants in the wedding, including the guests,
are also blessed. Songs are sung in Cherokee, and those conducting the
ceremony bless the couple. Both the bride and groom are covered in a
blue blanket. At a specified moment in the ceremony, the priest or
priestess removes each blue blanket, and covers the couple together with
one white blanket, indicating the beginning of their new life together.
of exchanging rings, in the old times the couple exchanged food. The
groom brought ham of venison, or some other meat, to indicate his
intention to provide for the household. The bride provided corn, or bean
bread to symbolize her willingness to care for and provide nourishment
for her household.
This is interesting when noting that when a baby is
born, the traditional question is, “Is it a bow or a sifter?” Even at
birth, the male is associated with hunting and providing, and the female
with nourishing and giving life. The gifts of meat and corn also honor
the fact that, traditionally, Cherokee men hunted for the household,
while women tended the farms. It also reflects the roles of Kanati
(first man) and Selu (first woman).
The couple drank together from a Cherokee Wedding Vase.
The vessel held one drink, but had two openings for the couple to drink
from at the same time. Following the ceremony, the town, community or
clans provided a wedding feast, and the dancing and celebrating often
continued all through the night and into the next morning.
Today, some Cherokee traditionalists still observe
portions of these wedding rituals. The vows of today's ceremony reflect
the Cherokee culture and belief system, but are in other ways similar to
wedding ceremonies of other cultures and denominations. Today's dress
can be in a tear dress and ribbon shirt, a wedding gown, or normal
attire worn at a Ceremonial Ground.
Because the Cherokee Nation is a sovereign governing
body, the United Red River
Cherokee Nation has its own marriage law, and Cherokee couples are
allowed to marry under this law instead of the State marriage laws.
Cherokee couple is not required to obtain a marriage license;
however, for legal purposes, it is highly recommended that the couple
obtain a marriage
certificate through First Nation Church. (Couples that are not
members of the tribe may also
obtain a marriage
certificate through First Nation Church for a slightly higher fee.)
In addition, the person conducting the ceremony
must be licensed by First Nation Church in
order to legally do so, whether or not he or she is a member of the
After the couple or their religious leader (minister or
elder) contacts the First Nation Church, the church administrator will prepare a
marriage certificate. This document shows that the couple were indeed
married in a ceremony by a religious or spiritual leader licensed to do
so. The certificate is forwarded to the
United Red River Cherokee
Nation after all parties have signed the document, after which it is
filed in the official records.