Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Celebrities Who Claim to be Cherokee

While researching so I can participate in the letter writing campaign against people in the performing arts and music who claim to be Cherokee without proof, I discovered there are A LOT of celebrities who claim or are publicized as either Cherokee or of Cherokee descent. If they truly are, then that is great, but if they aren't or don't have documentation to prove what they claim, then I take issue with them.

I would imagine most people are aware that Douglas Bluefeather and Rita Coolige are not registered Cherokees with any of the three federally recognized tribes and also seem to have no proof of their claims of Cherokee heritage. If you didn't realize this, then it is time you know..................they are not Cherokee, have never been Cherokee and will never be Cherokee. It does not matter how many NAMMYs they have won. Winning an award does not make you a Cherokee. Also, just because Cher sang a song called "Halfbreed" does not mean she is Cherokee. I have never seen anything that would suggest her ancestors had any connection with the Cherokee Nation at all. And believe me, I have looked.

Also, there are a lot of actors and actresses who claim to be Cherokee or of Cherokee descent. Often times, these claims lead to roles playing Indians in television shows or in movies. Gregg Rainwater played an Indian in the TV series, "The Young Riders" for three years. He claims to be Cherokee and Osage. I can't say either way about the Osage connection, but I sure don't know how his family was connected to the Cherokees. It is the same with Johnny Depp. Apparently he has been selected to play Tonto in a remake of "The Lone Ranger." He claims he gets his Cherokee blood through his maternal side. Does he really have Cherokee blood? I have no idea. If he does and wants to claim it, he should not have an issue with proving it. Both he and Gregg Rainwater, if they have proof, should offer up the information where their families connect to the historical Cherokee Nation. If they can't or won't, then they should stop claiming to be Cherokee and should not be allowed to portray an Indian in TV or movies. Without proof, they are no different than any non-celebrity wannabe or fake or fraud.

The following is a list of some of the celebrities I have found by searching for "Celebrity Cherokees". I thought I would share it because there are SO MANY. These are people who themselves have claimed to be Cherokee/Cherokee descent or are publicized as Cherokee/Cherokee descent.

Tori Amos, singer
James Brown, singer
Rita Coolidge, singer
The Jonas Brothers, singers
Loretta Lynn, singer
Kevin Costner, actor
Johnny Depp, actor
Hunter Tylo, actress
Carmen Electra, actress
James Garner, actor
Charisma Carpenter, actress
Jimi Hendrix, guitarist, singer
Gregg Rainwater, actor
Val Kilmer, actor
Demi Moore, actress
Mandy Moore, singer and actress
Lou Diamond Phillips, actor
Wayne Newton, actor and singer
Chris Douglas, actor
Joe Nichols, country singer
Chuck Norris, actor and martial artist
Elvis, singer, actor
Quentin Tarantino, actor
Burt Reynolds, actor
Tina Turner, singer
Liv Tyler, actress
Steve Tyler, singer
Billy Ray Cyrus, singer and songwriter
Mylie Cyrus, singer and actress
Crystal Gayle, singer
Cindy Crawford, model
Cher, singer and actress
Della Reece, actress
Corbin Bernsen, actor
Clint Walker, actor
James Earl Jones, actor
Johnny Cash, singer
Sam Elliot, actor
Sydney Penney, actress
Tommy Lee Jones, actor

Waylon Jennings, singer
Robert Redford, actor
Alicia Silverstone, actress
Garth Brooks, singer
Jennifer Garner, actress
Diane Sawyer, (claims to descend from Princess Cornblossom!!!)

Are they truly Cherokee or Cherokee descent? Who knows. It is pretty safe to assume Diane Sawyer is not since she claims to descend from a fictional character from a book, but who knows about the rest of them. My guess is most can offer no proof and therefore are making false claims. If they can prove it, I will gladly remove them from the list.

I know, I know, someone is bound to think, "So what? Who are they hurting?" Well, they are hurting Cherokees. By making false or unsubstantiated claims, they are misrepresenting the true Native American image. They sing songs in botched Cherokee language, produce "their" version of our music and take acting jobs and music sales away from real Indians. By supporting people who make such claims, we are allowing non-Indians to create an image of us they want to see, not an image of who we really are. Personally, I am tired of non-Indians claiming to be us and making money from it. It is time that only registered Indians should be able to sell their songs as Native American songs; only registered Indians can play an Indian on TV or in a movie; that only registered Indians can sell their writings as Native American writing. Ever since Columbus got lost and ended up in the Americas, others have been taking everything they can away from the indigenous population. I say, "Enough already!"

Those are my thoughts for the day.
Thank you for reading.

The Granddaughter
copyright 2009, Polly's Granddaughter - TCB


  1. Kind of bitter, aren't you? My personal family records were destroyed generations ago in a house fire -- how could I "prove" anything?

  2. You can prove just like everyone else does. By following the standard practices of genealogy. You start with yourself and then move to your parents, grandparents and so on. You can order birth and death certificates for all those people showing a direct line of descent from an ancestor listed either on the Dawes Roll or the Baker Roll to you.

    Most people start their genealogy only knowing the names of their parents and grandparents. If you need help, I would be glad to help you.

  3. I thought Joe Nichols was?? Priscilla

  4. I think its pretty obvious Johnny Depp is part Native American. He has Cherokee on both sides of his family. Search for his interviews where he speaks about it (and there are many, as far back as his 21 Jump Street days in the 1980s).

    He already played a Native American character in a movie he directed called The Brave in 1997.


    He has a tattoo of an Indian chief on his left arm that he got when he was a teenager to honor his roots.


    He also supports NA organizations, like American Indian Movement.


    1. Floetcist merely claiming ancestry doesn't make it so. You might find it not a big deal, but given the fact that indigenous Americans had to fight for recognition of their tribes, fought for their land and rights and they had to prove, document everything, it is disrespectful for others who have NOT fought with them, to just lay claim to that ancestry. It's not difficult to trace one's ancestry, and these celebrities have the resources and time to do it. If they truly do cherish and respect that claimed ancestry, they should show how much they respect it by not treating it so cheaply, and documenting their claim.

  5. floetcist, please see my recent blog post on the subject of verifying Cherokee ancestry. http://pollysgranddaughter.blogspot.com/2010/06/madness-monday-standards-for-sound.html

  6. This is such an emotion charged subject! Like many families ours has had persistent rumors of native heritage. I used to boast of it to an Athabascan friend. He suggested to me to cut it out. "I know I've got some white blood in me", he said, "but I just can't prove it" he joked. According to family legend my maternal grandfather was quarter Cherokee and my maternal grandmother was half Ute. I've searched the Dawes rolls for any hint of family name to no avail. The Ute people have not got a lot of documentation to search. All we have are some pictures that prove nothing. I look like a white guy, I was raised like a white guy, I have no connection to the reservation system; I'm a white guy with a story. That's all. I don't boast any more. Thanks CC. You do good work.

  7. Good for you. I despise stupid White people who cant bother to investigate their own European culture but choose to try to steal Indian culture because they think it is cool or gets them off the hook for anything they say or do.

    I am pure European bloodlines and proud of it, I am glad you wrote this piece.


  8. The Cherokee appear to be the favorite tribe for anyone with "high cheekbones" or an aged relative who wants to spice up the family lineage now that it's cool to be native.I guess you can do that if you want to be cheap and exploitative(Hollyweird apparently doesn't care if you are) but in the genuine native world, it doesn't work that way. Example:To get his scholarships to college, my son had to provide his tribal ID card and get references from tribal Elders who knew him. In order to HAVE THOSE THINGS, he had to have proven heritage and be connected in a big way with his tribal community and culture,which he was. Being native and carrying on your culture is hard work and if you're not doing it--don't claim it.

  9. Similar thing to what happens with being Native Hawaiian in Hawai'i. So many people on the mainland who have family that traces back to Hawai'i, especially those who are mostly mixed with Filipino, love to claim Native Hawaiian. Thing is, all the real (Native) Hawaiians can and do easily prove it through documentation (Hawaiian Homestead, etc.)!

    I guess it just makes them feel so much more exotic and special, but it's still just fake and phoney.

  10. As a native of Turtle Island as well,I find this refreshing as it always seems to be the case. My Scottish husband now believes that by what people say and the people who claim to be Cherokee, that he must be Cherokee too..despite having zero blood ties to Turtle Island. Hahahaha

    - Walk in Beauty

  11. I've used the Cherokee by Blood book, Bible and NAIL records, Copies of Dawes and Miller-Gouion(spelling) rolls. And found my Cherokee ancesters: Busyhead, Gunter, Daniels, Rogers, Roberts, Langford.

    1. MHillis, while the Guion Miller roll is a great source to compare research to who the applicant placed down as their father/mother - grandfather/grandmother, it should be realized many applicants lied on these applications and the roll isn't accepted as a good source.

  12. It's not just the Cherokee that people claim to be descended from and are not. There are so many people out there that claim to be descended from one tribe or another and there is no proof. I have had fourteen clients in the past five years not pay me because I could not prove their Native heritage. With that said, I want to personally thank you for exposing this common occurrence that shouldn't be so common, and to those who think "so what if they claim it"... people in this day and age need to start living the truth instead of the lies they make up or are told. You don't need to be Native American to be someone special. Everyone is special because there is no one else exactly like you in the world, but lying to make yourself look special is pathetic.

  13. Just found this..it does seem every person In America claims this...It's sad. Heck.. I even looked up that chic who played Sacajawea in Night at The Museum,-Japanese on Mom's side, on Dad's side- Irish, English and .of course...lol Cherokee her dad's side.I am sure tons of Cherokees were running rampant in Ny and intermarried with all those white New Yorkers. I have a cousin who always claims to be "cherokee".. I'm from northwest Pennsylvania. I doubt it. I took a genetic test. not there. Not there at all. Anyways, I am not Cherokee and I hate it myself when people claim to be be things they are not. I once had a white guy tell me to go back to my country ...I told him to go back to Europe. but he pulled out the Cherokee "card". Not literally but said, "my great grandma was a Cherokee princess. My people have been here forever. Yours have not. So you go back to your country." SO now we have white people who want to pull it out to have more reason to tell "foreign looking people" like me, to go back to a different country and feel more entitled to being here in the US.

  14. My own search for my genealogy brought me to this page. I have always believed that I am a descendant of a Cherokee woman. This has been a story passed down in my family. My mother told my siblings and I that her great grandmother was full blooded Cherokee. Of course there was no written proof. I am still looking for documentation. In defense of those who claim Cherokee blood, if they are like me, I have grown up believing this to be fact, just as my mother has. no one else in our lineage past my mom is living. I am wondering when did American Indian written records begin? It is my understanding that information used to be handed down verbally with Native Americans, so how far back can I go? And if this is true, and those with posts above who claim that without documentation you are not Indian, how can anybody say that they are Indian because eventually you are going to come to an ancestor in lineage who has no documentation. Anyway, I plan to get a DNA test to reveal my roots but I would still like to know who my ancestors are. I have names, but nothing to connect those names to race. As near as I can figure is that my great great grandmother Jemima Amos is the best candidate for the source of my Cherokee blood. She lived from 1846 to 1915. She was born to James Amos and Delilah (Miller) Amos. James Amos lived from 1801 to 1870 and that is as far back as my family tree has been traced to this date.

    1. It's important to remember not to lump all American Indian Nations together. When you asked when American Indian records began, you did that. The answer is not the same for all Indian tribes. For the Cherokees, there are written records from the time of our encounters with whites. As for records that can be used for genealogical purposes, we can take many lineages back to our ancestors born in the 1700s. Please see my posts on Sally Hughes for one example of how relatively easy this is. One thing that is important to remember is in the time frames many people claim Cherokee ancestry, the Cherokee Nation was an independent nation from the US. We were not all mixed together living all over what is now the continental US. Cherokee Nation citizens lived in the Cherokee Nation geographical boundaries of their own nation and US citizens were supposed to live within their own boundaries of the United States. Often they ignored that though and that is why intruders were always a problem for the Cherokees.

      Anyway, like I said Cherokees lived in their own nation and Americans lived in their own nation. Where were your ancestors living?

  15. Boozhoo, Gaawiin aapiji ninitaa-anishinaabemosii. Niizhogabik indigo Anishnaabemong idash Shannon Lafontaine indizhinikaaz zhaaganaashiimong. Ma'iingan niin indoodem. I will translate from Anishinaabemowin (English term "Ojibwe") to English. I hardly know how to speak Anishinaabemowin ( means Ojibwe language). Niizhogabik is what I am known by (the spirits) in Ojibwe and Shannon Lafontaine is what I am called in English. Wolf is my clan. I appreciate what you have done here by standing up for our Native American rights. If a person is not who they say they are and cannot prove it. Aboriginal people have come along way to where we are now, and I, too, feel that enough is enough. For centuries this has been going on, and the time is now for it to come to and end. We are proud Native Americans and we are to be from Turtle Island. For those of you who claim to be Native American prove it. Otherwise have some respect for other human life and their culture. Miigwech ( thank you).


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