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.

First Nation ChurchBecause 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.Traditional Wedding Vase

Instead 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.

United Red River Cherokee NationBecause 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.

A 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 tribe.

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.

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