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The United Keetoowah Band of Oklahoma (UKB) is a federally recognized tribe having an enrollment of twelve thousand members and headquartered in Tahlequah, Oklahoma. Membership is limited to those of one-fourth or more Cherokee blood, and enrollees cannot carry dual citizenship in both the UKB and the Cherokee Nation of Oklahoma.

Although the UKB received congressional recognition in 1946 and ratified its constitution, bylaws, and corporate charter in 1950, its origins are considerably older. Keetoowah people believe that "Kituwah" or "Keetoowah" is the true name of the Cherokee people given to them by the Creator atop a mountain peak known as Kuwahi. This site today is referred to as Clingman's Dome and straddles the borders of North Carolina and Tennessee in the Great Smoky Mountains. The Keetoowahs also received their laws and sacred fire in their ancestral homelands (present North Carolina, Tennessee, South Carolina, Georgia, and Alabama) and still see themselves as the guardians of traditional Cherokee ways today. This does not mean that the UKB of the twenty-first century stands back as the world passes it by. The tribe administers millions of dollars in state, federal, and casino-generated funds; issues its own license plates; adjudicates legal matters in its own court system; and provides a variety of services to tribal members of all ages. In short, the tribe functions as a sovereign nation.

In spite of its firm legal status as a federally recognized tribe, the UKB faces challenges to its sovereignty from what, at least to outsiders, might seem an unlikely source: the Cherokee Nation of Oklahoma (CNO). Animosity between the two nations has recently centered on the legality of the UKB's casino and its right to issue tribal tags, but CNO–UKB relations have been tenuous for more than two centuries. Keetoowahs trace their lineage to the Old Settler Cherokees who settled in Arkansas in 1817 and moved to present northeastern Oklahoma in 1828. The arrival of the main body of Cherokees over the Trail of Tears in 1838 and 1839 led to a power struggle with the Old Settlers over the structure of the government. The contest ultimately ended in a bloody civil war. During the American Civil War, Keetoowahs fought on the side of the Union, but the bulk of the Cherokee Nation sided with the Confederacy. Once the war ended, Keetoowahs censured the Cherokee National Council for negotiating the postwar treaty with the United States. The Keetoowahs strongly opposed allotment and single statehood.

After the national government of the Cherokee Nation was dissolved in 1907, the Keetoowahs became the only federally recognized government of the Cherokee people for a period prior to World War II. Pres. Harry S. Truman appointed W. W. Keeler as chief of the Cherokee Nation in 1948, creating an anomaly of two governments for one people, a situation that still exists today. Both the UKB and the CNO consider themselves to be the legitimate government of the Cherokee people. Given the history of the two groups, this is unlikely to change, as a checks and balances mechanism, may help ensure the continuance of the Cherokee as a distinct and sovereign people.

Josh Clough

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George R. Leeds, "The United Keetoowah Band of Cherokee Indians in Oklahoma: 1950 to the Present" (Ph.D. diss., University of Oklahoma, 1992).

Sandra Parker, "U.K.B. of Cherokee Indians in Oklahoma," Cherokee Observer (Blackwell, Oklahoma), September 1997.

Chief George Wickliffe, "A Letter to the UKB People," Keetoowah News (Tahlequah, Oklahoma), August 2007.


The following (as per The Chicago Manual of Style, 17th edition) is the preferred citation for articles:
Josh Clough, “United Keetoowah Band,” The Encyclopedia of Oklahoma History and Culture, https://www.okhistory.org/publications/enc/entry?entry=UN006.

Published January 15, 2010

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