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From a booklet on Clans I got in Cherokee, NC

The dramatic decline in clan affiliation occurred during the middle of the 20th Century (1940-1969). Today on the Qualla Boundary of Western North Carolina there are still a few Cherokees who can identify their clan because it has been handed down through the generations. If the clan affiliation is not known, it is very rare that it will be identified. The task is made very difficult because there was no record of clan membership kept on file.

From ancient times the number seven was sacred to the Cherokee. Consequently, as nomadic tribes wandering the North American continent began to settle down and take on distinctive characteristics of place, name, language and customs, it was only natural and logical that the basic arrangement of Cherokee social, religious and political life would develop into a structure of seven clans.
The seven-clan system, along with many other developments around the number seven, contributed to making the Cherokee distinctive from the many other Native American tribes. The sacred number seven permeates Cherokee legends, beliefs and customs including the seven sided council house, the sacred fire which was kindled with seven different kinds of wood, the seven directions and the seven Cherokee festivals.
The Cherokee had a matrilineal society, a social system in which their descent was traced strictly through their mother's side of the family. In the Cherokee's matrilineal kinship system a person received his mother's clan at birth and retained this clan for life, and his only kinsmen were those who could be traced through her, that is her mother's mother, mother's sisters, the children of mother's sisters and, the most important and powerful man in a child's life, the mother's brother. This social structure baffled whites.
The primary responsibility for discipline and instruction in hunting and warfare rested not with the child's father but with his maternal uncle. Not even the right of the father to stay in the home was certain because Cherokee women owned the dwellings.

If the husband was ousted from the home, he simply returned to the residence of his clan until he married again children, however, remained with their mother and kinsmen.
It is sometimes said that the Cherokees wore feathers of different colors to indicate their clan membership. In early literature, reference is made to a total of fourteen clans but was reduced to seven by either combining some clans or elimination some over time.
The seven clans are frequently mentioned in the sacred formulas used by the Cherokee Indians and in some of the laws issued within the last one hundred (100) years.
The council house was seven-sided and provided seven sections of seats within, giving each clan a section for its representatives within the governmental structure. The seven sections of seats surrounded the sacred fire.

Clan affiliation was inherited through the mother's line and marriage within this clan was strictly forbidden by law.
From the individual's perspective, four of the clans were the most important:
(1) one's own clan (which was also one's mother's and maternal grandmother's),
(2) one's father's clan (which was also one's paternal grandmother's),
(3) Maternal grandfather's clan and
(4) paternal grandfather's clan.
Individuals were prohibited from marrying into the first two clans and were encouraged to marry into either the maternal grandfather's clan or paternal grandfather's clan.
As the household was the basic unit of the Cherokee social organization, residence was matrilocal (home of wife's kin group), therefore, a newly married couple lived with the wife's family.
Cherokee intermarried with whites more than with members of other Indian tribes, causing many problems with the laws of the clans. However, even though the children were of both white and Indian ancestry, they were regarded as Cherokee by their clansmen.
These intermarriages brought on many changes within the clan system, because as the Cherokees began to intermarry with the whites and blacks, the law of the clan revenge was very difficult for non-Cherokees to accept. This brought on change in the clan law which eventually merged it into the white man's court system.

In the white man's society, usually the men were in control of the land and the assets, but in the Cherokee society the women were in complete control of all property. This caused many problems with land ownership, especially when children were produced. For instance, when a Cherokee woman married a white man he was not familiar with the law allowing the woman complete control over the land, property and children. It was difficult for him to accept the idea that if he should ever leave his wife he would be unable to take possession of property or offspring. The council dealt with this problem in 1819 by prohibiting white men from disposing of their Cherokee wife's property.
The clan provided many important functions including care for orphans and the destitute, hospitality for visiting clan members from other towns and, most important, the avenging of wrongs committed against clan members.
Clan membership was essential to one's existence as a human being within a Cherokee society because of the protection of the kinship system.
Since clans were divided into white or peace clans and red or war clans, a Cherokee's clan determined a person's political alignment and his role in society. Kinship, through the law of the clans, governed social relationships, dictated possible marriage partners, designated friends, designated enemies and regulated behavior through they system such as which kinsmen had to be respected and with which kinsmen one could be intimate.
Since kinship was matrilineal, Cherokee women probably decided the matter of adoption and often had the power to determine the fate of captives Clans were not obligated to adopt captives, however, captives were less likely to leave the Cherokees once they were adopted into a particular clan. Captives not adopted into the clan system were, if not killed, made to be of slave status.
The slave (atsi-nahsa-i) was considered an "anomaly", that is defined as a physical human but not able to live as human because of no clanship. Rather than banish or kill them the Cherokee supported them, recognizing that people did exist outside their kinship system. These captives functioned as deviants in the Cherokee society. The clan which adopted a captive became liable for his misdeeds as well as responsible for avenging wrongs done to him. To be without a clan in Cherokee society was to be without rights, even the right to live. A captive who was not adopted faced distressing and unpredictable future.

The Seven Clans were groups in which each kept his clan membership for life, some were closely related and others more distantly related. Since an membership was determined at birth, it was only natural that the child belonged to the clan of the mother since she was certain of her birth child whereas the identity of the father might, in some cases, be less certain.
The blood revenge was usually performed by an older male of the victim's clan if it could not be taken by his oldest brother. It was considered a disgrace if revenge was not taken. The Cherokees believed that revenge must be taken in order to free the soul of the victim and to let it pass from this world to the next.
It was the practice to avenge the victim by taking the life of the murderer himself, however, a close relative of the murderer would satisfy the revenge.
When a clan member was visiting other nearby or distant towns, he was still considered family, and the law of blood revenge held true in any location. The clans were considered close family, and they were the ideal unit for revenge since they considered themselves related as brothers and sisters.
The Ancient Law of blood revenge was abolished by the Cherokee National Government on September 11, 1808. This act of abolishment was seen to have advanced the Cherokees in civilization, and it was universally accepted by all tribes.
September 11, 1808 in Council Broom's Town:
Be it known, that this day, the various clans or tribes which compose the Cherokee Nation, have unanimously passed an act of oblivion for all lives for which they may have been indebted, one to the other, and have mutually agreed that after this evening the aforesaid act shall become binding upon every clan or tribe, and the aforesaid clans or tribes, have also agreed that if, in future, any life should be lost without malice intended, the innocent aggressor shall not be accounted guilty. Be it known, also, That should it happen that a brother, forgetting his natural affections, should raise his hands in anger and kill his brother, he shall be accounted guilty of murder and suffer accordingly, and if a man has a horse stolen, and overtakes the thief, and should his anger be so great as to cause him to kill him let his blood remain on his own conscience, but no satisfaction shall be demanded for his life from his relatives or the clan he may belong to.
By order of the Seven Clans.

Each village of the Cherokees had two governmental units comprised of a white and a red government. During times of peace the white government had complete control of all affairs dealing with the village. This government consisted of older and wiser men who would not make foolish decisions. In times of war all duties fell on the red government which consisted of younger men who would do well in battle.
The white or peace government consisted of the Chief of the tribe, the Chief's right-hand man, prime counselors (one from each clan unit), a council of elders, a chief speaker, messengers and officers versed in ceremonial functions. This is the organization that made the decisions which affected the tribe during their times of peace.
The red government consisted of a Great Red War Chief, The Great War Chief's Second, seven War Counselors, a War Woman, the Chef War Speaker, Messengers, Ceremonial Officers and War Scouts. The seven war counselors were in charge of declaring war when they felt the circumstances made it necessary. The War Woman's position was to declare the fate of captives and prisoners that were taken in times of war.
The war scouts reported back to the war party so decisions could be made on directions to take.
These two governments were derived from the strong beliefs of the Cherokee and their clan system, and organization supported by all in an effort to ensure survival of the tribes.

The Cherokees' attitude toward things which strayed from a general rule can best be seen in their belief system and the way in which it categorized nature. Instead of trying to obscure or to deny the existence of those things which could not be easily classified, the Cherokees paid special attention to them. In the Cherokee society, three categories of animate things occupied the world: Human beings, plants and animals. Cherokees did not ignore the human characteristics of plants and animals, they magnified them, and they became major figures in the Cherokees' myths and legends, such as the bear, snake, deer and bird.
The Cherokees did not view abnormalities as causes for fear but as subjects of profound interest, and by emphasizing the exceptions of their categories they strengthened their system of classification. Some of the clan names that are still used today have the names of animals that are used in many myths and legends.
Seven continues to be a significant and sacred number to the Cherokee people, and is still highly respected today. The chief of the Cherokee people is currently elected by the people who are from townships, many of which still carry the clan names. All of the current disputes are settled in a Tribal Court and, depending on the crime committed, are forwarded to a state or federal court system in a nearby town.
Although masks were not used anciently to identify each particular clan, one can find contemporarily carved masks depicting the seven clans. Stone pipes having seven stem holes were used in the old peace councils. Now days the seven stemmed pipes are produced from stone or pottery.
Marriage within a clan or to a near relative is still forbidden, a rule that continues to be enforced by many of the Cherokees.
The dramatic decline in clan affiliation occurred during the middle of the 20th Century (1940-1969).
Today on the Qualla Boundary of Western North Carolina there are still a few Cherokees who can identify their clan because it has been handed down through the generations. If the clan affiliation is not known, it is very rare that it will be identified. The task is made very difficult because there was no record of clan membership kept on file.

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