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Big Chief Rabbi: Why Cherokees could be Jewish

    A Cherokee Indian
    A Cherokee Indian

    If one American geneticist is correct, the list of groups known to make up the Twelve Tribes of Israel may need urgent updating.

    According to Donald Yates, there is compelling evidence that within the Cherokee nation of American Indians, mothers and other matrilineal forbearers bear bona fide Middle East Jewish genetic markers.

    "The essence of my findings is that the Cherokee have had families of Jewish heritage in their midst since before Columbus, and that early Jewish traders married Cherokee women to cement their ties with the tribe," Mr Yates says.

    Mr Yates, who is of Cherokee descent himself, runs a Colorado-based, for-profit website called dnaconsultants.com, which lets people track down their DNA profiles.

    Sceptics take note: Mr Yates has been examining Cherokee genes for 12 years and is very confident about his findings.

    Mel Brooks' Indian chief in Blazing Saddles, who spoke Yiddish
    Mel Brooks' Indian chief in Blazing Saddles, who spoke Yiddish

    He studied the DNA of 67 Cherokee test subjects and distributed them into "haplogroups" - genetic populations with a common ancestor.

    He chose to focus on matrilineal descent in order to filter out the later, colonial-era admixture (the Cherokee came into contact mostly with colonisers from Spain and England during the 16th and 17th centuries).

    Mr Yates found that almost one quarter of the 67 were "haplogroup T", a group not usually found among Native Americans and which is more common to the Middle East - specifically, Iran and Iraq.

    In a report by Mr Yates written in 2014, he discounted the possibility of a "European admixture" tainting his findings because "there was no available source for such a huge, sudden influx of female-mediated Middle Eastern DNA on the American frontier".

    He claims with near-certitude that the haplotypes of the descendants of a Cherokee chief named Red Bird, "prove the presence of Jewish families in the Cherokee population".

    He even cites the current-day example of one Cherokee-identified woman, Kathleen Rogalia, a descendant of an 18th-century woman named Deborah Cooke.

    Ms Rogalia's check for her own native DNA showed she is of "European, Iranian or Iraqi ancestry with no chance of being Native American". Mr Yates' genetic test showed she has the same haplotype - T.

    Besides allow people to test their DNA, Mr Yates' company website also contains DNA databases and links to numerous studies, including one on a connection between Israeli Jews and Europeans.

    Needless to say, not everyone is a believer when it comes to the Jewish-Cherokee connection.

    In a blog post, one critic wrote: "The researchers at DNA Consultants seem unaware that throughout the 1600s, Iberian Sephardic Jews and Moorish Conversos colonised the North Carolina and Georgia Mountains, where they mined and worked gold and silver.

    "How the occupants of the North Carolina Mountains became a mixed Semitic, North African, European and Native American population, known as the Cherokees, remains a mystery."

    So the genetic jury is still out.

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