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Canku Ota

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(Many Paths)

An Online Newsletter Celebrating Native America


November 3, 2001 - Issue 48


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 Cherokee Teaches Kids to Appreciate Native Cultures


 by Larry Wilkerson-Atlanta Journal-Constitution Staff-October 23, 2001

As a native Southerner who's been dismayed and disgusted by the way folks like me have been portrayed in movies and on TV, I can imagine how Diamond Brown felt when he was growing up.

His people, he told me this week, were caricatured even in the textbooks he was given to study in school.

Brown is a Cherokee whose life's work is educating kids about what that means --- and, just as important, what it doesn't.

Today and Wednesday in Snellville, where Brown lives, he and other native people will enlighten upward of 3,000 children visiting T.W. Briscoe Park.

They'll come from schools in Gwinnett and the surrounding area for Brown's "Touch the Earth" event, featuring a native village complete with tepees, dancers, drummers and storytellers.

"This is what I do for a living," he said. "I go and teach about my people --- I want them to know we're still here."

(You may have seen Brown's likeness: In front of the Lumpkin County courthouse in Dahlonega are bronze statues of a gold miner and a Cherokee --- he was the model. And he's pictured on the back cover of Diane Bernstein's book, "We Dance Because We Can.")

Reared on a reservation in North Carolina, Brown for a while attended Snowbird Day School with other Cherokee children.

"Then they closed it down and made us go to public schools," he said, "and I learned that they were teaching things about my people that just aren't true."

Brown graduated from high school but found there was little to learn in college about what most interested him: his cultural heritage.

"Not even the professors knew," he said. "They're on the outside looking in, but I'm on the inside looking out, and I see so much more to teach."

By the time he was in his 30s, Brown --- billing himself simply as "Diamond, Cherokee educator" --- was being booked in elementary schools all over the country to teach young folks about his people.

Last September, he established his business, Touch the Earth with Native People Inc., and since then has held his educational event in cities across the Southeast.

It opens for the first time in Georgia this morning.

"I come out in full regalia," Brown said. "I look like I stepped right out of a story book."

And it's authentic regalia: clothing made of deer hide tanned with the animal's brains; beads more than 400 years old, handed down by his ancestors; a "roach" (hairpiece) made of porcupine hair (not quills) and deer tail.

Between 9:30 and 2 today and Wednesday, kids can enjoy the music of an Iroquois flutist or listen to a Kato storyteller or watch a Comanche make arrowheads or talk with a Cherokee about the buffalo and horse he'll have with him.

Julie Hall, Snellville's director of parks, said the event is open to the public; admission is $8.

Brown will be there to explain to them why he's not an "Indian" (he's not from India) or simply a "Native American" (as is everyone born and raised in this country) and why his people aren't a "tribe" (just as Germans aren't members of the "Germany tribe," or Italians don't belong to the "Italy tribe").

He'll tell them how only the native people of the Plains --- Crow, Sioux, Comanche, Blackfoot, Cheyenne and others --- lived in tepees, while the Cherokee lived in round dwellings, and farmed and hunted.

And that he wears face paint (not war paint) in accordance with a vision inspired by one deity (the Creator, or Father, or Great Spirit), not the many gods his people were said to have worshipped.

The event, Brown emphasized, is not a powwow, which is pretty much a social gathering that in modern times often is a fairly commercial affair.

And while the kids are learning about native people and their culture, Brown also expects to teach a few adults a thing or two.

"Some, bless their hearts, still call me 'Chief,' or raise their hands and say, 'How,' " he said. "We never went around saying, 'How' --- that's all Hollywood, and my main goal is to undo the stereotyping of my people."

    Maps by Travel

Eastern Band of Cherokee
Thank you for visiting the official home page of the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians. The Cherokee Indian Reservation is located in western North Carolina and is home to 12,500 enrolled members. We are adjacent to both the Great Smoky Mountains National Park and Blue Ridge Parkway.

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  Canku Ota is a free Newsletter celebrating Native America, its traditions and accomplishments . We do not provide subscriber or visitor names to anyone. Some articles presented in Canku Ota may contain copyright material. We have received appropriate permissions for republishing any articles. Material appearing here is distributed without profit or monetary gain to those who have expressed an interest. This is in accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. section 107.  

Canku Ota is a copyright © 2000, 2001 of Vicki Lockard and Paul Barry.


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