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Echota Cherokee Tribe of Alabama Boycott

On Monday, June 13th, 2011, I renounced my membership with the Echota Cherokee Tribe of Alabama and organized a boycott against the tribe for their discrimination against gays and non-Christians. All tribal members should know the facts before they join the tribe, attend gatherings, or pay their annual membership dues.


Embrace and Celebrate Diversity

The Cherokee people were once a society that valued the diversity of the people within their community. Many of the modern Cherokee tribes have forgotten this aspect of their culture.

Throughout the history of Native Americans, tribes believed that everyone had a gift and something to contribute to society. Today, the term Two Spirit is commonly used within tribes to describe gays, lesbians, bisexuals, and transgendered (LGBT) people. It should be noted that not all two spirit people identify themselves as LGBT.

More than 155 Nations had roles for Two Spirit people, and each had a specific name, meaning, and traditions, including: n�dleeh� (Navaho), winkte (Lakota), alyha and hwame (Mohave), and he'eman (Cheyenne). Two Spirit Native Americans were greatly respected in their communities in the past, but the anti-LGBT sentiment found in other American communities is often the norm in Native American communities today. [Source: GLAAD.org]

We are organizing a boycott against the Echota Cherokee Tribe of Alabama after a recent decision by their governing body to discriminate against the two-spirit community, gays, lesbians, and non-Christian members of the tribe.

In an email from a clan leader Stanley [stanleyandhelen@bellsouth.net] on Tuesday, April 5, 2011:

On 2 April 2011, The Governing Body of The Echota Cherokee Tribe of Alabama met at the Tribal Office Complex at Falkville, Alabama. After a timely meeting, I was able to bring to the floor the question of the celebration of two-spirit community [Ski-gin] or backwards dancers. After much discussion of our traditional ways and customs and traditional ways and customs of other areas across this U.S.A., The Echota Cherokee of Alabama's Governing Body decision was that The Echota Cherokee Tribe of Alabama does not celebrate the two-spirit community or backwards dancers. [emphasis added]

Do the tribal leaders even realize what they just said? I am a member of the two spirit community. I'm also a human rights activist, so I immediately sent a message to all of the tribal leaders (as were listed on their web site):

-------- Original Message --------
Subject: Opposition to your April 2nd decision
From: "Gary Wright II" [Gary@Gary-Wright.com]
Date: Mon, May 16, 2011 7:22 pm
To: echotacherokeetribe4@yahoo.com, graywolf4@bellsouth.net, wayneyates@bellsouth.net, deerclan1@verizon.net, stanleyandhelen@bellsouth.net, bmartin@charterinternet.com

Echota Cherokee Tribe of Alabama

Dear tribal leaders,

I was disappointed to hear that our tribal council governing body had decided not to allow a Skigin to dance at the upcoming powwow.

The exact words were: "The Echota Cherokee of Alabama's Governing Body decision was that The Echota Cherokee Tribe of Alabama does not celebrate the two-spirit community or backwards dancers."

Among our population, over 10% identify themselves as gay, lesbian, bisexual, or transexual/transgender (LGBT). Most Americans support equal rights for gays and lesbians; therefore, the decision to exclude two-spirits will be found offensive to a large number of our members. There are also many LGBT activists and organizations which will be wholly interested in this recent decision.

The council decision clearly violates the following tribal standards:

CODE OF ETHICS: Respect all things that are placed upon this earth - whether it be people or plant. Honor other people's thoughts, wishes, and words. Allow each person the right to personal expression. Respect others religious beliefs. Do not force your belief on others.

MISSION STATEMENT: To support the preservation of traditional Cherokee culture, language, and values. To continuously strive to maintain the dignity of the American Indian by always treating others with the utmost respect and courtesy.

Since I was not present for the discussion, I am requesting the minutes of the April 2nd, 2011 meeting, along with a full transcript of the debate.

For many years, I have been a LGBT human rights activist and have always been proud of the attitude of acceptance that exists among our tribal members. In mid-April, I will be doing several interviews with the local and national media, and this recent decision by the tribe will likely be a topic of discussion. The tribe may want to consult with an attorney, since legal action is also a possibility. If the tribe would like to make a public statement or appoint a spokesperson for the media, please let me know.

I hope that the tribal council will reconsider its decision of exclusion. Unless timely action is taken to remedy this mistake, great dishonor and public embarrassment will likely befall our tribe and damage the reputation of our good people.

Regards,

Gary Wright II


The first response I received was this message:

From: WAYNE YATES [wayneyates@bellsouth.net]
Date: Tue, May 17, 2011 5:44 pm

Gary,I am not sure why you sent me this e-mail since I am not on the Governing Body.How ever,I would like to respond to your e-mail as one old Indian to another not for the Wolf Clan nor for The Echota Tribe of Alabama,just for myself only. I can not place who you are,I do not believe I have ever met you at one of the Tribal meetings or gatherings.So I am not sure why this and why now. There is a lot I do not understand about the old Cherokee ways,but one thing I do understand is their two core beliefs.They had a deep reverence for The Creator and that The Creator was due all their respect and worship. They all so saw The Creator's Creation as a gift and should be treated with respect. They saw their roll in Creation as caretakers or servants of the Creator.This was the foundation of their world view. You know what,this is not half bad. To be frank it is a very good and healthy out look on life. The old Cherokee would have never thought they had the right to recreate their on perverted sex that was not fully male or female. That would have gone against the grain of these old people. When I read The Echota Tribe of Alabama's Code of Ethics and mission statement,I take the meaning to be as the old Cherokee would have visioned it not as a modern day activist with another kind of agenda would look at it. Clearly there are some other problems with those that celebrate the two-Sprite community and do the backward dance. They are bi-set with problems of their on making. You state that unless The Tribe go,s along with your wishes it would bring great dishonor and public embarrassment. I know two organization that in some ways are similar to The Echota Tribe of Alabama. Both took the way you hope our Tribe would not take. They are The United Methodist Church and The Boy Scouts of America. The results for both have been positive even with activist like yourself and our national media raking them over the coals. I do not know what our Tribe will do because it speaks with a collective voice. For my part,I hope they take your low road and stand by their convictions. If they do this, they will have never been higher in this old Cherokees eyes. Regards,
Wayne Yates

I respect the right for a person to believe in what they want - even if it may differ from my own beliefs. I am not of the Christian faith, but I still have respect for Christians and their beliefs. The only "confused individuals" are these leaders who think it acceptable to force their religious beliefs onto everyone else.

If you say you have deep reverence for creation and that all creations should be treated with great respect, how can you turn around and disrespect such a large number of people?

To say, "The old Cherokee would have never thought they had the right to recreate their on perverted sex that was not fully male or female." is not accurate. Of course the Cherokee people didn't recreate a new "perverted sex," it was the Creator who is responsible for gays, lesbians, bisexuals, transsexuals, hermaphrodites, and every other beautiful human being that walks this world. If you are saying the Creator's creation is perverted, then that doesn't mesh well with your whole "respect all things" argument. The Cherokee did not create the concept of Two Spirit people. Two-spirit people are recognized and respected in over 155 Native American nations.

I am afraid to ask what Yates means by: "Clearly there are some other problems with those that celebrate the two-Sprite community and do the backward dance. They are bi-set with problems of their on making." I think most of the problems they face are certainly not their own making - the problems mostly exist because of misguided people such as Yates who want the rest of the world to follow in his religious views.

The statement "The United Methodist Church and The Boy Scouts of America" have seen positive results is completely false. Mainstream religions have had a huge decline in membership in recent years. The Boy Scouts of America lost many of their long-time supporters when they chose to discriminate against gays. When activists (like myself) investigated BSA, they were caught forging their membership rolls in nearly every state in our region to show false attendance numbers. They also falsified documents in an attempt to show racial diversity, which didn't turn out so well either. [Source: 2005 FBI investigation on BSA fraud]

In closing, at least he admits that he wants the tribe to take the "low road" on this issue. We can all be glad that he says he "isn't a member of the governing body."

I responded to Wayne Yates with the following message:

From: Gary Wright II [Gary@Gary-Wright.com]
To: WAYNE YATES [wayneyates@bellsouth.net]
Sent: Tue, May 17, 2011 8:28:10 PM
Subject: RE: Opposition to your April 2nd decision

Thank you for your response; I appreciate your thoughts on this issue. I sent you the message because you were listed on the tribe's web site as the Wolf Clan leader.

This discussion started on Facebook, and I felt it was wrong to tell someone they aren't welcome to dance at our powwow - I don't care who / what they may be.

You may want to take a look at the Facebook group and participate in the ongoing conversation there...

Thanks again for sharing your opinion.

-Gary Wright II

Wayne Yates responded with the following message:

From: WAYNE YATES [wayneyates@bellsouth.net]
Date: Wed, May 18, 2011 8:39 pm

No,they did not say they could not dance at our festival. They could dance the traditional Cherokee Dance not that backwards dance.
Wayne Yates

I wasn't present for the debate and council vote, and that is why I requested the official meeting records. The official response from the tribe was pretty specific when it said: "does not celebrate the two-spirit community or backwards dancers."

The whole purpose of a pow wow is to exchange culture with people unlike ourselves. To tell someone that they can't dance in the circle is both offensive and embarrassing, and it goes completely against the beliefs and practices of most civilized nations. Is there a publication somewhere within the tribe that lists the dances that are / are not acceptable? I can't help but be reminded of a time when the "Indians" performed a dance to renew their spirits. The "white men" didn't understand it and they feared them. It ended in a massacre.


The next response was sent to Yates from Bob Vann (who says he is the Chief of Echota Cherokee Deer Clan West). Why does a tribe only recognized in Alabama have a clan in California at a time when they can't get enough people to join the clans in our own state? Vann should start his own tribe in California, but the accusations toward him by the Cherokee Nation are probably close to the truth. He later sends the same message to me after changing the first line of text.

From: "Bob Vann" [deerclan1@verizon.net]
Date: Wed, May 18, 2011 7:42 pm

Siyo Wayne

Your comments to the confused individual "Gary Wright ll" are right on target as too our beliefs in the old ancestral ways. When the Moravian missionaries arrived in Cherokee country, the Cherokee found it very easy to adopt Christianity as their religious way of life. The conversion was simple as the Cherokee already believed in one Creator and the abundance of gifts that the Creator provided for our very existence. With our Cherokee beliefs strongly emulating that of Christianity, why any Cherokee of faith would agree that the behavior of those who fail to live up to our expectations, convictions and religious beliefs is that of one who fails to live by God's laws. These people are those of whom find it hard to live by God's law and to justify their inability to conform, will try anything and everything to convert the world into believing as they do. Some who wish to justify their own inability to conform to Tribal ways will even resort to threatening the Tribal Council and the Tribal By-Laws to justify their behavior.

When a Tribal member is unable to conform to or abide by the Tribal By-Laws or God's law there is no necessity for a change in our Tribal policy or guidelines. It is clear that the complainer, in this case is reacting to his self inflicted pain. It is not the world that needs to change but that of the individual. We do not live by mans law but that of God's law. Having one to make an issue of this is clearly one who needs to spend a little more time with the Good Book, A man sleeping with a man or a woman sleeping with a woman as being acceptable behavior even though our Holy Bible states the direct opposite is not something that needs to change.

Sincerely
Dr. Robert Nighthawk Vann
Chief Echota Cherokee Deer Clan West
(805) 492-4447
deerclan1@verizon.net

There is so much wrong with those statements that I hardly know where to begin. Vann obviously knows very little of the "old ancestral ways." Here is the message that was sent to me:

From: "Bob Vann" [deerclan1@verizon.net]
Date: Wed, May 18, 2011 10:21

Siyo Gary

Your comments related to what would appear to be associated with your sexual preferences unfortunately go against the beliefs of the Cherokee people. When the Moravian missionaries arrived in Cherokee country, the Cherokee found it very easy to adopt Christianity as their religious way of life. The conversion was simple as the Cherokee already believed in one Creator and the abundance of gifts that the Creator provided for our very existence. With our Cherokee beliefs strongly emulating that of Christianity, why any Cherokee of faith would agree that the behavior of those who fail to live up to our expectations, convictions and religious beliefs is that of one who fails to live by God's laws. These people are those of whom find it hard to live by God's law and to justify their inability to conform, they try to influence others into believing and accepting that which is forbidden by our religious beliefs. Some who wish to justify their own inability to conform to our Tribal ways will even resort to threatening the Tribal Council and the Tribal By-Laws to justify their behavior.

When a Tribal member is unable to conform to or abide by the Tribal By-Laws and more important God's law there is no necessity for a change in our Tribal policy or guidelines. It is clear that the complainer, in this case is reacting to his self inflicted pain. It is not the world that needs to change but that of the individual. We do not live by mans law but that of God's law. Having one to make an issue of this is clearly one who needs to spend a little more time with the Good Book, A man sleeping with a man or a woman sleeping with a woman is unacceptable behavior as is delineated in our Holy Bible.

Sincerely
Dr. Robert Nighthawk Vann
Chief Echota Cherokee Deer Clan West
(805) 492-4447
deerclan1@verizon.net

There are so many lies in this message, I hardly know where to begin. So this means that anyone who doesn't share the same religious beliefs as Mr. Vann is unable to conform to tribal law? This isn't just an attack against gays and lesbians - it is an attack on any member of the tribe who isn't a bible-thumping Christian. This man is just as despicable as those who rounded up the Native Americans, cut their hair, gave them white man's clothes, and forcibly put them into "schools" to tame their savage ways.

His statement "your sexual preferences unfortunately go against the beliefs of the Cherokee people" is not true. He has completely twisted history to serve his own purposes, which is shameful. The fact that the Cherokees allowed the missionaries to join the tribe supports my statement that they valued diversity within their community. Our people had little interest in being converted into Christians, they wanted to learn English so they could understand the language of the "white men."

Several phrases in the The Fabricated Tribes Resolution seem to apply to Mr. Vann and his activities:

Public funding by pseudo-Cherokee Tribes is of epidemic proportions and often involves membership fees; misleading presentations to school children...

Any individual who is not a member of a federally recognized Cherokee tribe, in academia or otherwise, is hereby discouraged from claiming to speak as a Cherokee, or on behalf of Cherokee citizens, or using claims of Cherokee heritage to advance his or her career or credentials.

At this point, I was hoping that Chief Charlotte Hallmark would speak up to correct any tribal leader who feels this way. I went out of my way to resolve this issue in private, but unfortunately the only response I got was silence. I gave the tribal leaders 30 days to either reconsider their decision or to resign. That deadline has now passed, so this boycott has been organized to express our disapproval of the council decision.

The first step in uniting people is to treat them all as equals. If there has ever been a time in our history in which we need to all work together - the time is now.

I wasn't asking them to approve of a religion or lifestyle they didn't agree with. All I wanted was for the leaders to treat every member with respect and dignity. I am so sad that we couldn't agree on such a fundamental issue.


Federal / State Legal Points of Interest

The structure of an organization has many legal and financial implications.

A 501(c)3 may not attempt to influence legislation as a substantial part of its activities and it may not participate in any campaign activity for or against political candidates. The organization must not be organized or operated for the benefit of private interests, and no part of a section 501(c)(3) organization's net earnings may inure to the benefit of any private shareholder or individual. Section 501(c)(3) organizations are restricted in how much political and legislative (lobbying) activities they may conduct. (Source: IRS.gov)


Leadership

Without all of the seven Cherokee clans being active, many members of the tribe have no representation. The tribe has special rules regarding the right to vote, which I think should be lifted under the current circumstances. Every member should have the right to vote and you can't expect people to be a leader in an organization that doesn't give them a say in any of the important matters facing the tribe.

Alabama Code Section 10A-3-2.22 - Removal of officers.
Any officer elected or appointed may be removed by the persons authorized to elect or appoint the officer whenever in their judgment the best interests of the nonprofit corporation will be served thereby. The removal of an officer shall be without prejudice to the contract rights, if any, of the officer so removed. Election or appointment of an officer shall not of itself create contract rights.


Accountability

The next two issues deal with transparency and accountability of a non-profit organization:

Alabama Code Section 10A-3-2.32 - Books and records.
Each nonprofit corporation shall keep correct and complete books and records of account and shall keep minutes of the proceedings of its members, board of directors and committees having any of the authority of the board of directors; and shall keep at its registered office or principal office in Alabama a record of the names and addresses of its members entitled to vote, directors and officers. All books and records of a nonprofit corporation may be inspected by any member, director or officer, or his or her agent or attorney, for any proper purpose at any reasonable time.

Also of interest are the Better Business Bureau Standards for Charity Accountability posted at BBB.org. This example should be used as a model for all charities.

To meet the goals in these areas, an organization must be computerized or it will pay a huge price for the inefficiency of handling paper documents. Efficiency is even more important during tough economic times when every minute and every penny is precious to the organization.

My suggestion is for the tribe to go completely digital. Put the newsletter online, post all organizational documents online, allow applications and renewals to be automated through a web site. Use social networking to connect the members of the tribe who are scattered across the world. Stream live and archive the video of all clan and tribal meetings. Use technology everywhere you can to keep the tribe agile and efficient.


Cherokee Law

While we have addressed many of the federal and state issues, the most important law for the Cherokee people is the Cherokee law itself. The following statements are condensed excerpts from the laws passed by the three Cherokee tribes:

They denounce the state or federal recognition of any further 'Cherokee' tribes or bands, aside from the those already federally recognized, and commit to exposing and assisting state and federal authorities in eradicating any group which attempts or claims to operate as a government of the Cherokee people.

No public funding from any federal or state government should be expended on behalf of non-federally recognized 'Cherokee' tribes or bands or the individual members thereof.

The Cherokee Nation and Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians shall call for a full accounting of all federal monies given to state recognized, unrecognized or 501(c)(3) charitable organizations that claim any Cherokee affiliation.

The federal and state governments should stringently apply a federal definition of "Indian" that includes only citizens of federally recognized Indian tribes, to prevent non-Indians from selling membership in 'Cherokee' tribes for the purpose of exploiting the Indian Arts and Crafts Act.

No 501(c)(3) organization, state recognized or unrecognized groups shall be acknowledged as Cherokee.

Any individual who is not a member of a federally recognized Cherokee tribe, in academia or otherwise, is hereby discouraged from claiming to speak as a Cherokee, or on behalf of Cherokee citizens, or using claims of Cherokee heritage to advance his or her career or credentials.


So, what is next?

Legal measures are being taken by the federally-recognized tribes to dismantle all groups they consider to be fraudulent tribes. Their list of fake tribes includes the Echota Cherokee Tribe of Alabama. In some states, they've succeeded in shutting down existing tribes. They have been preemptive in any of the states that are even considering state-level recognition of tribes.

For the latest information, see our page on federal vs state tribes.

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-- Elias Boudinot - November 25th, 1836


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