Thanks for inquiring about the Free Cherokees. I am pleased to give you this information. There is a lot of discussion about us in the Indian World. Most of it demonstrates an honest interest in us while some of it is hostile. Even as I am forced to recognize that there will always be some critics who debate in bad faith (twisting out words, attributing behaviors to us that we abhor), I am also sure that most of our critics are men and women of good faith who are fervently trying to protect the most sacred elements of their culture. I honor their efforts. Feel free to use this information in any way that will foster respectful dialogue.
I am Duncan Sings-Alone and I am the founder and former principal chief of the Free Cherokees. My anglo name is C. W. Duncan. My real name was given to me by the Spirits after my first Vision Quest. Sings-Alone is only part of the whole name. My mother, when asked how long I have been an Indian, answered innocently, "He has been a Cherokee all his life." I am not enrolled in either of the three Federally recognized Cherokee Tribes. If you know Cherokee history you will know that many Cherokees refused to be enrolled. Redbird Smith, probably the best known traditional sacred person among the people, had to be handcuffed and forcibly enrolled. There is among us a long tradition of not belonging to anything authorized by the U.S. Government.
The events around Wounded Knee and the consciousness raising by AIM brought me home to the people. I spent seven years in intensive training and praying. During most of the year I was sweating four times a week. I lived then as I do now with the Sacred Pipe. I am most at home in the Sweat Lodge. I have Vision Quested many times including four days and nights without food or water. I have gone on the hill time after time to learn what the Creator wanted from me. I will not publish the names of my teachers here because they are not Free Cherokees, and should not be held responsible for the Free Cherokees. I don't want them criticized for what I have done in following my vision, but my "credentials" are impeccable.
In June of 1989 1 was on the hill "crying for a Vision". The Grandfathers came to me and told me the time was right to establish a group for assimilated Indians who were wanting to come home. During my first Vision Quest years earlier, I had been told that my life's work would be with urban, assimilated Indians.
The group would be free of Government control or support ... hence we would be called "free" Cherokees. This is in no way a put down of our cousins in the government tribes ... it is simply a statement about us. We have no claim on the government. We do not ask for government money or health or education. We have no land claims but support our cousins in theirs. We exist simply to gather under our wings the thousands of breeds out there who want to come home and learn "real" things.
I was perplexed by the instruction to establish the Free Cherokees. I could foresee a million problems. I would have preferred to continue my own lodge and teach in a more limited way. But one thing is sure ... you don't "cry for a vision" and then say, "I don't want that one. Gimme another."
One of the first decisions of our Council of Chiefs was to make clear to everyone that we are not a New Age group. We are attacked equally by the young warriors who refuse to recognize anyone as Indian unless they are government certified, and by the New Agers who want to "try out" a sweat or rail at us for insisting on the purity and sacredness of our ceremonies. I have no quarrel with New Agers unless they appropriate our ceremonies, use them without understanding, and change them according to the latest fad. I have real problems with that.
No one makes a dime from any of our work. Our workers are volunteer at the present time. We hope that someday soon we will be able to support a paid publications staff so that we can publish the "New Phoenix" more often and publish other kinds of teaching material. For now, we are totally supported by contributions, by subscriptions to our paper, and by a one time charge for expenses associated with enrollment. Even that is waived if the person cannot afford it. One of the few things forbidden to a Free Cherokee individual or Band is to charge for any sacred ceremony or teaching. We also require that any ceremony which is purported to be traditional, must be demonstrably so.
We are trying very hard not only to mend the hoop of the people, but to create a larger one. All of us are standing at the beginning of a new world. Prophecies from the Hopi, other tribes, and other religions as well as from our own visionaries tell us that this is so. We no longer have the luxury of dreaming about mending the hoop. Our survival depends on it. We no longer have the luxury of each tribe enjoying its own hoop while excluding all others. For the first time all the Indian Tribes need each other, need to stand together. We can no longer exclude anyone from the hoop if he or she is answering the Creator's call to walk the sacred road respectfully.
The Creator has shown me a hoop made up of full bloods and breeds, of traditionals, of reservation Indians, of urban Indians, of assimilated Indians coming home, and of Non-Indians whose hearts beat in synch with the Grandmother. Spirits have said that the bones of seven generations of Non-Indians are buried on this land, and that their children also will come to walk the sacred path. Elder Medicine Men of the traditional tribes are teaching that the Four Wind colors of red, black, white and yellow also stand for the four races of human beings.
The Free Cherokees do not create Indians. Most of us already are. There are Non-Indian Free Cherokees as well, but enrollment in our tribe only makes one a Free Cherokee. It does not transform one into a genetic Indian. Since we don't require government money and, are not asking for any other Tribe's benefits, the blood quantum issue for us is moot. It is entirely possible for someone to fraudulently join with us. They could even enroll their pet canary if they wanted to commit fraud. We do not have the money or machinery to protect ourselves from that kind of fraud, and after all, it would be irrelevant. We have a legitimate and sacred mission and purpose which fraud cannot deter.
The sacred circle must be big enough for all, and the key to mending the hoop is mutual respect. Our traditional cousins must avoid the knee-jerk reaction of putting down all "returning" breeds as wannabees. We, for our part, must demonstrate that we are respectful, careful and honorable in handling the sacred ceremonies and teachings which have been given to us by our elders.
As the founder of the Free Cherokees, I recognize my responsibility to interpret what we are doing so that our traditional cousins can understand, even if they do not approve. I am probably as hard-nosed about the ceremonies and teachings as any traditional. There may be differences about certain words, but there is real agreement about the broader, sacred issues.
There are certain words which get bandied around. Medicine Man, Medicine Woman, Tribe, Chief. Let me clarify our use of these words.
We avoid calling any of our people "Medicine" anything. I don't like the word because it implies what is not so. I know of no Free Cherokee who can be compared to Chief Fools Crow, Black Elk, Dawson No-Horse or Redbird Smith. Any Free Cherokee who would call himself a medicine man or medicine woman in the same way those men were would deserve to be laughed at. However, we have people who have been traditionally and carefully trained to do sacred things such as carry the Sacred Pipe, pour water, etc.
We call ourselves a Tribe but not in the sense that traditional people may think of a Tribe. We are a Tribe of people who are committed to each other, but we come from many tribal families. Most of us are of Cherokee descent. However, many other tribes are represented among us. We use the word "Tribe" because it feels more right for us than "organization".
We call our Band leaders, "Chiefs". A Chief is a person whom the people recognize as their leader. A few of our Band leaders prefer to call themselves "directors". This is okay too. We mean no offense to any other group by referring to our leadership as a council of Chiefs. This is the decision of our people and reflects on no one else.
So, here we are, a renewed tribe with 6 bands, clans and councils in every region across this turtle continent. We ask nothing from the federally recognized tribes. We don't ask their permission to exist, but we would like their friendship. We do not infringe on their government grants or their treaty rights. We support them in every way that we can and have been doing so all along.
We may not have had the advantage or disadvantage of growing up on a reservation (I know something about the good and bad, having lived and worked on one), but we are coming home. The Free Cherokees are here to stay. There has to be room for our kind of Indians in the world and in the hoop of the nations.
I offer this as a prayer.
All My Relations