By ROBERT JUMPER
ONE FEATHER EDITOR
The subject of rights of tribal members to use culturally sensitive words and imagery for business and product brands was debated during the regular session of Tribal Council on Thursday, April 5. In a resolution proposed by Jatanna Feather and Lea Wolf, they asked that “Tribal Council and Business Committee…disassociate all business with the Seven Clans Brewery brand and product that uses the Cherokee culture, heritage, history, and names as it is not honorable for our ancestors who are buried at Kituwah and those who have suffered or lost their lives at the hands of alcohol abuse…we ask Tribal Council to send a public statement to Harrah’s to cut all ties with any company that is abusing our culture, heritage, and identity to promote monetary gain”.
Debate started at approximately 5: 15pm after Tribal Council elected to continue to hear resolutions to finish up the agenda instead of reconvening on Friday. Feather initially requested that time constraints normally in place for the hearing of resolutions be suspended to allow “us to discuss this”. Tribal Council Chairman Adam Wachacha, from Snowbird/Cherokee County, polled the members of Council who agreed to suspend the time limits.
Feather, an EBCI tribal member from the Birdtown Community, expressed that she has 653 signatures on a petition against the use of the names “Mother Town” and “Seven Clans Brewing Company” from tribal members. She stated that, with her resolution, she was addressing a “public outcry” concerning the brewing company’s decision to use cultural names for their business name and product, which she and many who came to the podium, described as disrespectful to the Cherokee culture and people.
She equated the use of the names to desecration and destruction of Kituwah and the tribal members buried there. Feather stated that alcohol and its effects are a “direct assault on the sacred parts of our culture”.
Lea Wolfe, an EBCI tribal member from the Painttown Community, echoed the thought that the naming of the products was very dishonorable to the Tribe. She tied the use of the product names to historical trauma, saying that using the Cherokee references furthered cultural assimilation, leading Cherokee people to mental illness and distrust. She said that the company owners “are doing this to their own people” through the use of these names on their product.
Collette Coggins, an EBCI tribal member from the Birdtown Community and co-owner of Seven Clans Brewing Company, said that she is a member of the Tribe and, as such, may create, own, operate any legal business that she chooses to do. She disagreed with the ability of the Tribe or group of citizens to manipulate a business or business owner, just because they didn’t like it.
“This is a private business,” she noted. “It is not open for discussion.”
She mentioned speaking with several tribal leaders, including Principal Chief Richard G. Sneed, Vice Chief Alan “B.” Ensley, and Chairman Wachacha, who she said spoke with her in a respectful manner, saying that community members had expressed concerns about the name of the beer.
Coggins stated that the creators of the drink had a feeling about the reason behind the name than those who contacted tribal officials.
“It was not meant to be controversial or degrading,” she said. “It is each individual’s perception of what something means to them.”
Coggins said she had previously had a three-hour meeting with Feather, where she (Coggins) agreed to voluntarily discontinue “Mother Town Blonde Ale” after all the current run was distributed.
Coggins indicated that Feather had accepted that decision and “was perfectly fine with it”.
Coggins insisted that she cares for and was thinking about her community in creating her product. “For every dollar that is made off of my beer on the Reservation here, we all as collective enrolled members make 30 percent% of it.”
She added that she feels that those bringing in the resolution are not concerned about the alcohol, but that they have a personal grievance with her. She stated that there are already companies distributing beers using Cherokee names and references, but there has been no public outcry again those.
Painttown Rep. Tommye Saunooke expressed that she did feel that the use of Mother Town on the alcohol product was disrespectful and had a question about the use of Seven Clans without the permission of all three federally recognized Cherokee tribes. Interim EBCI Attorney General Mike McConnell explained that the tribes would have to obtain copyright or trademark protection for the words to dictate the use.
Big Cove Rep. Perry Shell said when he first saw the name he was shocked. He stated that he is pro-business and hopes that the company is successful. He said he feels that it is time to set guidelines to prevent the use of words that would be insulting to the Tribe. He feels we must respect and honor the things that define us as a people. He said that just because something is legal, doesn’t necessarily make it right.
Vice Chairman David Wolfe expressed that the current wording of the proposed legislation would not achieve the goal that Feather desired. He said he helped Feather to write an amendment to help with that.
The amendment proposed was worded, “…to ask Tribal Council to instruct (the Attorney General) to establish an ordinance that would regulate the use of cultural, traditional business names that appear derogatory in nature to be established in 120 days.”
McConnell stated that he would carry out any direction from the Council, and did identify challenges, including defining what would be considered “derogatory” for the purposes of the legislation.
There were several members of the community who expressed their beliefs concerning the use of “Mother Town” and “Seven Clans” on the brewery product, some citing cultural concerns, while others supported the business owner’s use of “Seven Clans”. At times during the discussion, speakers expressed personal insults and attacks, some racial in nature.
Throughout the session, Chairman Wachacha called for civility and professional conduct.
Tribal Council voted to amend and then unanimously approved the resolution giving the Attorney General’s Office 120 days to propose an ordinance. Seven Clans Brewing Company’s operations were not affected by the adoption of this resolution and will continue to operate with its name intact.