Diamond Brown Jr., Cherokee cultural leader walks on

By Albert Bender
News From Indian Country
It is with heavy heart that I write this column on revered Cherokee cultural leader, educator and former Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians (EBCI)  Council representative Diamond Brown Jr. walked on in the early hours of Tuesday, February 9, 2016.  He was 59 years old.

His was a life was one of strength and leadership in the service of  Cherokee traditions, culture and history.  Advocacy of the Cherokee way was the benchmark by which he lived.

Diamond was born March 20, 1956, the first of three sons born to Diamond and Frieda Brown, Sr. he grew up in the Snowbird section of the eastern Cherokee Reservation. Snowbird is known as a stronghold of Cherokee tradition and language preservation. Diamond was full-blooded Cherokee and his Native name was Go-Sti which means “Sharp”. The name fit him well. He was a member of the Deer Clan and an educator who taught the culture to all ages. Diamond traveled all over the United States  sharing his knowledge. He had been teaching as a Cherokee educator since 1988.

At an early age, seventeen, he moved to Georgia and worked as a meat cutter in a grocery store. While there he met his future wife, Sandra Fenn. They married in 1981 and became the proud parents of three beautiful daughters, Brooke, Dakota and Wahlalah.

Together, Diamond and Sandra founded a stellar Native education program, Touch the Earth with Native People, which at one time employed more than  20 full-tine performers and staff. With this project they traveled extensively throughout the country sharing Cherokee culture with stunning living history presentations, authentic tribal regalia and astounding dance performances.  

He  also performed in various  stage plays including Pyramid of Light, We Remember and We Do Not Forget, all of which were poignant exhibitions of music and drama. He had been featured in the movie entitled Follow the River and in a number of documentaries throughout the years. He was  also prominently featured in the beautiful pictographic book of Native culture, We Dance Because We Can.

There is a bronze sculpture of Diamond at the Courthouse Square in Dahlonega, Georgia. Dahlonega is where gold was first discovered in Cherokee country in 1828. At the Cummings Georgia Sawtee  Nature Preserve  there  is a ten foot bronze sculpture of him. Diamond was an outspoken advocate for taking care of the earth, the ecosystems and the overall environment.   

Being active in the politics of the Cherokee people, beginning in 2009 he served four years on the Tribal Council as the Snowbird/ Cherokee County representative. A tireless worker for the Cherokee people he led or supported many needed projects such as the newly-opened Cherokee Indian Hospital, the tribal casino in Cherokee County, enrollment DNA testing, the new EBCI Justice Center and a Snowbird HIP Housing Development.

But, he  later felt that the best way to make a difference for Cherokee people in reference to the mainstream society was through education. In his travels as an ambassador for the Cherokees he always conducted himself with honor and dignity. He was known among Cherokees as a culture keeper, remembering , keeping and sharing and teaching the Native Ways.

Friends remember him as a proud son of the Eastern Band who found joy in strong coffee and home cooked meals, particularly breakfast; he cast aside any kind of pessimism or negativity: and enjoyed mundane pleasures such as  coloring Easter eggs and classic TV shows like Andy Griffith and Bonanza. Others remember him as a loyal friend and brother who never backed down from a fight or denied someone in distress. He was one of those kind of guys you could call any time day or night to help pull a car out of a ditch on a deserted icy Rez  back road.

I only knew him for a short time but meeting him and his devoted wife was very special in that I found them both very inspirational in their dedication to the preservation and exhibition of Cherokee culture. Diamond was always full of  positive  energy, goodwill and good humor. I always looked forward to seeing him at the Native American Indian Association (NAIA) Powwow in Nashville.

This past October he was unable to make the Powwow due to an ailment that required hospitalization, but none of us here had any idea of the seriousness of the illness.

His encampment at the Powwow was always filled with spectators of all ages listening with rapt attention as he shared his knowledge and watched wide-eyed at his exhibitions. His Cherokee skills included pottery, arrow making, blowgun demonstration, dancing, basket making, hide tanning, fire making, herbs and medicine, environmental story telling, constructing of shelters, weaponry, leatherwork, games and history.  

“Diamond was one of our traditionalists  who taught  the Native way of life before it was popular and was a part of the movement to restore and keep alive traditional Cherokee culture” said longtime friend, Reuben Teesatuskie.

Diamond was a tremendous talent, with tremendous knowledge and tremendous dedication to the Cherokee way. He shall be tremendously missed.

Friends will remember him as a proud son of the Eastern Band and man of the world who found joy in an impressive collection of cruiser motorcycles, vintage pick-up trucks, and bright red corvettes.  He loved strong coffee and delicious home cooked meals, especially breakfast; disdained any kind of pessimism or negativity; gave friendly ribbings to those he liked, and enjoyed simple pleasures like coloring Easter eggs and watching classic TV shows, Andy Griffith and Bonanza.  Others will remember him as a loyal friend and brother who never backed down from a fight or denied someone in need.  One of those rare buddies you could call at 3am to help pull a car out of ditch on a deserted, icy back road.

*Diamond was preceded in death by a brother, Merlyn Brown of Snowbird in 2002.

He is survived by his faithful wife of 34 years, Sandra Marlene Fenn Brown of Snowbird; daughters Brooke, Dakota, and Wahlalah Brown, all of Cherokee; granddaughters, Celeste Spruce and Winter Wildcatt, both of Cherokee; parents, Diamond Brown Sr. and Frieda Rattler Brown of Snowbird; brothers, Verlyn Brown of Snowbird and Russell Selph of Atlanta, Ga.; and countless family, friends, and relations.

Services were held Feb. 12 at Snowbird Complex with Long House Funeral Home of Cherokee entrusted with preparations.  A traditional burial followed at the Brown Family Cemetery.

Kituwah fire keepers, Benny Mendia and Eddie Paul, made medicine. DJ Robinson, James Fenn, Corey Fenn, Eli Selph, Cassidy Galaviz, and Cruz Galaviz served as pall bearers.  Honorary pall bearers were Eddie Chekelelee, Scott Chekelelee, Robbie Lewis, Israel Weeks, Robin Jumper, and Terry Rattler.

The family also extends its deepest appreciation to the dedicated and caring staff at Cherokee Indian Hospital; to longtime friend Ruben Teesateskie and volunteers for hosting a recent benefit dinner in Yellow Hill; to the family of the late Wayne Henderson for a precious gift of seven long glorious years; and the many relatives and friends across Indian Country who have offered love and prayers during Diamond’s prolonged illness.

*Portions of this obituary were added by NFIC from the Cherokee One Feather.

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