The Echota Cherokee Tribe of Alabama are the descendants of those Indian people who escaped the infamous “Trail of Tears” by hiding out in the mountainous backwoods and lowlands of the Southeast. Others fled from the march after it began and others simply walked away and came home after reaching Indian Territory. They are state recognized by the State of Alabama.
The members of the Echota Cherokee Tribe of Alabama kept to themselves, did not speak the language and did not teach it to their children for fear the child might speak it in the presence of someone who would learn the secret of their ancestry. If this happened, they could immediately be taken into custody and sent to Indian Territory in the west. Everything they owned could be given away by the State.
Official Tribal Name: Echota Cherokee Tribe of Alabama, Inc.
Mailing Address: P. O. Box 830, Vinemont AL 35179
Physical Address: 630 County Rd 1281, Falkville AL
As much as possible the Echota Cherokee people assimilated into the white populace and claimed to be “Black Dutch” or some other type of European to explain their slightly darker color. Since nearly all work was done outdoors, most people had a tan anyway. However, most remember stories of family members who always wore large straw hats and long sleeves in the summer because they did not want to become any darker than they already were.
During the early gatherings, old stories or “legends” were told, crafts were demonstrated, and those who still knew a few words of the Cherokee language shared it with all. They struggled then and struggle now to preserve their history and the remnants of their culture.
At a meeting in Opelika, Alabama on March 16, 1980 the name, “ECHOTA” was chosen. The Phoenix was chosen as the tribe’s symbol since they were rising from the ashes of their burned villages and forced removal, to join and reclaim that which was almost lost.
To conform to the standards of today’s world, corporation papers were filed and the Echota became a legal, legitimate entity. By-Laws were written as well as a Mission Statement. A tribal newsletter was started and it has grown from one page to ten pages.
After a four-year struggle to establish an Indian Affairs Commission that would represent all the tribes in the state of Alabama, and to gain “State Recognition,” this became a reality with the passage of the Davis-Strong Act in 1984.
A dance team was formed and practiced relentlessly. Progress was slow and not without its trials and tribulations.
As tribal membership grew, Clans began to form and meetings were held in many areas of the state. The dance team became the largest in the state and performed an average of twice a month in Alabama and adjoining states, at its peak. The Team finally ceased their activities after about ten years when there were not enough drummers and dancers to continue.
Progress continued and six Indian Education Programs were implemented across North Alabama. One tribal member was elected to the State Legislature, one as State Auditor and on to the State Democratic Executive Committee.
The tribe bought nineteen acres of land in St. Clair County in 1990 and has recently purchased fifty acres in Cullman County. In February 2002, the tribe was gifted with ten acres on Smith Lake. Plans are to build a Cultural Center that will include a museum, library, gift shop, meeting rooms, kitchen, a vault to store artifacts and a Tribal Office Complex on the fifty-acre site. Additional plans include the possibility of a campground, bathhouses, refreshment stand and Festival grounds. Tribal members hope to become involved in agribusiness to provide income for the Tribe and jobs for their people.
Since earliest contact with European explorers in the 1500’s, the Cherokee have been recognized as the most advanced among the American Indian Tribes. With a culture that thrived for 500 years in the Southeastern part of the United States, the Cherokees developed and progressed in their own way by watching and learning from their non-Indian neighbors. The Cherokee had developed a system of government and a cultural society that matched the most “civilized” at the time.
The Cherokee are the only race of people in recorded history who are known to have developed an alphabet or syllabary and learned to read and write in one generation. It is this progressive lifestyle that gave the remnants of those left behind the endurance and ambition to preserve the culture, even when it had to be done in secret.
The Tribe holds Pow Wows or Festivals each year to share their culture with the public. New dancers are again dancing at Festivals and special events.
There are seven Clans within the tribe and each Clan has their own agenda as far as their activities are concerned.
The Governing Body of the Tribe consists of a Principal Chief, a Tribal Chairman, a Recording Secretary, a Membership Secretary, a Records Keeper, a Treasurer and a six member tribal Council.
With the opening of a tribal office on land in Falkville, AL, this tribe hope to take some of the load off the many volunteers who have served in the above positions for so many years. Also of great importance, the Tribe will finally have a permanent address.
- Cherokee Nation (F)
- Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians (F)
- United Keetoowah Band of Cherokee Indians in Oklahoma (F)
- Also see: State and Un-Recognized Cherokee Tribes for a list of 348 state recognized or unrecognized Cherokee tribes.