“I respect all the things the Native Americans have gone through with the government. They have stood up and survived,” Fallingwaters explained. “They held on to their heritage.”
Fallingwaters, also known as Donna Jean Barone, discovered her great-grandmother was of the Shawnee tribe in 1996.
“Finding out about my heritage has made me stronger,” she shared. “It has made me determined to be a better person.”
The Shawnee tribe was predominately from Ohio, Kentucky and Indiana before their removal to Oklahoma. The distance has led Fallingwaters to embrace the rich Cherokee culture found in Southeast Tennessee. She is often seen around Cleveland wearing homemade, Native American jewelry.
“People will call out, ‘Hey what tribe are you in?’ Some even ask to take a picture with me,” she shared.
Inquisitors are welcomed to a ready smile. Fallingwaters is always ready to answer questions.
“We are here to help others; that is our purpose in life. I think everyone is here to love and to give love,” she said. “When you give love you get it back, usually a hundredfold.”
She visited historic Red Clay State Park, in Bradley County, for the first time in 1998. Red Clay was home to the Cherokee government in the 1830s. Today, the historic park is a certified interpretive site on the Trail of Tears. Festivals and ceremonies at the park allow Fallingwaters to celebrate the rich culture. In the late 1990s she began practicing her “Native American” ways. These included craftwork and studying up on the history of the Shawnee and Cherokee tribes.
“I asked if anyone knew someone who did a naming ceremony,” Fallingwaters said. “Fred Bradley, a friend and storyteller at Red Clay, said, ‘You don’t have to go to anybody, why don’t you just go to God and ask him? Go home and pray and ask him to give you a name.’”
She sat before the prayer altar in her home. Drumming music filled the room. Eyes closed, she quieted herself.
“I emptied out my mind. I did not have a thought in there. I just let go,” she shared with bright eyes. “All of the sudden, maybe 15 minutes later, I hear this voice in my head — ‘Falling Waters.’”
The name reflected the pictures of waterfalls posted, placed, and sitting around the room.
“I opened my eyes and looked up at the poster and thought, ‘How appropriate,’” she recalled. “I love being around waterfalls. I have some of the most beautiful pictures of Bald River Falls that would just blow your mind.”
At that moment, D.J. Barone became Fallingwaters. The naming ceremony had been a success. On legal papers she is still D.J. Barone, but in her heart she is Fallingwaters.
“I just love my heritage and I am very thankful for who I am,” she shared.
According to Fallingwaters, the Cherokee are very God-fearing people.
“Sometimes I call on the Great Spirit, sometimes Jehovah, sometimes Yaweh. I call him whatever. I feel like he knows,” Fallingwaters said. “You know what I mean?”
Fallingwaters said that she has been through a lot in her lifetime and God has been with her every step of the way.
“I was disabled for four months in the 1980s,” she revealed. “I could not walk. I was in so much pain that I was on a narcotic I had to renew every seven days.”
The source of Fallingwaters’ pain was a pinched sciatic nerve in her back. The pinched nerve affected everything from her back down to her foot. The doctors told her surgery would give her a 50 percent chance of walking again.
“I was in excruciating pain,” she recalled. “I had to crawl on my hands and knees to go to the bathroom. I had to have people carry me out to the car.”
Finally, Fallingwaters told God she could not take the pain any longer. She felt he wanted her to go to Teen Challenge. The conference was being held 15 blocks from her house.
“It took me two hours to get there,” Fallingwaters said as she recalled the excruciating walk.
Two women took her under their wings and began praying. The ladies each took a hand and held it up in the air.
“It was like a bottle of warm oil fell on my head and it was so warm and heavy. I could feel it as it went down,” Fallingwaters shared. “When it hit the base of my spine both ladies knew that I was healed. I knew that I was healed. Every bit of pain left me.”
Blessings and miracles have a way of finding themselves in Fallingwaters’ life.
“These glasses are a miracle,” Fallingwaters said as she points to the pair on her head. “One of the people I work for gave me a $300 gift certificate and I was able to get two eyeglasses and an eye exam.”
According to Fallingwaters, her cleaning business, Fallingwater Dreams, keeps her busy. She can be seen riding around Cleveland on her bike from house to house. She is often blessed by the people whose houses she cleans.
“I think they honor my faith. If you give all that you have and all that you are, then people will notice that,” she said. “Because I put everything into my work, God blesses me through these people. I give all the glory to Jehovah for my life on this earth!”
Fallingwaters’ passionate spirit has given direction and color in life. Last year, she rode 100 miles in 10 hours for Habitat for Humanity’s Bike to Build. Currently, she is kept busy learning the Cherokee language, known as Tsalagi. The language is believed to be spoken by 22,000 people today, primarily in Oklahoma and North Carolina. Fallingwaters has friends in the Chattanooga area who are able to speak Tsalagi, as well.
“I have the gift of song; I sing,” Fallingwaters shared. “I found a girl singing the Cherokee version of ‘Amazing Grace’ online and I would sing along with her. As I learned the song, I was learning the meaning of the words, as well.”
The meaning of the Tsalagi lyrics are different from the English version penned by John Newton. The first line reads, ‘U ne la nv i u we tsi,’ and means ‘God’s son.’ The complete stanza is “God’s Son paid for us, now to Heaven went after paying for us.” These were the words being sung during the Cherokee nation’s forced march, according to Fallingwaters. This resilient and sweet spirit is one reason she is so drawn to the Cherokee culture.
“I see myself in the Native American fighting spirit,” she shared. “If you have a desire to find out about your heritage, do.”
Those interested in researching their history can do so through birth records, library archives, or a genealogy website like Ancestry.com. To view Fallingwaters’ homemade crafts, visit nativeamericandreams.webs.com.