May 24, 2016

Artist Kay WalkingStick to the Class of '16 at Pratt: "Take some risks. Become resilient. Treasure curiosity and affection."

Kay WalkingStick, a citizen of the Cherokee Nation and one of the most celebrated artists of Native American ancestry in the world, graciously shares the commencement address she gave last week to graduates of the Pratt Institute in New York. WalkingStick earned her Master's of Fine Art from Pratt in 1975. 

Kay WalkingStick: An American Artist, the first major retrospective of her artistic career, is on view at the National Museum of the American Indian in Washington, D.C., through September 18, 2016.

Kay WalkingStick
Kay WalkingStick in her studio. Easton, Pennsylvania, 2014. Photo by Julia Verderosa

Thank you. It’s an honor to be here speaking to you all. It is great to be back at Pratt.

I have a young friend named Yael Tsorin from Arcadia University, from whence came my undergraduate degree. She is now attending Pratt in the Master's program in Art Therapy and was my studio assistant a few years ago. I’ve had many former students from Cornell come to Pratt for grad school, but this young woman from Arcadia, my alma matter, particularly pleases me. It feels like the circle is complete.

WalkingStick 1974
Kay WalkingStick (Cherokee, b. 1935), A Sensual Suggestion, 1974. Acrylic on canvas, 42 x 48 in. Collection of the artist. Photo by Lee Stalsworth, Fine Art through Photography, LLC

It has been a very long time since I attended Pratt. Forty-one years to be exact. The art world has changed enormously over those years. In 1975 the rage was conceptual art, performance art was still big, and Joseph Kosuth was hot. Nobody gave a damn about French philosophers, and deconstruction had to do with demolishing buildings.

I came here to quickly be a better painter and to be able to teach at the college level. I mean to learn and teach painting—as in putting paint on a prepared canvas and believing that people could convey deep and meaningful ideas that way. My painting did improve. I learned how to think about paintings, conceptualize paintings, and how to talk about art. I spent a lot of time in the New York galleries, uptown and in Soho.—None of them were in Chelsea then.—And I was a woman in a seemingly men’s-only art world. But that was changing, or so I hoped!

Walkingstick 1981
Kay WalkingStick (Cherokee, b. 1935), Montauk II (Dusk), 1983. Acrylic, wax, and ink on canvas, 56 x 56 x 4.25 in. Collection of the artist. Photo by Lee Stalsworth, Fine Art through Photography, LLC

There was no such thing as a digital world—no web, no cell phones, no iPhones. How did we ever get through the day?

The only computers were huge and klunky. “Algorithms” was a word used only by mathematicians.

Nevertheless, It was a pretty cool world—groovy, we might have said.

So what has remained the same? Anything?

Well, I still believe that paintings—colored mud and oil on a gessoed surface—can carry profound meaning. I believe that people can share ideas through visual means and that we who make visual art in all of its many manifestations are the carriers of our human visual history. We are the inheritors of Lascaux and Hovenweep.

I have high hopes that you all still believe these things, too, although I suspect many of you are not making paintings at all, since painting died some years ago I am told, killed by Arthur Danto and his philosophical buddies. You are no doubt finding other methods to make art in this digital age.

So it goes.

My Cornell colleague Carl Sagan (I actually never met the fellow) said that “science is not so much a body of knowledge as a way of thinking,” and that could be said of art as well. We learn how to think about a visual problem and all of the myriad ways to solve it—deconstruct it, if you will—then proceed to do so. We need the skills—the craft—and the various approaches we could take to accomplish that. All of this we learned at Pratt, and a lot more besides. Education is, after all, about intellectually enriching our lives and finding interesting ways to lead the rest of our lives. And it’s the rest of your life I really want to talk about.

WalkingStick 1991
Kay WalkingStick (Cherokee, b. 1935), Night/ƠRT (Usvi), 1991. Oil, acrylic, wax, and copper on canvas, 36.25 x 72.25 x 2 in. Montclair Art Museum, purchased with funds provided by Alberta Stout 2000.10

With a little luck you folks will probably live for another 70 or so years. Enjoy them, for God's sake! Don’t bore yourself to death with a dull job or a dull partner. Take some risks—I don’t mean speeding at 90 or doing heavy drugs—but take risks to find an interesting, challenging, perhaps difficult profession. Don’t let money be the primary goal, but rather let your goal be interesting, enlivening activity. (Oh, money is important, but not more than the avoidance of boredom.) Take risks to find an interesting life partner—someone who can talk about your profession, whether that is art or not, with curiosity and affection. Take plenty of time with both roles. They last a lifetime, so treasure them.

WalkingStick 2001
Kay WalkingStick (Cherokee, b. 1935), Gioioso, Variation II, 2001. Oil and gold leaf on wood panel, 32 x 64 in. Courtesy of the Eiteljorg Museum of American Indians and Western Art, Indianapolis

I found that people had to be good at rejection to exist in the New York art world. Learn to take a hit now and then and brush it off. You’ll meet some very interesting people along the way who can say the darnedest things. Somehow my being part Indian with a funny name brought out a lot of remarks. For instance, Ivan Karp, a prominent art dealer in Soho who was always friendly to artists and a witty man, said when he met me, “You’re an Indian? I always thought you were a Jewish girl from Queens who had changed her name!”

Apparently, it’s always a surprise to people that there are Indians in New York.

Another dealer—a not very nice one—told me to take all of the paintings I had shown him, put them in a pile, and put a match to them. Make a painting bonfire.

And the best, I think, was another who, when she heard my name, immediately started laughing uncontrollably.

She may have been stoned.

So learn to take occasional rejection and keep on working. It’s the work that will preserve and inspire you. And eventually I did find a great and gracious dealer named June Kelly whom I have been with for over 20 years.

WalkingStick 2011
Kay WalkingStick (Cherokee, b. 1935), New Mexico Desert, 2011. Oil on wood panel, 40 x 80 x 2 in. Purchased through a special gift from the Louise Ann Williams Endowment, 2013. National Museum of the American Indian 26/9250

By the way, all those paintings that I did not set on fire are now hanging in the Smithsonian at the National Museum of the American Indian in Washington, D.C.

Revenge is sweet. Very sweet.

I have not had a boring life, and in fact I’ve had a hell of a run with a lot of fun along the way—a couple of rough spots, too. I’ve taken a lot of risks—usually, not always, thought-out ones. (I did wear a helmet on that motorcycle.)

So challenge yourself, and enjoy every single day.

You are ready for it.

—Kay WalkingStick
Commencement, Pratt Institute
Brooklyn, New York, May 17, 2016


Kay WalkingStick (Cherokee, b. 1935) received her Bachelor of Fine Arts degree in 1959 and completed her Master of Fine Arts in 1975 at Pratt Institute, supported by a Danforth Foundation Graduate Fellowship for Women. WalkingStick’s work is represented in the collections of several museums, including the Smithsonian’s National Museum of the American Indian, the National Gallery of Canada, and the Metropolitan Museum of Art. She is a professor emeritus at Cornell University.

Photographs © the artist. All rights reserved.

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May 13, 2016

Meet Native America: Chairman Tony Johnson, Chinook Indian Nation

In the interview series Meet Native America, the Smithsonian National Museum of the American Indian invites tribal leaders, cultural figures, and other interesting and accomplished Native individuals to introduce themselves and say a little about their lives and work. Together their responses illustrate the diversity of the indigenous communities of the Western Hemisphere, as well as their shared concerns, and offer insights beyond what’s in the news to the ideas and experiences of Native people today. —Dennis Zotigh

Tony Johnson
Tony A. Johnson, chairman of the Chinook Indian Nation. In addition to serving in tribal government, Chairman Johnson is an artist and Chinook language teacher and the education director of the neighboring Shoalwater Bay Tribe.

Please introduce yourself with your name and title.

My name is Tony A. Johnson. I'm chairman of the Chinook Indian Nation (CIN).

Can you share your Native name and its English translation, or your nickname? 

It's naschio. It means Little Brother. It was originally given as a nickname, but it has come to mean a lot to me.

Where is your tribal community located?

We live by the mouth of the Columbia River and along the adjacent seacoast. The CIN includes the five westernmost Chinookan speaking tribes—the Clatsop and Kathlamet from present-day Oregon and the Lower Chinook, Wahkiakum, and Willapa from Washington State. Our tribal offices are currently located in the traditional village of Bay Center on Willapa Bay in Washington.

Where is your tribe originally from?

We are fortunate that we still live on our aboriginal homelands. However there are many issues our nation deals with today because we refused to participate in the relocations proposed for us.

What is a significant point in history from your tribe that you would like to share?

Our people signed treaties in 1851 that were never ratified. These Anson Dart treaties, which were negotiated on the treaty grounds at Tansy Point, were good for us, because they allowed us access to resources and, most importantly, they allowed us to stay in our villages. They say that the next winter was one of our worst—the government never came through with the goods promised at the negotiations. 

The treaties of 1851 weren’t ratified because some in Congress wanted to remove us east of the Cascade Mountains. 

In 1855 we participated in another treaty negotiation with our neighbors. At that treaty council we learned that the rumors we had heard were true and that we were being asked to move north away from our traditional territory. We refused, along with our closest neighbors. Naturally the people from the lands we were to be removed to agreed. They had a treaty ratified later that year, but the Native people of southwest Washington and the mouth of the Columbia River were left without a treaty. All of the tribes from this area are still suffering the consequences of these actions, or this lack of action. Most of the tribes are federally recognized, but do not have large reservations or other treaty-guaranteed rights. The CIN, however, still lacks official federal recognition today.

How is your tribal government set up?

We transitioned from a traditional form of government to an elected form of government under a constitution in the early 1950s. A point of pride with us is that the original writers of our current Constitution were all hereditary leaders within the community. In fact the first elected chairman was an important hereditary chief.

Is there a functional traditional entity of leadership in addition to your modern government system?

Hereditary leadership is still valued and in some cases has more weight than the elected government, but the Chinook Tribal Council runs day-to-day business.

Johnson McIsaac canoe carving

Chairman Johnson and artist Adam McIsaac (background) carving a canoe for the Community of the Confederated Tribes of Grand Ronde in Western Oregon.


How often are elected leaders chosen?

We have a nine-member council, with members serving staggered three-year terms. Elections for three positions happen every summer at our annual General Council meeting.

How often does your Tribal Council meet?

Our Constitution requires monthly meetings, but we meet more often as needed. 

What responsibilities do you have as tribal chairman?

I am most concerned with the big picture of the preservation of our community and the lifeways associated with it. Our people have a right to exist in our territory and to access its resources. This drives me every day.

How did your life experience prepare you to lead your tribe?

I was enrolled when I was three months old. My father was elected to our Council the same year. Chinook politics have been a part of my life from the beginning.

Despite our lack of federal recognition, we have always had certain rights and we have always been treated as Indians. When I was a young man, these rights were being challenged, and I grew up watching our community fight for them. Without federal acknowledgment and treaties, many of these rights have been stripped from us in my lifetime. This includes the basic right of fishing in our rivers to feed our families.

Who inspired you as a mentor?

We had very hard-nosed leaders when I was growing up. Watching them pound the table and defend us in the strongest way possible was very inspiring. Nearly all the leaders of that old group are gone, and I miss their fire every day.

Are you a descendant of a historical leader? If so, who?

oskalawiliksh was a treaty signer in 1851. His wife akensi was also a person of high status. They are not the only ones in our family line who are significant, but our inheritance from them is important for our position in the community. My wife is also a descendant of one of our treaty signers, a chief named wasilta. He is also not the only prominent person in her family. These are important inheritances for our children.

Approximately how many members are in your tribe?

We have about 3,000 members.

What are the criteria to become a member of your tribe?

We had three citizenship rolls commissioned by the U.S. government in the early part of the 1900s. A person must have an ancestor on one of these rolls to be considered eligible for enrollment.

Is your language still spoken on your homelands? If so, what percentage of your people would you estimate are fluent speakers?

Three languages were common in our area until recently. Many others were spoken as well. Chinook and Kathlamet are the primary languages of our ancestors. They are the two westernmost Chinookan dialects. Most of us are also descendants of our Salish neighbors, so their languages were common here as well. These are primarily the Tillamook and Chehalis languages.

Our ancestors also created a pidgin language known as Chinuk Wawa or Chinook Jargon. This was used widely and for many generations as a common language for people who did not otherwise share a language.

Today there are very few people who speak any of the Chinookan dialects. Salish languages and Chinuk Wawa became more prominent in our lands because of the disruptions associated with Americans and Europeans arriving here. More people understood those languages, and they were more useful over a broader area. Of Chinook, Kathlamet, and Chinuk Wawa, Chinuk Wawa is closest to flourishing, but it is still endangered. I am a good speaker of Chinuk Wawa.

What economic enterprises does your tribe own?

We do not have any significant economic enterprises today. 

What annual events does your tribe sponsor?

We sponsor community events such as our First Salmon Ceremony, a number of paddle events, an annual Winter Gathering and a Storytelling Gathering. The community also has a large canoe family that practices the canoe culture of our ancestors. 

B2

The Chinook Indian Nation canoe skakwal taking part in the 2006 Tribal Canoe Journey. That year the Muckleshoot Indian Tribe, whose lands lie along South Puget Sound, hosted the journey's traditional five-day potlatch. 


What other attractions are available for visitors on your land?

Our homeland is beautiful—one of the most incredible places on the planet—but we do not operate any significant tourist activities.

How does your tribe deal with the United States as a sovereign nation?

We fully expect to be treated as a sovereign nation, and despite a current lack of clarity on our federal status we receive that treatment. We consult on a nation-to-nation basis on projects in our area at the county, state and federal level. Amazingly, all branches of the federal government, including many offices within the Department of Interior, treat us as sovereign. Only the Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA)—in fact, only a part of the BIA—doesn’t recognize our sovereignty.

What message would you like to share with the youth of your tribe?

We can’t let our youth accept our current status—lack of land and diminished rights cannot be considered acceptable. I am 45 years old, and many of these rights have been taken in my lifetime. My father and his brother were raised on Indian Trust land. Our grandparents were forced to go to Indian Boarding Schools. They were all given allotments. So much in our lives is affected by the abuse and neglect that we have experienced.

Our young people need to know that while recognition will not be perfect for us, it will at least raise us up to be on an equal standing to the other tribes. As my dad has often said, we are third-class citizens. We need to be able to be self-sustaining, to be able to govern our own land base and to access our own natural resources for the preservation of our culture and sustenance of our children. We must fight as a community for this. We have been here 10,000 years and have an inherent right to be here another 10,000!

Is there anything else you would like to add?

An amazing story: My father was the chairman of the Chinook Indian Nation at the end of a 23-year process through which we had petitioned the federal government to clarify our status. In January 2001 we were given federal acknowledgment. Then-Assistant Secretary of the Interior Kevin Gover, director of the Bureau of Indian Affairs, apologized for the incredible treatment we had received over the years, and it was finally done. Justice had happened, and the Chinook were again a federally recognized tribe of the United States of America.

As chairman of the federally recognized Chinook Indian Nation, my father attended a luncheon hosted by President George W. Bush that was intended to honor the tribes along the Lewis and Clark Trail and kick off the bicentennial of the Lewis and Clark Expedition. That was on July 3, 2002. My father and mother stayed in Washington for the Fourth of July, and while they were walking in the city on the July 5, they received a call from the BIA. Under the new Bush administration and with a new assistant secretary, the BIA had rescinded our federal acknowledgment. Rather than judging us on our own merit, the broken system of the bureau's Branch of Acknowledgement and Research acted on the objection of another federally recognized tribe. What happened at home that day as the word spread is another story. We still have not recovered.

Thank you for sharing this with us. 

Thank you. 


Photos courtesy of the Chinook Indian Nation, used with permission.

To read other interviews in this series, click on the banner below. Meet-native-america
From left to right: Representative Ponka-We Victors (Tohono O’odham/Southern Ponca) taking the oath of office in the Kansas House of Representatives; photo courtesy of Kansas Rep. Scott Schwab. Bird Runningwater (Cheyenne/Mescalero Apache) at the Sundance Film Festival; photo courtesy of WireImage. Sergeant Debra Mooney (Choctaw) at the powwow in Al Taqaddum Air Force Base, Iraq, 2004; photo courtesy of Sgt. Debra Mooney. Councilman Jonathan Perry (Wampanoag) in traditional clothing; photo courtesy of Jonathan Perry. Suzan Shown Harjo (Cheyenne/Hodulgee Muscogee) at Blackhorse et al. v. Pro Football, Inc., press conference, U.S. Patent and Trade Office, February 7, 2013; photo courtesy of Mary Phillips. All photos used with permission. 

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May 06, 2016

Meet Native America: Glenna J. Wallace, Chief of the Eastern Shawnee Tribe of Oklahoma

In the interview series Meet Native America, the Smithsonian National Museum of the American Indian invites tribal leaders, cultural figures, and other interesting and accomplished Native individuals to introduce themselves and say a little about their lives and work. Together, their responses illustrate the diversity of the indigenous communities of the Western Hemisphere, as well as their shared concerns, and offer insights beyond what’s in the news to the ideas and experiences of Native people today. —Dennis Zotigh

Chief Glenna J. WallaceChief Glenna J. Wallace, Eastern Shawnee Tribe of Oklahoma. 


Please introduce yourself with your name and title.

Hello, my name is Glenna J. Wallace, and I am chief of the Eastern Shawnee Tribe of Oklahoma. My Indian name, Ni ni le wi pi mi , comes from the Eagle or Chicken clan and means An Eagle Overhead Watching Everyone.

Where is your tribe located?

The Eastern Shawnee Tribe is one of three federally recognized Shawnee tribes, all located in Oklahoma. We Eastern Shawnees are in the extreme northeast corner of Oklahoma, in an area where three neighboring states can be accessed within minutes—Kansas, Missouri, and Arkansas. The tribe borders Missouri, and we can be in Kansas or Arkansas in 30 minutes, max.

Where are the Eastern Shawnee originally from?

We were known to be a wandering, traveling tribe, living in close to thirty states until we settled in Ohio in the early 1700s. We eventually shared a small reservation there with the Seneca Cayuga Tribe. Together we were known as the Mixed Band.

After the passage of the 1830 Indian Removal Act, the Mixed Band was the first group to be forcibly removed to Indian Territory, a journey we made on foot with more than 15 percent not surviving the ordeal. That occurred in 1832, and we remained the Mixed Band until 1867, when we were separated into two distinct tribes, the Eastern Shawnee Tribe and the Seneca Cayuga Tribe. Both tribes remained in the northeast corner of Indian Territory, which became the state of Oklahoma in 1907.

What is a significant point in history from your tribe that you would like to share?

We are a small tribe, approaching 3,300 in number, but just prior to 1900 we were down to only 73 people. Historical documents state that we had only seven or eight men over the age of 21. It truly is an example of almost total genocide.

At that time our culture had so few people to support the ceremonials and dances, those practices became dormant. Not extinct, but dormant. Some way, somehow, the tribe, both men and women, miraculously held on, and in 1939 our first Constitution and Charter were approved. These documents served as our guidelines until 1994, when a new Constitution was adopted, making the chief a full-time position equivalent to a modern CEO. Today more than two-thirds of our membership lives outside our service area.

How is your tribal government set up? Is there a functional traditional entity of leadership, in addition to your modern government system?

The Eastern Shawnees are a self-governance tribe with a structure most similar to that of the United States—three separate but equal powers invested in executive, legislative, and judicial branches. The legislative branch is comprised of six individuals: three councilmen, a treasurer, and a secretary, plus the second chief who chairs the meetings but has no vote except as a tiebreaker. The chief comprises the executive branch and has no vote but does have veto power. At the present time we defer to the Code of Federal Regulations (CFR) Court for the judicial branch. Terms are four years in length, with no term limits. To stagger terms, an election is held each year, conducted by absentee voting.

We have no additional leadership entity in our modern government system with the exception of our Annual Council. The Annual Council meets each September at tribal headquarters following the annual election. And of course tribal citizens have the right to submit initiatives or referendums for action by the Business Committee or by the General Council comprised of all registered voters.

How did your life experience prepare you to lead your tribe?

I am now in my tenth year of serving as chief, having been elected in 2006. Before then, I served on the Business Committee for 18 years. Those years and experiences were invaluable in preparing me for my current responsibilities.

Two other life experiences shaped me as an individual. When I was nine and in the fourth grade, our family left Oklahoma and moved to the West Coast. There we became a migrant family, moving from community to community and working in all types of migrant labor. My four siblings and I were expected to reach a certain quota each day to contribute to the support of our family. Any earnings beyond that quota went to us as individuals, to spend as we wanted. At an early age I became an overachiever. I learned to set goals, work toward those goals, develop a work ethic, and think long-range, and I realized the value, self-worth, and confidence that come from those achievements.

The second life experience that shaped my entire essence was education. I was the first young woman in my family to graduate from high school, the first to graduate from college, the first to pursue postgraduate degrees, which resulted in my being a college instructor and administrative leader for almost 40 years. Those years prepared me for my current role, which ironically is as the first woman to be chief of any Shawnee tribe.

Who inspired you as a mentor?

My mother was my personal mentor. She was a woman who had little, materially speaking, in life. Her mother died when she was only seven years old. She did not finish high school. She moved across the state in a covered wagon with her father and two younger brothers, whom she basically raised, leaving her three older sisters where they had grown up. Later she married and had five children. My father became disabled at a young age, leaving my mother with few options.

She never complained. Instead she taught the five of us to be proud, to work hard, to be honest, to manage our resources and be the best we could be. None of us wanted to disappoint her.

Additionally my first academic dean and two college presidents saw abilities in me that I didn’t know existed. Each challenged me, each gave me opportunities that enabled me to grow and to reach heights I hadn't known were even possibilities. These individuals made me who I am today.

What are the criteria to become a member of your tribe?

Membership in the Eastern Shawnee Tribe is through continuous lineal descent. A citizen today had to have a mother or father who was a citizen who had to have had an Eastern Shawnee mother or father who was also a citizen and so on.

Is your language still spoken on your homelands? If so, what percentage of your people would you estimate are fluent speakers?

I mentioned earlier that when our membership was so low that even our survival was in question, our culture became dormant. Today I am not aware of a single Eastern Shawnee who is a fluent Shawnee speaker. We do have some, however, who are semi-fluent, working to become fluent. Fortunately we have two other Shawnee tribes in Oklahoma who do have a few fluent speakers, and they are of immense help in our efforts to reawaken our dormant culture and language. At the present time we employ two fluent Shawnee speakers who conduct classes or serve in a myriad of other ways advancing our language and cultural opportunities.

What events does your tribe sponsor?

Today we have weekly language classes and a cultural gathering each month with activities ranging from stomp dancing in the spring and summer, to beading, to making moccasins and regalia pieces, to cooking demonstrations, to language workshops. We host a large annual powwow the third weekend in September, with this year being our 25th celebration.

We also have a most popular children’s powwow, known as the Shawna Stovall Back to School Powwow, the first Saturday in August where we provide backpacks and school supplies for all attending children 12 and under. That night we have contest dancing for those youngsters, as well as cultural demonstrations and vendors of all types, including Native arts and crafts and food.

This year we will have our third annual History Summit, where knowledgeable tribal citizens and professional researchers present and discuss Eastern Shawnee topics. We also host a Children’s Culture Camp each June, participate in state language contests for youth, host an annual Winter Gathering as well as an annual Elders Dinner, and offer many other activities and opportunities. We work hard at sponsoring cultural activities, events that will bring our tribe together.

What economic enterprises does your tribe own?

The year 1984 was a pivotal one for the Eastern Shawnee Tribe: That was the year we started our first economic venture in the world of gaming. At first we were limited to bingo and pull tabs in a joint venture with a private individual. Three years later we assumed total responsibility for our gaming enterprise. We added on to our first building three times, then opened Bordertown Casino and Bingo in a new building in 2003.

In 2012 we relocated to new facilities on Highway 60. Indigo Sky offers diverse forms of gaming including off-track betting, bingo, table games, and poker machines. The hotel has 117 rooms, conference facilities, and two restaurants. This year a Convention Center and approximately 125 additional rooms will be added. After opening Indigo Sky in 2012, we reopened Bordertown Casino/Arena in 2015. Gaming revenue has enabled us to purchase additional economic enterprises, including majority ownership of People’s Bank of Seneca, which has now expanded to three locations; Native2Native Solutions (N2N), a tribally owned holding company providing services in human resources, education, tire and automotive, freight and transportation, and hospitality; and the Eastern Shawnee Travel Center. From the original casino there now stand three, each one unique. Our land base has grown from 58.19 acres acquired in 1939 to approximately 2,500 acres today.

Equally important as economic ventures are tribal programs and services. We are located near a small town of approximately 2,300 residents. Our Senior Nutrition program serves about 100 people a day. We have an Early Childhood Learning Center for children 3 months to 5 years old, a Housing Authority enabling home ownership, and twelve rental Independent Elders Living units. We partner with the Wyandotte Nation to provide a health clinic to citizens of both tribes, Bearskin Health Clinic. We have our own Police Department, a tribal tag program, our own print shop, a state-of-the art Wellness Center open to the entire community, and six miles of walking trails. We own and operate a successful Recycling Center. We provide numerous programs to serve those in need, to prevent family violence and violence against women, drug abuse, and suicide; promote Indian Child Welfare   provide assistance via the Child Care Development Fund; and offer professional counseling, including equine therapy for youth.

Most importantly, we support a strong benefits program for our tribal citizens which includes a most progressive educational scholarship program for all, but particularly for our young people. We constantly work with our youth, as they are the leaders of tomorrow. Currently we are writing our first children’s book as well as the history of our tribe. Those are both major undertakings as little has been known about the Eastern Shawnee. Both books should be available within the next year.

What attractions are available for visitors on your land?

Our casinos all located within five miles of each other, four beautiful seasons, and immediate access to four states have made us a destination resort area. Indigo Sky is an upscale gaming facility beautifully landscaped with luxurious rooms and fine dining, plus a modern convenient RV resort. OutPost boasts a small, cozy atmosphere. Bordertown Casino/Arena is action-packed, with a large dance floor, cowboys, a mechanical bull plus live indoor bull-riding or live bucking bulls, depending upon the weekend.

Ottawa County, where we are located, is home to nine federally recognized tribes, more tribes in one county than any other place in the United States. In this one county you will find a minimum of 14 gaming establishments within 25 miles. You will also find powwows, cultural events, fine dining, elegant rooms/suites, conference amenities, lake activities, fishing, golf, indoor bull-bucking, and bull-riding within these 25 miles.

Is there anything else you would like to add?

We, the Eastern Shawnee Tribe of Oklahoma, are a small, progressive tribe. We pride ourselves on setting goals, working hard, managing our resources, looking to the future—actually influencing our future—regaining our culture, and taking care of our people.

Thank you.

Thank you.


Photo courtesy of the Eastern Shawnee Tribe of Oklahoma; used with permission.

To read other interviews in this series, click on the banner below. Meet-native-america
From left to right: Representative Ponka-We Victors (Tohono O’odham/Southern Ponca) taking the oath of office in the Kansas House of Representatives; photo courtesy of Kansas Rep. Scott Schwab. Bird Runningwater (Cheyenne/Mescalero Apache) at the Sundance Film Festival; photo courtesy of WireImage. Sergeant Debra Mooney (Choctaw) at the powwow in Al Taqaddum Air Force Base, Iraq, 2004; photo courtesy of Sgt. Debra Mooney. Councilman Jonathan Perry (Wampanoag) in traditional clothing; photo courtesy of Jonathan Perry. Suzan Shown Harjo (Cheyenne/Hodulgee Muscogee) at Blackhorse et al. v. Pro Football, Inc., press conference, U.S. Patent and Trade Office, February 7, 2013; photo courtesy of Mary Phillips. All photos used with permission. 

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April 29, 2016

Meet Native America: Jim Taylor, Elnu Abenaki Tribal Councilman and Elder

In the interview series Meet Native America, the Smithsonian National Museum of the American Indian invites tribal leaders, cultural figures, and other interesting and accomplished Native individuals to introduce themselves and say a little about their lives and work. Together, their responses illustrate the diversity of the indigenous communities of the Western Hemisphere, as well as their shared concerns, and offer insights beyond what’s in the news to the ideas and experiences of Native people today. —Dennis Zotigh

Councilman Jim Taylor
Elnu Abenaki Councilman and Elder Jim Taylor.

Please introduce yourself with your name and title.

I'm Jim Taylor. I'm an Elnu Abenaki tribal councilman and elder.

Can you share your Native name and its English translation, or your nickname?

My Native name is Nanabi Wokwses, which is Abenaki for Fast Fox. Many of my people just call me JT.

I am Abenaki and Cherokee. N'wjihla W8banakiak, which means, "I come from the People from Where the Sun Rises." (The letter 8 in the Abenaki alphabet is a vowel with a soft, slightly nasal sound that has been described as sounding like the u in uncle.)

Where is your tribe located?

Our Tribal Headquarters is in the small town of Jamaica, Vermont, in Windham County in the southwestern part of the state.

Where is your tribe originally from?

Our original territories were the southern portions of Vermont and included abutting areas of Massachusetts at one time. Our current home lies at the heart of our ancestral territory.

What is a significant point in history from your tribe that you would like to share?

First and foremost, our state recognition on April 22, 2011, which took many years to secure with the Vermont State Legislature. It was a hard fought fight by many elders before me, who saw state recognition granted then taken away in the 1990s. We kept fighting and finally secured recognition for the Abenaki people 17 years later. 

If I might add a second important point in our history, it is our being asked, along with the three other state-recognized tribes—the Nulhegans, Koaseks, and Missisquoi—to be part of a historic Wabanaki Confederacy meeting in August 2015 with our Eastern Wabanaki cousins—the Penobscot, Wolastoqiyik (Maliseet), Passamaquoddy, and Mi'kmaq. Until that day, such a meeting had not been held in Vermont in over 200 years. We came together to affirm our alliance as Wabanaki people, bound by our traditional wampum belts, to help each other and support one another moving forward as one people. 

Recognition

The Elnu Abenaki Tribe and the Nulhegan Abenaki Tribe receive recognition by the State of Vermont—official acknowledgment of the Abenaki people's long-standing existence in Vermont, which predates European settlement, and of their carefully maintained oral tradition and traditional arts. From left to right: Jim Taylor, Chief Don Stevens (Nulhegan Abenaki Tribe), Governor Peter Shumlin, and Chief Roger Longtoe Sheehan (Elnu Abenaki Tribe). Vermont Statehouse, Montpelier; April 22, 2011.

How is your tribal government set up?

We have an elected chief, or sagomo, and two Council leaders and elders—neg8nigo—one male and one female.

Is there a functional, traditional entity of leadership in addition to your modern government system?

We have a very traditional tribal society and form of government that we adhere to. Our tribal Constitution is not only on paper in the Vermont state government archives, but also traditionally written in wampum bead strands for our people as well.

How often are elected leaders chosen?

Our sagomo is appointed for life or until the chief chooses to step aside or is deemed unfit to hold the position by the Council elders. At that time a Grand Council will be ordered by the Tribal Council, and tribal members will be asked to vote for a new leader selected by the Council elders.

How often does your Tribal Council meet?

We meet once a month and at other times when there is an important issue that needs to be heard.

What responsibilities do you have as a tribal leader?

As a councilman and elder I assist our chief in many areas within our Native community, from repatriation and protection of ancestral sites to working with our younger tribal members on issues they may be having within our tribe. I also work closely with our other councilwoman and elder on issues that pertain to the women of the tribe.

Who inspired you as a mentor?

I would have to say my parents, along with my maternal aunt. My mother and aunt were both very strong, independent female role models in my life. I am also inspired by my father, who was very poor growing up in rural Kentucky, and by descending from a Removal Cherokee great-grandfather. My family imparted many lessons about being humble but proud of who you are, and about never allowing your struggles to define you.

Approximately how many members are in your tribe?

Of the four Vermont-recognized tribes, we are the second smallest in membership. We have a little over 60 tribal members at this time.

What are the criteria to become a member of your tribe?

We Elnu have the same criteria as many other Native communities: You must provide proof of Native descent or ancestry through supporting genealogy records, documents, and the like. We do not recognize the Anglo concept of blood quantum to the extent that we would ever exclude someone based on current blood quantum.

Is your language still spoken on your homelands? If so, what percentage of your people would you estimate are fluent speakers?

Abenaki is still spoken, but sadly fewer than twenty or thirty people in the state are fluent. More people are learning each day, as we have a very strong effort to revitalize the language amongst all of the Abenaki people here and in Canada. Imagine our culture as Abenaki people as a large puzzle that was taken from us and tossed into the air and scattered in many different directions. We have been forced, like so many Eastern Native nations since the time of Contact, to put the puzzle of our culture back together one piece at a time, working with those people who were able to hang on to traditions such as our language, our ceremonies, and our songs. Part of that puzzle has come back to us through our Eastern Abenaki cousins of the Wabanaki Confederacy. For that we are truly grateful and honored.

What economic enterprises does your tribe own?

Elnu at this time is working with local groups who may be willing to donate a land space that our families can use for hunting, fishing, and a community garden. Also we have many traditional artists in our community who, as our ancestors did, sell their art as a source of income.

Jim Taylor Lake Champlain Museum
Jim Taylor serving as a cultural interpreter during Abenaki Heritage Weekend, discussing the importance of the pipe in Abenaki society, diplomacy, and religion. Photo by Kris Jarrett, Lake Champlain Maritime Museum.

What annual events does your tribe sponsor?

Elnu started the Abenaki Heritage Weekend. It is held annually on the last weekend in June at the Lake Champlain Maritime Museum in Vergennes, Vermont, and all four state-recognized tribes participate. Lake Champlain is an important and sacred area to all Abenaki people. The weekend gives people a chance to meet Abenaki people from the four Vermont tribes, to experience a pre-Contact fishing village and speak with Abenaki cultural interpreters, to meet many Abenaki artisans selling their art, and to see demonstrations in how some of the traditional crafts were made before Contact and after. Also, there are panel discussions featuring the various tribal leaders where people can see, hear, and learn more about issues we currently are dealing with as Indigenous people, in our communities and in Indian Country overall.

What other attractions are available for visitors on your land?

All of Ndakinna—our homeland, Vermont—is beautiful for a visit. Jamaica State Park has a small area with a display of artifacts collected in Elnu territory. The Lake Champlain Maritime Museum has a gallery dedicated to the Abenaki people of the Champlain Valley, as does the ECHO, Leahy Center in Burlington, Vermont.

How does your tribe deal with the U.S. and Canada?

Currently we don’t have any issues with either government on the federal level. On the state level, our relationship is one of respect, and the state has been working with us on current issues that affect all of the state tribes, as well as each individual tribe, within Vermont. We look forward to continuing this relationship moving forward.

What message would you like to share with the youth of your tribe?

No matter where you may go, remember you are W8banaki. Remember how far we have come and never stop moving forward!

Is there anything else you would like to add?

N’Nanabi Wokwses. N’W8banaki, Plawinno. Wlakamigen! I am Fast Fox. I am Abenaki, Turtle Clan. Peace!

Thank you.

Wli'wini—thank you.


Photos courtesy of the Elnu Abenaki Tribe of Vermont; used with permission.

To read other interviews in this series, click on the banner below. Meet-native-america
From left to right: Representative Ponka-We Victors (Tohono O’odham/Southern Ponca) taking the oath of office in the Kansas House of Representatives; photo courtesy of Kansas Rep. Scott Schwab. Bird Runningwater (Cheyenne/Mescalero Apache) at the Sundance Film Festival; photo courtesy of WireImage. Sergeant Debra Mooney (Choctaw) at the powwow in Al Taqaddum Air Force Base, Iraq, 2004; photo courtesy of Sgt. Debra Mooney. Councilman Jonathan Perry (Wampanoag) in traditional clothing; photo courtesy of Jonathan Perry. Suzan Shown Harjo (Cheyenne/Hodulgee Muscogee) at Blackhorse et al. v. Pro Football, Inc., press conference, U.S. Patent and Trade Office, February 7, 2013; photo courtesy of Mary Phillips. All photos used with permission. 

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A poem in honor of the Gathering of Nations Powwow

As the museum wraps up its celebration of National Poetry Month, many friends are on their way to Albuquerque this weekend to take part in the 33rd annual Gathering of Nations, North America's largest powwow. Writer Melanie Mariano generously shared this poem with us to honor the occasion.

The Gathering
by Melanie Mariano

Can you hear the calling?
Those ancestral voices in the wind,
Pulling your worn moccasins forward,
Towards the sacred circle?

They understand your heart’s longing.
For the mending of your spirit,
For those coyotes you once fed
That left you blanketed in doubt.

Can you hear them calling?
The drums which shout out for you,
Rhythmic as a heartbeat,
Like lyrical sweet grass for your soul?

They recognize your deep desires
Of beaded ambitions and braided dreams,
Passed down through generations,
Which you long to make your legacy.

Can you hear them calling?
The stomping feet from each Nation,
Adorned with Inter-tribal traditions,
Eagerly waiting upon your arrival?

They have felt your suffering
And dance like prairie lightning,
Each step a solemn promise
Of your bloodline’s reawakening.

Can you hear them calling?
The tobacco prayers of your relations,
Feathered on wings of freedom,
Awaiting in honored celebration?

Brave Warrior, on this journey back to self,
The Grandfathers walk beside you,
Turquoise footprints scorching the earth,
And they lead you home.

Writer Melanie Mariano

Melanie Mariano (enrolled member of the Cowlitz Indian Tribe) is a writer and a communications professional specializing in video and audio production. 

© Melanie Mariano; used with permission. The Gathering was originally published in Native Hoop Magazine

 

You can read all the poems by Native writers highlighted by the museum this April in our National Poetry Month album

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