Meet Native America: Paulette E. Jordan, Idaho House Representative

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 

Please introduce yourself with your name and title. 

My name is Paulette Jordan. I am a newly-elected Idaho House Representative.

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Paulette Jordan, a member of the Idaho House of Representatives. Photo by Lee Zahir.

What tribes are you affiliated with?

I am an enrolled citizen of the Coeur d’Alene Tribe. I am also of Sinkiuse (known as the Moses–Columbia Band of the Colville Confederacy), Nez Perce, and Yakama–Palus descent.

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

There are many significant points of our Plateau history where our people have faced multiple battles and wars, forced assimilation, attacks to destroy and terminate our people, and dissolution of both our land base and sovereign authority. 

One particular point in history I am very proud of, and it is important to mention, is the way our leaders of both the Coast Salish and Interior Salish of the Northwest have banded together in solidarity to preserve tribal sovereignty by holding the U.S. government accountable to honor its obligation through both treaty and executive order agreements and prevent termination of such agreements.

Due to the Dawes Act of 1887, tribal lands were allotted to individuals and the power struggle continued as millions of acres of land with valuable resources were opened up for settlement. This policy was also intended to terminate reservation lands and any compensation to those seeking settlement. After the Indian Reorganization Act of 1934 reversed the policy of dissolution of reservation lands, tribes still struggled with the loss of the vast majority of their treaty lands and later faced termination. It was during this struggle that our people of the Northwest gathered together and combined forces to build one unified voice to provide national and regional leadership and advocate for common interests by organizing the Affiliated Tribes of Northwest Indians in 1953. These developments spawned relief and support by sharing resources and common interests to counter termination efforts by federal agents, as well as secure rights and benefits of tribal peoples regionally and nationally.

Combining voices led to many more protections and gains that continue to improve Indian Country by protecting and enhancing sovereign rights and strategically building upon economic opportunities.

How is your state government set up?

The constitution of Idaho provides for three branches of government: the executive, legislative and judicial branches. Idaho has a bicameral State Legislature, having both a House and Senate body of elected officials. Idaho has 35 state legislative districts—hence 35 State Senate seats and 70 House of Representatives seats. Terms for both the Senate and House of Representatives are two years. Since the late 1950s, the Idaho Legislature has been controlled by the Republican Party, and there are no term limits. 

How are leaders chosen? 

Leaders are chosen amongst each party caucus after being sworn in to office. 

Are Democrats or Republicans more dominant in your state? 

The Republican Party controls both the Idaho House and Senate with a supermajority. Currently the House is composed of 14 Democrats and 56 Republicans; the Democrats gained one seat in the 2014 election. There was no change to the composition of the Senate chamber as the Republican Party maintained their 28 seats to the Democrats 7 seats. 

Do legislators vote along party lines?

Most often officials vote along party lines, though not always. It is best, however, if both parties can come together in a bipartisan manner to pass legislation that will positively impact all of Idaho’s people.

Paulette swearing in
Paulette Jordan (in white at center) and her fellow representatives being sworn in on the Idaho House floor. Idaho State Capitol, Boise; December 4, 2014. Photo courtesy of the Idaho House of Representatives.


Are there any other Natives who are elected leaders in your state?

Unfortunately, there are no other tribal people elected to a state seat—yet!

How many tribes are in your state? Who are they?

There are five distinct tribal nations in Idaho: the KootenaiCoeur d’AleneNez PerceShoshone–Bannock, and Shoshone–Paiute.

Do you ever meet with the Native people of your state?

As a newly elected official of the state, I plan on meeting with tribes as often as possible about state legislative matters. We have to stay in communication as effectively as we can to ensure our voice is not absent on legislative policy affecting tribes.

Do the Native people of Idaho vote in state elections?

Yes, our tribal people vote in state elections. Although we have a very small percentage of the tribal population represented in my district, every vote matters and can make a tremendous difference!

How often does the Idaho Legislature meet? 

Our legislative session begins January 12 of each year and closes roughly toward the end of March or beginning of April.

What responsibilities do you have as a state representative?

As an Idaho House Representative, it is my responsibility to uphold the Idaho Constitution, keep our budget balanced, establish policy that would positively impact and seek to improve every Idahoan's circumstances, and vote. It is the most critical function of any legislator to be present, debate our positions, and make the critical votes as a voice for the people we represent.

More specifically, I sit on three standing committees of the House: the State Affairs Committee, the Business Committee, and the Environment, Energy, and Technology Committee. 

I also hold a seat on the Idaho Legislative Council, which oversees the management responsibilities of the Idaho Capitol and permanent staff of the legislature. It is comprised of the president pro tempore of the Senate, the speaker of the House of Representatives, the majority and minority leaders of each house, and four senators and four representatives—two from each party.

What is a significant point in the history of Idaho that you would like to share? 

Water is our greatest natural resource. To this day, we battle to maintain and improve regulations on environmental impacts to protect what we have for our future generations and the preservation of nature itself. 

In 1863, silver—“discovered” in the north panhandle in the Coeur d’Alene area—became a major draw to the that part of the state. It would later prove to be the nation’s richest deposit. This discovery of heavy minerals by early Europeans led to a surge of miners and a century of water discharges and air emissions from mining and smelting activities. The mining industry later left several thousand acres of land and tributaries, connected to the Coeur d’Alene Basin, contaminated with heavy metals. 

The basin is one of the largest areas of historic mining operations in the world, contributing an estimated 100 million tons of mine waste to the river system. In 1991, this led the Coeur d’Alene Tribe to begin the Coeur d’Alene Basin Restoration Project and the largest natural resource damage lawsuit in American History.

Through recent history and environmental neglect, tribal leadership came to believe that the tribe is the best steward for the future health of Coeur d'Alene Lake and the connected economy of the region. The tribe’s ownership was resolved by U.S. Supreme Court decision in 2001 recognizing that the tribe has always been the owner of the lower one-third of Coeur d’Alene Lake and other related waters. The decision led to a broad settlement, as the tribe teamed up with the U.S. Justice Department to file suit against the mines and the Union Pacific Railroad, echoing verbatim the tribe’s 1991 lawsuit. This case, has set a precedent for related natural resource cases and led to the establishment of the nation’s second largest Superfund cleanup site.

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

My upbringing was through a broad community of relatives and elders and a strong set of parents. Each of these people taught me the value of respect, humility, and character, and to walk this life with compassion towards others. My relatives ensured I had access to the most valuable traditional and western education they could provide. They instilled in me the history of our people and the language and values that make us wholly unique as individual sovereign nations. 

To prepare me for the greater challenges in life, I was able to attain higher levels of learning and travel around the world. Experiencing other cultures gives us a broader connection to living and being. That connection becomes the utmost value in our life’s education—to empathize with others and grow wiser about how we can contribute to making our surroundings, if not the world, a better place to live. 

Aside from my professional career and education, both culturally and academically, my two sons have taught me the greatest wisdom of all—self-sacrifice for the greater good.

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Representative Jordan and her grandfather Felix Aripa. "Grandpa Felix, as a mentor and source of good wisdom, was one of my driving reasons to run for office from the very beginning. His encouragement can move mountains." Photo by Lee Zahir.

Who inspired you as a mentor? 

My grandparents and great-grandparents, all great leaders and chiefs along my lineage, have been a strong source of guidance and wisdom for me. Most especially my grandmothers, Lucy Covington, Emily Friedlander-Peone, and Justine Vincent. Each one serves as a guiding reminder of the value of strength in women to be strong leaders, protectors, and caregivers. My great-grandfathers Chief Moses of the Columbia and Chief Kamiakin of the Palus through their indomitable leadership have taught me strength in negotiation and diplomacy for matters affecting both business and government. 

I am extremely fortunate to have direct mentors in various areas of my life who continue to contribute in many areas of thought. My grandfather Felix Aripa has guided me from young adulthood to listen, maintain humility, and give back. He has been my greatest resource for tribal language and for understanding our land and our relationship to our environment—seeking to find balance in all of our natural resources. My mentor and uncle David Matheson has been my guiding source for business, leadership, humanity, and balance. Walking this life means more than personal gain, and through him I have learned the utmost strength in ourselves as leaders, in both business and government, is how we treat others. And I am fortunate to call Jeanne Givens, a former Idaho State Representative and Coeur d’Alene tribal citizen, a friend and mentor in the practice of public service. Through her own personal experience on the front line of state government, I have learned and continue to learn the road of internal politics. 

Last and most importantly, my mother has been a daily example for me of maintaining compassion towards others. She brings the greatest lesson and inspiration of all through her love, support, and prayer. She walks this life with beautiful humility, having overcome many challenges. She has proven to me the sky has no limits and that anything can be achieved if we truly believe with love and passion in our heart to overcome any fear.

Are you a descendant of a historical leader? 

Historical leaders I descend from include Chief Weowicht ( Yakama), father of Chief Kamiakin (Yakama–Palus); Chief Moses of the Columbia (Sinkiuse); Chief Circling Raven (Coeur d’Alene), Chief Andrew Seltice (Coeur d’Alene); Old Chief Joseph (Nez Perce), Warrior Chief Allokut (Nez Perce).

Approximately how many constituents are in your district? Approximately how many are Native?

Approximately 50,000 residents live within my district; roughly less than 1 percent are Native.

How will you use your elected position to help Natives and other minorities? 

My legislative focus, amongst other matters, will be on working to improve Idaho’s economy, build on criminal justice redesign, and strategize ways to strengthen Idaho’s struggling education system, all of which will help both tribes and minority populations throughout the state. To improve the pathway for tribes specifically, we must develop direct links of communication with tribal leadership to work on common ground for solutions to their concerns.

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

For many generations, our tribal leadership has maintained the visions of our ancestors for our future generations to have access to the greatest resources and opportunities to achieve what is necessary to build their skills, accomplish their dreams, and build a better community for those to follow. Along with this vision, by maintaining our voice as tribal people in Idaho State House discussions, we include our perspective and practices on a statewide and national level when it comes to developments in policy and appropriations. 

I also believe this is an opportunity for our younger generations to be a part of learning the many ways they can branch into other levels of government leadership. Seeing familiar faces with similar backgrounds is encouraging at any age, and being elected to leadership can inspire our youth to understand that our voice should not and does not end on the reservation or within our tribal communities, both rural and urban, throughout the U.S. 

Our tribal voice is a critical voice sorely missing in Idaho’s House and needed in all political spheres across the nation from local to national government.

Is there anything else you would like to add?

As my own mentors have guided me, I maintain my availability to support our youth to build upon their goals in career, personal life, and civic leadership. If I can be a resource, it would be my privilege and responsibility to pass on what was given to me.

Hnqwi’yqwi’yilgwes khwe sk’u’lshesh—in humble service to all.

Thank you.

Lim’lemtsh! Thank you!

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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December 12, 2014

Meet Native America: Vernon Miller, Chairman, Omaha Tribe

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 

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Vernon Miller, chairman of the Omaha Tribe, taking part in the Ambassadors Program conducted by Americans for Indian Opportunity. Washington, D.C., September 2010. Photo by Jeff Liu.

Please introduce yourself with your name and title.

Vernon Miller, chairman, Omaha Tribe.

Can you share with us your Native name? 

My Omaha Thunder Clan name is Standing in the Rain.

Where is the Omaha Tribe located?

Our reservation is located in northeast Nebraska and northwest Iowa. The Missouri River runs through our reservation.

Where was your tribe originally from?

The Omaha people migrated to the upper Missouri area and the Plains by the late 17th century from earlier locations in the Ohio River Valley. The Omaha speak a Siouan language of the Dhegihan branch, very similar to that spoken by the Ponca. The Ponca were part of the Omaha before splitting off into a separate tribe in the mid-18th century. We are related to Osage, Quapaw, and Kansa peoples, who also migrated west under pressure from the Iroquois in the Ohio Valley. 

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

Chief Blackbird (Wash-ing-guhsah-ba) (ca. 1750–1800) was the leader of the Omaha Tribe who commanded the trade routes used by Spanish, French, British, and later American traders until the late 18th century. He was one of the first of the Plains Indian chiefs to trade with white explorers and is also believed to be the first of the Plains Indian chiefs to openly question white encroachment.

Blackbird used trade as a means to prosperity for his people and as a way to ensure white explorers were aware that they were the guests. The Omaha were not warlike people, yet they were the first on the Great Plains to have mastered equestrianism and developed an equestrian culture around 1770 and were at one point, while Chief Blackbird was alive, the most powerful Indian tribe in the Great Plains.

How is your tribal government set up?

We are an Indian Reorganization Act tribe, and our constitution was established in June 1934. The Omaha Tribe has a seven-member Tribal Council, which governs our lands.

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

No. 

Omaha Tribal Council members with Attorneys a
Members of the 2014 Omaha Tribal Council and advisors. From left to right: Attorney Verrin Kewenvoyouma, Chairman Vernon Miller, Council Secretary Jeffrey S. Miller, Attorney Daniel Lewis , and Vice Chair Adriana Saunsoci. Not shown: Treasurer Jessica Webster–Valentino, Councilwoman Gwen Porter, Councilman Rodney Morris, and Councilman Clifford Wolfe Jr.


How often are elected leaders chosen? 

We have staggered terms. Thus every year we have at least two seats on our Tribal Council that are up for election. Members of our Tribal Council serve a three-year term.

How often does your council meet?

Our Tribal Council meets two or three days a week

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

I am amongst those in Indian Country who have willingly decided to go back to their reservations and give back to their communities. With great pride and determination, I graduated from the University of Nebraska. I was involved in numerous co-curricular development opportunities while in college—Pi Kappa Alpha Fraternity, student government, the Native American Student Association, new student enrollment orientation, and a plethora of other opportunities. One experience that helped me to realize my desire to pursue involvement in government was the Washington Internship for Native Students.

As I transitioned on to my professional career as a high school business teacher, I took full advantage of the professional associations and development opportunities. Another amazing opportunity that helped me was participating in the 2010–2011 class of Americans for Indian Opportunity’s Ambassadors Program, an Indigenous values–based leadership development initiative that has been most beneficial to my professional knowledge, skills, and practice. During the course of the program, 15 fellow Indigenous ambassadors and I met and worked with leading Native decision-makers and national policymakers, explored family and tribal histories, explored personal “medicine” or inner strength, and strengthened communications skills.

What responsibilities do you have as a tribal leader?

To promote leadership development and community-building initiatives based on traditional Indigenous values for my people while seeking to positively impact our community, strengthen our ability to improve our community’s well-being, and reaffirm cultural values and identity, as well as incorporate traditional values into strategies for our future. As chairman and a member of the Tribal Council I am responsible to govern the tribe through action items and resolutions. The council serves as the decision-making authority on budgets and investments. We protect the health, peace, education, and welfare of the Omaha Tribe.

Who inspired you as a mentor?

I have had several mentors in my life who have inspired me. My parents are not only personal mentors, but also a huge part of my support system. I was inspired to be a teacher by my grandmother, who was also a teacher on our reservation. I have so many mentors now as chairman and a member of the Tribal Council, they are too numerous to list.

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

I have had several family members serve as members of the Tribal Council and have had family members serve as chairman.

Approximately how many members are in your tribe?

The Omaha Tribe has over 8,300 citizens.

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

Any person possessing aboriginal Omaha blood of the degree of one-fourth or more and not enrolled with any other tribe of Indians

Is your language still spoken on your homelands? 

Yes, the Omaha language is spoken fluently by our elders and taught in our public schools on our reservation.

What economic enterprises does your tribe own?

The Omaha Tribe owns a number of enterprises that serve the community, including  Blackbird Bend Casino, Lucky 77 Casino, Omaha Nation Farms LLC, Omaha Nation Construction LLC, Omaha Nation C-Store LLC, and Omaha Tribal Wildlife & Parks.

What annual events does your tribe sponsor?

The Omaha Tribe will be celebrating our 211th Annual Hedewachi (powwow) in August 2015!

What other attractions are available for visitors on your land?

The Omaha Tribe Reservation offers gaming and a scenic overlook area, and our Big Elk Park provides hunting and lodging opportunities

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

We work on a government-to-government basis. A part of our land is in Nebraska, a PL-280 state, which complicates jurisdiction. We enforce our sovereignty through our Tribal Court and decisions we make as a tribal government for our lands and people.

Vernon Miller Peru a
Chairman Miller at Machu Picchu, Peru, with the Americans for Indian Opportunity AMbassadors Program. August 2011. Photo courtesy of the Omaha Tribe.

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

I am inspired almost daily with the tenacity the youth in our community possess. As they struggle and overcome adversity and issues in their home life, I can empathize. I have had numerous conversations with my former students to encourage them to washkoⁿ—to succeed in life. 

I take great pride in the roles with the youth in our community I’ve previously held at the school and through the Association of American Indian Physicians National Native American Youth Initiative. One message I always share is to leave your community, wherever that may be, better than it was for you.

Is there anything else you would like to add?

I am constantly eager to learn and seek out development opportunities and am currently a fellow in the inaugural class of the W. K. Kellogg Foundation (WKKF) Community Leadership Network, marking the foundation’s re-entry into leadership development. This group of 120 community-based established and emerging leaders will develop their leadership skills over the three years of the fellowship with the overall aim of helping vulnerable children and their families achieve optimal health and well-being, access to good food, academic success, and financial security.

The first class includes 24 fellows for each of WKKF’s priority places in the United States: Michigan, New Mexico, Mississippi, and New Orleans. Another 24 fellows from 15 states and the District of Columbia will focus nationwide on racial equity and racial healing issues. During the program’s second year the national racial equity and healing cohort will provide support to the priority state cohorts as they jointly develop and implement third-year community-based and children-centered projects. As a member of the national cohort it has been my pleasure to share my experiences in Indian Country and to promote our issues and concerns.

Thank you. 

Thank you. 

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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December 08, 2014

Meet Native America: Rudy Peone, Chairman, Spokane Tribe of Indians

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 

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Chairman Rudy Peone, Spokane Indian Tribe.

Please introduce yourself with your name and title. 

Rudy Peone, chairman, Spokane Tribe of Indians.

Where is your tribe located?

The Spokane Indian Reservation is in northeastern Washington State.

Where was the Spokane Tribe originally from?

Central/northeastern Washington, encompassing all of the current greater metropolitan area of the city of Spokane, northern Idaho, and western Montana. 

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

In defense of their homelands, the Spokane and allied tribes fought the U.S. Army at the battles of Steptoe, Four Lakes, and Spokane Plains. In 1881, President Rutherford B. Hayes formally established the Spokane Indian Reservation by executive order. The 160,000-acre reservation is bounded by water on three sides—the Columbia River to the west, the Spokane River to the south, and Tsimikin Creek to the east. The construction of Grand Coulee Dam destroyed the abundant salmon runs that lie at the center of traditional Spokane life ways. The dam was completed in 1942. To date, the federal government has not fairly compensated the tribe for the loss of its salmon runs or the inundation of its reservation lands.

How is your tribal government set up? 

Like most tribes we adopted a “cookie-cutter” constitution provided to us by U.S. government officials. Our constitution was adopted in 1951, though we have amended it over the years.  The constitution confers legislative and executive authority upon the Tribal Business Council, or simply Tribal Council, and provides the Tribal Council with the authority to establish a judicial branch. Many years ago, the Tribal Council established the Spokane Tribal Court, an independent court consisting of a chief judge, associate judges, and a court of appeals. Also, the Tribal Council has delegated substantial executive authority to an appointed executive director. 

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

Right now there is not, but over the last few years our tribe has adopted numerous constitutional amendments with a vision of moving closer to a more traditional form of government.

VP Biden and Chmn Peone
U.S. Vice President Joe Biden and Spokane Tribal Chairman Rudy Peone at a Women of Valor Ceremony co-sponsored by Senator Maria Cantwell. Seattle, Washington; October 9, 2014.

How often are elected leaders chosen?

The five members of the Tribal Council are elected to 3-year staggered terms by all tribal citizens 18 years and older. Currently, people must vote in person on Election Day, the first Saturday in June. Each year after the general election, the five sitting members of the Tribal Council vote for chairman, vice chair, and secretary.

How often does your Tribal Council meet?

As per our constitution, we have a meeting of the General Council—made up of all enrolled tribal members—twice per year, once in April and once in November. Along with these two constitutionally required meetings, this Tribal Council has implemented an additional two meetings per month that rotate amongst four locations throughout our current reservation and ancestral homelands, as well as four “Unity” meetings that coincide with the seasonal equinox and solstices. The Tribal Council typically meets at least once per week.

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

I must say that I did not plan to be in this position and would give the Creator and my parents all the credit. I was raised with eight siblings—not rich in finances, but rich in love, respect, and family members who would give the shirt off their backs if another asked. My extended family, including my uncles, aunts, grandparents and cousins, as well as my immediate family, shared this foundation. 

What responsibilities do you have as a tribal leader?

To lead by example both professionally and personally in all aspects of life. Some people need you to determine and set the example, while others need you just simply to be the example. 

Who inspired you as a mentor?

For the majority of my life I would have to say my parents. They seem to be total opposites, yet they have instilled in me honesty, integrity, respect, and perseverance.

As for my professional career, I've had a few mentors that have worked by my side, subordinates as well as supervisors. All of those folks are tribal members who have supported me and nudged me up the ladder to be director of the Tribe’s Natural Resources Department, run for the Tribal Council, and eventually serve as Tribal Council chairman.

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

My family is descended from Okanagan Chief Sia-ko-ken and the brother of Upper Spokane Chief Baptiste Peone.

Approximately how many members are in the Spokane Indian Tribe?

The tribe has approximately 3,000 citizens.

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

Members must have an enrolled parent and one-quarter Indian blood quantum.

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

Yes, our Salish language is still spoken, though less than one percent of the tribe speaks fluently. A larger number of our members can either speak some and/or understand when spoken to. 

What economic enterprises does your tribe own?

We own Spoko Enterprises, which include four fuel stations with convenience stores, a marina and RV campground, an Arby’s, a water-quality and drug-testing laboratory, a motor pool, and two modest casinos.

What annual events does your tribe sponsor?

We sponsor quite a few, such as a fund-raising walk to support the Susan G Komen Foundation, the City of Spokane Heritage Daythe Spokane Interstate Fair, numerous other events in the city of Spokane and larger area, as well as local powwows, celebrations, and local activities for elders and youth.

What attractions are available for visitors on your land?

The Lake Roosevelt Recreation Area is partly within our reservation, also Two River Resort and Marina, the Chewelah Casino, and the Auto Museum.

Rudy Peone 2
Rudy Peone on a training run. His singlet shows the word Spokane written in the tribe's Salish language. 

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

We work together on a government-to-government basis. Sovereignty has always been important to the Spokane. For example, we are moving forward with things such as vehicle licensing and registration, because as a sovereign nation it is our right to require registration and plating of all vehicles within our territory. These actions help our tribal citizens to realize, understand and utilize this right.

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

Respect one another, respect yourself. We are all one, a large family unit who in the past depended upon one another for our survival. Each citizen was a valued member of the tribal unit. Let's remember this, let's practice this.

Things such as jealousy, envy, vindictiveness are not in our tradition. These things were introduced along with colonization and became a part of life, acceptable over time. This needs conscious change. 

Is there anything else you would like to add?

In being an example for my children, family, and reservation community, I have been working hard to maintain a clean, healthy lifestyle that recently culminated in my taking part in the first-ever Warrior Dash World Championship held outside of Sacramento a month or so ago. Qualifying and participating demonstrates the ability for success regardless of your personal or professional situation. Set goals, pursue goals, take ownership of our lives. It's a choice we can all make. 

Thank you. 

Thank you.


All photos are courtesy of the Spokane Tribe of Indians.

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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December 01, 2014

RUMBLE: A Sneak Peek into the Upcoming Music Documentary

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Behind the scenes during the production of RUMBLE, Rezolution Pictures films an interview with singer Tony Bennett at his studio in New York.


RUMBLE: The Indians Who Rocked the World
,
 a feature-length documentary film about the Native American contribution to popular music, will premiere at Sundance in 2016. Made by Rezolution Pictures—creators of the Peabody Award–winning documentary Reel InjunRUMBLE will tell the story of a profound, essential and, until now, missing chapter in the history of American music. These photos give a look into some of the recent interviews being filmed with music icons talking about who some of their largest Native individual influences are.

Steve
Musician and actor Steven Van Zandt at Renegade Studios in New York City.

RUMBLE springs from a partnership between guitarist Stevie Salas (Mescalero Apache) and Tim Johnson (Mohawk), associate director for museum programs at the Smithsonian Institution's National Museum of the American Indian in Washington, D.C., and New York, while putting together the wildly popular exhibition Up Where We Belong: Native Musicians In Popular Culture

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Tony Bennett and Catherine Bainbridge, a writer, director, and producer of RUMBLE.

Up Where We Belong—which was on view at the museum in Washington, D.C., from July 1, 2010, to January 2, 2011, and in New York City from August 4, 2012, to August 11, 2013—celebrated the fact that, for nearly a century, Native people have had successful and influential careers in virtually every form of popular music. The exhibition told these musicians' stories and histories and provided visitors the opportunity to hear music and discover artists with whom these exceptional musicians collaborated. Visitors also learned of the musical greats who inspired these artists, as well as the growing number of contemporary performers who follow in their path.  

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Tony Bennett on camera for RUMBLE.

“Whether they basked in the limelight or played supporting roles, Native musicians have made an enormous contribution to American music as we know it today,” says Kevin Gover (Pawnee), director of the museum. They forged new sounds, worked with some of the greatest names in the music industry and inspired current Native and non-Native performers who continue to build on their legacy, and we are proud to honor them.”

RUMBLE focuses in particular on the last 50 years of this cultural history. In Rezolution Picture's description, "Starting with the birth of rock and roll and following through to the present day pop, RUMBLE will take moviegoers on a personal tour through musical eras and themes, giving them a new understanding of these Native musical pioneers, while showing the history of contemporary music in a whole new light." 

 

All photos by Tim Johnson (Mohawk), NMAI, taken during interviews for the documentary film RUMBLE: The Indians Who Rocked the World

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November 30, 2014

This Day in the Maya Calendar: December 2014

Cholq'ij, the Maya sacred ceremonial calendar of 260 days—a cycle of 20 Day deities and 13 numbers—is the basis of the Maya spirituality that survives to this time, practiced daily among millions of Maya people, in thousands of communities. The interpretation of the days can vary from one Maya people to another. The interpretations given here are based on sustained conversations and participation over three decades with Maya Q'eqchi calendar priest Roderico Teni and daykeeping families in the area of Cobán, Alta Verapaz, Guatemala, by Jose Barreiro (Taíno), head of NMAI’s Office of Latin America, and his wife, Katsi Cook (Mohawk). Glyphs representing the Day lords appear throughout Maya Country; these were painted by Esteban Pop Caal (Q'eqchi Maya) of Cobán.

For more background to this series, please see Jose's introduction, "Living in the Practice." For further insight into the role of the Day lords in everyday life, please see the Maya Journal. For the complete year so far, please see the Maya calendar archive.

Illustrations: Esteban Pop Caal (Q'eqchi Maya), calendar glyphs. Cobán, Alta Verapaz, Guatemala; 2003. Paint on wood. Purchased from the artist. 26/2685. Photos by Ernest Amoroso, NMAI 

7 Batz  |  Monday, December 22, 2014

262685_BatzCorresponding with this day in the Gregorian calendar is 7 Batz. Batz is Monkey; 7 is a pivotal number. Monkey braid, monkey fingers, monkey tail, Batz is the grasp of the monkey's hand so tight and braided the fist will not let go, even in death. Batz is a good day for beginnings, and for some Maya daykeepers, Batz begins the 20-day calendar. Batz is unity, a good day to tie things together, a good day for a marriage or to start a construction, a good day for initiation into the ways. Batz is the thread of time that rolls out from under the earth, weaving life until cut, weaving time into history. People born on Batz are calm and self-confident; they make good spiritual guides and leaders, and goodhearted architects. —Jose Bareirro 

6 Tzi  |  Sunday, December 21, 2014

6a01156f5f4ba1970b019b04c65ab2970d-200wiCorresponding with this day in the Gregorian calendar is 6 Tzi. Tzi is the Canine, the guardian; 6 is a middle, even number. Dog, Wolf, Coyote, Tzi can be snarly, terrifying the unprepared with his bark and his bite. Tzi people are zealous to guard the sacredness of ceremony, to identify and punish "intruders," those not disciplined to participate. Benevolent to friends and fierce to enemies, Tzi is steady to reward or punish. Tzi will punish those who disrespect the Days and the spirit of the family. This is a good day to ask for mystic insight for leaders so that they can seek and discover hidden things, so that they can be just. Tzi has strong sexual energy, hard to restrain. When this energy is defined, people born on Tzi make loyal friends, husbands, and wives. —J. B. 

5 Toj  |  Saturday, December 20, 2014

262685_TojCorresponding with this day in the Gregorian calendar is 5 Toj. Toj is the mystic Fish—the tear of jade and drops of rain, water falling; 5 is one hand. Toj is a day of making even, a good day to pay spiritual and financial debts and to collect what you are owed. This is a day of evenness for a family, a good day for parents to pay the family's debt to el Mundo, good for the oldest son to appreciate the father and the father to appreciate the mountain. Illness can be deviated from the family by making a ceremonial offering on this day. —J. B. 

4 Anil  |  Friday, December 19, 2014

262685_AnilCorresponding with this day in the Gregorian calendar is 4 Anil. Anil is the fertility in the seed, Anil is Rabbit; 4 is a balance. Anil is red, white, yellow, black—the four colors of corn, the seed of life that is the unity of the world. Anil is renewal after death, regeneration of the earth. Anil people are four-directions people and can be good travelers. This is a day of coming back, a day to generate and appreciate abundance, a day of declaring love to create a new relationship, a day to announce the wish to do business, a day of finding lost things, a day to ask for help in overcoming shyness. —J. B.  

3 Kiej  |  Thursday, December 18, 2014 

262685_Kiej

Corresponding with this day in the Gregorian calendar is 3 Kiej. Kiej is the Deer; 3 is a rotor. Kiej is the four directions, four hoofs striking the earth at once, the quaternity of the cosmos linked to prayer, highest aviso to el Mundo—the living world. Kiej is the staff of authority, keen energy of a chief to detect danger, perception of the leader buck, his horns. Kiej is a good day to pray for mental and physical agility, a day of agile travelers and good communicators. It is a day also to ask for clarity before gossip and ill intentions. A major gift of nature, Kiej holds indefatigable energy. He is one of the four main carriers of time. —J. B. 

2 Kame  |  Wednesday, December 17, 2014 

262685_KameCorresponding with this day in the Gregorian calendar is 2 Kame. Kame is the Owl and the recognition of death; 2 is duality. A day that recalls the night, tranquility, and silence, Kame is a good day to ask for the ancient and recent ancestors who have gone on, to thank them, and to remember them with purpose. This is an appropriate day to extend reconciliation, to feel and give forgiveness, to develop patience, to invoke against mortal illnesses, to access superior knowledge. Without fear, it is a good day to approach the spiritual dimension, "the enchantment." —J. B. 

1 Kan  |  Tuesday, December 16, 2014 

262685_KanCorresponding with this day in the Gregorian calendar is 1 Kan. Kan is the Snake; 1 is the beginning. Kan is the ancient origin—Gucumatz, the Plumed Serpent. This is a day of strict and impartial justice, a day of definition and maturity, and a good day to offer respect and to thank the corn. On Kan, matters of justice, judges, and courts can be cleared up. This is a good day to pray that truth and justice are manifest in the Heart of Sky, Heart of Earth; a good day to put aside jealousies and request equilibrium in life and in the family. It is a day to ask for physical strength and patience, to contemplate our spiritual evolution, and to rekindle the internal fire. —J. B. 

13 Kat  |  Monday, December 15, 2014

262685_KatCorresponding with this day in the Gregorian calendar is 13 Kat. Kat is Spider, also Web and Fire; 13 is the highest turbulence. On Kat the unity of the people is paramount, and knowledge is deepened. Kat is the network of the sacred heart, the family hearth. Today is a good day to pray for your family fireplace, the spirit of the fire that belongs in the home, the one that calls other spirits to ceremony and speaks for them. Kat is the net that hauls in the fish and the net that holds the ears of corn, a day that can bring the fruition of things and the untangling of complications. This is a good day to help free prisoners from captivity, to request vigor and power for the weak. —J. B. 

12 Aqbal  |  Sunday, December 14, 2014

262685_AqbalCorresponding with this day in the Gregorian calendar is 12 Aqbal. Aqbal is the Dawn, also Bat; 12 is the highest balance. Aqbal is clarity, the separation of darkness and light as the Sun disperses the fog and obscurity of night. This is a good day to ask for a peaceful and happy daybreak, a day to find hidden and lost things, a day to wash away tears of sadness. On Aqbal, the sacred fire is recognized and appreciated. Aqbal is a good day to clean the ashes (renew the heart) of a fireplace and to present a new baby to el Mundo. A potential bride or groom can be revealed on this day. Harvesting of corn can begin on this day. People born on Aqbal relate in the present and are a special link between past and future. They are early risers, good workers, tranquil and kind, strong before an enemy, good researchers and finders of hidden things, often called "the candle of the home." —J. B. 

11 Iq  |  Saturday, December 13, 2014

262685_IqCorresponding with this day in the Gregorian calendar is 11 Iq. Iq is Wind, also Moon; 11 is high turbulence. Wind is powerful, violent, driven of itself, identity. A day of strong emotion, Iq is also a healing day. Good wind is nutritional for human minds; it is the mystic breath and vital inspiration of nature. On Iq, a breeze or wind that splits against your face is a blessing and a cleansing to purge your head and body of illness. Respiratory ills are prayed over on this day. This is a good day to appreciate all of Creation. The Day lord Iq is one of the four Yearbearers, or mams, a creator who helped finish the world and put breath (essence) in human beings. People born on Iq are inclined toward spiritual ways and can impulsively tap into cosmic sources. —J. B. 

10 Imox  |  Friday, December 12, 2014

262685_ImoxCorresponding with this day in the Gregorian calendar is 10 Imox. Imox is Lizard; 10 is a high balance. Imox is the very force of gravity and a good day to pray for creativity and for rain. Imox can open el Mundo to receive cosmic messages. Known as a "crazy" day, Imox requires much concentration and control. A day of high male intelligence, also impatience and agitation, Imox can be difficult. Grounded on its left side, left arm, this day is easily unbalanced and in need of clasping by left and right hands. Imox can be good if held in the balance of the Heart of Sky and Heart of Earth; unattended, Imox can manifest imbalance, mental nervousness, and even death. People born on Imox are open and sincere, but indecisive—in need of ceremony to set the positive to override the negative. —J. B. 

9 Ajpu  |  Thursday, December 11, 2014

262685_AjpuCorresponding with this day in the Gregorian calendar is 9 Ajpu. Ajpu is Caracol, Spiral Shell; 9 is triple rotor. Ajpu is the Sun, captain of time, a day of personal strength and for good to triumph over evil. Ajpu, who cares for boys and guides men, begins the men's cycle. This is a day to connect with the ancestors, who can reward and punish. Death is reachable and amenable; spirits can ask permission to enter el Mundo, the living world. Day of the warrior and blowgun hunter (cerbatanero), Ajpu is the strong blow of the dart that hits its target, a good day to pray for stealth or for a break in enemy lines. Ajpu is also a good day to start building on a house, a good day to make prayers for women and for success in lactation. —J. B. 

8 Kawoq  |  Wednesday, December 10, 2014 

262685_Kawoq

Corresponding with this day in the Gregorian calendar is 8 Kawoq. Kawoq is Turtle, also Sky Serpent; 8 is a double balance. Kawoq is a high woman day—a day of duality in all of nature and a guardian of contentment. It is the day of woman and man, lightning and thunder, fecundity and imagination; a day of midwives; a day of prayer for unity within the home, strength within the family, renewed strength for convalescents, and the smoothing of all irritation. This is a good day to turn bad medicine back on itself. Kawoq attends to young women in pregnancy, labor, and delivery, and to full realization for all women; it is a day of their sash. Kawoq is also a good day to commemorate the Staff of Authority, a good day for the men of a family and community to pray for the coffers (good fortune) of the women and for the protection of the home. Good midwives, writers, and architects are born on this day. —J. B. 

7 Tijax  |  Tuesday, December 9, 2014

262685_TijaxCorresponding with this day in the Gregorian calendar is 7 Tijax. Tijax is Fish, also Obsidian; 7 is a pivotal number. Tijax is a day of doctors, good to pray for surgeons and all medical practitioners; a day of sacrifice and liberation from suffering; a day of sharp, cutting objects, of knives and scalpels and scissors. Tijax is a safeguard for domestic animals against predators, a good day to pray for all animals that are sacrificed, both in ceremony and in everyday life. Tijax is a good day to use metal (a machete, scissors) to "open the sky"—to solicit rain, solicit life, split black clouds. Gossip, calumny, and sorcery, on money and sexual matters, can be overcome on this day; on a high-number day, disputes can turn public and become debilitating. Tijax is a good day for seasoned masters to fortify daykeeping trainees against ridicule by envious countrymen or evangelicos. It is not a good day to plant. —J. B. 

6 Noj  |  Monday, December 8, 2014

262685_NojCorresponding with this day in the Gregorian calendar is 6 Noj. Noj is Woodpecker; 6 is a middle even number. Noj is a woman's highest intelligence. Maya knowledge and wisdom live in this day—good science to support positive deeds, good projects, good business, a good home. On Noj good ideas are available through the intelligence connected to the movement of the earth. Boys born on this day have important female qualities and can be attentive to the knowledge of nature, which rules all. Girls born on this day can be clear leaders. This is a good day to hear advice and make decisions, a good day to feed the mind, recognize curiosity, and strengthen memory. Noj is one of the four Yearbearers. —J. B. 

5 Ajmac  |  Sunday, December 7, 2014

262685_AjmacCorresponding with this day in the Gregorian calendar is 5 Ajmac. Ajmac is Bee, also Vulture; 5 is one hand. On Ajmac ancestor spirits can detect and smooth the thread of time in our lives. Prudence, intelligence, ancient wisdom are in this day. This is a day to plead forgiveness for serious faults and to be judged. It is a day that demands moral rectitude, respect, and sincere analysis. On this day our faults (stains) must be faced and paid for; humble request for pity is encouraged. Ajmac is a propitious day for the women of a household to make peace with one another after conflict, to apologize for sharp words; it is a good day to pray for smooth relationships and the renewal of agreements among women. Hard luck can face those born on Ajmac. —J. B. 

4 Tz'ikin  |  Saturday, December 6, 2014

262685_Tz'ikinCorresponding with this day in the Gregorian calendar is 4 Tz'ikin. Tz'ikin is Bird, best represented by the Hummingbird, also the Quetzal and Eagle; 4 is a balance. Tz'ikin carries messages between the Heart of Earth and Heart of Sky. Cold, heat, light, air, cloud are its elements. Love, intuition, precognition are strong in those born on this day. Tz'ikin is a good day for humans to follow birds to the corn—to find good material luck. This is a good day to ask for revelation and intelligence, for vision, and for abundance; a good day to ask for collaboration in projects or for personal freedom. On this day, women have the privilege to ask for their husbands and sons to triple the family money. —J. B. 

3 I'x  |  Friday, December 5, 2014 

262685_I'x

Corresponding with this day in the Gregorian calendar is 3 I'x. I'x is Jaguar; 3 is a rotor. I'x is woman's energy day. This is a day to connect with your own land and to pray for its original owners; to pray for and appreciate your house; to pray for the finances to buy and sustain land; to ask for fertility in humans and animals; to request vigor and strength for reproductive organs, particularly female. I'x is a good day to pray to the mountains in favor of the land. It is a good day for a woman to request strength in her husband's commitment to matrimonial stability. People born on I'x have a close relationship to el Mundo and receive good access to precious metals. I'x is a good day for solitude and meditation. —J. B. 

2 Aj  |  Thursday, December 4, 2014 

262685_AjCorresponding with this day in the Gregorian calendar is 2 Aj. Aj is Cane Reed; 2 is duality. Aj begins the women's cycle, sentiments of family and home, the spinal cord. Aj is life and receives life. This is a day of resurgence and renewal, as in the reed and the corn; a day for the triumph of good over evil, life over death; a day of happiness, renewal of food, money, the heart of life. People born on this day renew their communities; they are sickly as children and sturdy as adults; they are especially lucky; they are good awakeners of their families and communities; they make good midwives. Aj is a good day to ask for clarity of destiny, a good day to pray for the protection of your life and of the newborn, a good day to pray for twins, a good day to pray for humanity. —J. B. 

1 Eh  |  Wednesday, December 3, 2014 

262685_Eh

Corresponding with this day in the Gregorian calendar is 1Eh. Eh is Bobcat, also the Path and the Tooth; 1 is the beginning. Eh can orient individuals, groups, or communities to their destiny. Eh is the day to ask for protection from dangers and obstructions during travels—specifically, that on your road the attention of thieves or highway police or border inspectors will be deviated from your trajectory. Solitude is in Eh, light rain, kindness, alignment. People born on this day can be good counselors, spiritual guides with the gift of prayer to Ajaw (Creator) on the destiny of things. Also, good dentists are born on this day. Eh is one of the four pillars of the 20 days, a Yearbearer—a strong, especially sacred day. A prayer started in Batz can be carried by Eh through the full cycle of 20 days. —J. B. 

13 Batz  |  Tuesday, December 2, 2014

262685_BatzCorresponding with this day in the Gregorian calendar is 13 Batz. Batz is Monkey; 13 is the highest turbulence. Monkey braid, monkey fingers, monkey tail, Batz is the grasp of the monkey's hand so tight and braided the fist will not let go, even in death. Batz is a good day for beginnings, and for some Maya daykeepers, Batz begins the 20-day calendar. Batz is unity, a good day to tie things together, a good day for a marriage or to start a construction, a good day for initiation into the ways. Batz is the thread of time that rolls out from under the earth, weaving life until cut, weaving time into history. People born on Batz are calm and self-confident; they make good spiritual guides and leaders, and goodhearted architects. —J. B. 

12 Tzi  |  Monday, December 1, 2014

6a01156f5f4ba1970b019b04c65ab2970d-200wiCorresponding with this day in the Gregorian calendar is 12 Tzi. Tzi is the Canine, the guardian; 12 is the highest balance. Dog, Wolf, Coyote, Tzi can be snarly, terrifying the unprepared with his bark and his bite. Tzi people are zealous to guard the sacredness of ceremony, to identify and punish "intruders," those not disciplined to participate. Benevolent to friends and fierce to enemies, Tzi is steady to reward or punish. Tzi will punish those who disrespect the Days and the spirit of the family. This is a good day to ask for mystic insight for leaders so that they can seek and discover hidden things, so that they can be just. Tzi has strong sexual energy, hard to restrain. When this energy is defined, people born on Tzi make loyal friends, husbands, and wives. —J. B. 

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November 21, 2014

Meet Native America: Ponka-We Victors, Kansas State Representative

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 


Please introduce yourself with your name and title.

Ponka-We Victors, Kansas State representative, District 103

What tribes are you affiliated with?

The Tohono O’odham Nation of Arizona and the Ponca Tribe of Oklahoma

Ponkawe3
Kansas State Representative Ponka-We Victors (member of the Ponca Tribe of Oklahoma and the Tohono O'odham Nation of Arizona).

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

In 1879, Chief Standing Bear of the Ponca Tribe successfully argued in a U.S. District Court that Native Americans are “persons within the meaning of the law.” Not only did he see justice in a U.S. court, but he paved the way for others to fight for Native American rights.

How is your state government set up?

The Kansas government is comprised of
and divided into executive, legislative, and 
judicial branches. The state legislature is composed of 125 representatives and 40 senators.

How are leaders chosen? 

Representatives are elected for a two-year term, and senators are elected for a four-year term. There are no term limits.

Are Democrats or Republicans more dominant in your state?

Republicans have the majority in Kansas.

Do legislators vote along party lines?

There are times where we can all come together on certain issues, and then there are times where we have to agree to disagree. 

Are there any other Natives who are elected leaders in your state?

I’m sure there are by descent, but not very many. I hope to see this change someday and that Native Americans have representation on every level of government.

How many tribes are in your state? Who are they?

There are four tribes in Kansas. They are the Prairie Band Potawatomi Nation, Kickapoo Tribe of Kansas, Sac and Fox Nation of Missouri in Kansas and Nebraska, and the Iowa Tribe of Kansas and Nebraska

Do you ever meet with the Native people of your state?

Yes, it’s important to keep an open line of communication with the four tribes of Kansas and to keep them updated on what’s going on in our state. I also encourage them to visit the Capitol frequently and to sit in on various hearings or testify on an issue.

Do the Native people in Kansas vote in state elections?

Yes. It’s been a slow process, but I know participation will increase as the Native American population becomes more aware of state issues and how the debate might include them and their loved ones.

How often does your state congress meet?

The Kansas State Legislature meets on the second Monday of every January and adjourns in May or when our business at the Capitol is completed.

What responsibilities do you have as a state representative?

I create and vote on legislation that could become law in Kansas. Also, I am assigned to committees that deal with various state issues, including the state budget and oversight of state agencies.

Ponkawe1a
Representative Ponka-We Victors.

What is a significant point in the history of Kansas that you would like to share?

Charles Curtis was the first Native American to hold national office in the United States when he became vice president in 1929. Curtis was born in Topeka, Kansas, and came from the Kansa, Osage, and Potawatomi tribes. He also served in the U.S. House of Representatives and U.S. Senate. I believe he influenced Native Americans and set an example for us to step up and not be afraid to take the lead.

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

Growing up I was always aware of the conditions that our Native people had to live with dealing with health care, education, land issues, etc. I always questioned why we had the worst health care available, and I wanted to see a change at a young age. For example, sometimes I had to wait in the emergency room for three hours or so at the Indian Health Service hospital to be seen by a doctor. When I graduated from college, I decided to intern in Washington, D.C., through a Morris K. Udall Native American Congressional Internship. I witnessed firsthand how our budgets and issues were discussed and sometimes Native American funding was cut. I didn’t see a lot of Native American representation on the federal level, and Congress and the administration were making decisions for us. I decided that I would run for office when the time was right so we could have a voice.

Who inspired you as a mentor? 

Former Kansas State Representative Geraldine Flaharty of Wichita. She was my mentor the first year that I was elected to the Kansas House of Representatives in 2010. Rep. Flaharty is always available to listen to my concerns and give me advice on certain issues. 

Are you a descendant of a historical leader? 

I am a direct descendant of two chiefs from my Ponca heritage—Chief Big Snake and Chief Standing Bear of the Ponca Tribe. They inspire me to be a strong leader and to stand up for others. I am proud to be a descendant of these great leaders.

Approximately how many constituents are in your district? Approximately how many are Native?

There are approximately 7,117 constituents in District 103. Less than 1 percent are Native.

How have you used your elected position to help Natives and other minorities? 

For so long we didn’t have a voice at the capitol. Now I am proud that not only do we have a voice in the Kansas Statehouse, but I can be at the table and be a part of the process to make sure the four tribes and other minorities are included and not forgotten when key issues are being discussed and voted on.

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

Dare to dream and don’t be afraid of change. I wouldn’t be where I am if I was scared of change or if I didn’t take every opportunity that crossed my path. Find something that you are passionate about and find a mentor in that specific area to lead you in the right direction.

Is there anything else you would like to add?

I would like to encourage more Native Americans to run for office whether it is at a municipal, state, or federal level. We need more representation and a voice on all levels of government. 

Thank you.


Photographs © Paula D. Moore, 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/Ponca Tribe of Oklahoma) 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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