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March 31, 2014

Anishinaabe Artist Maria Hupfield Takes a Crack at the Fabergé Big Egg Hunt in New York

 

Maria Process 2
It's difficult to believe that 260-something, two-and-a-half-foot-tall eggs created by artists could be hard to find in New York City, but they will. And they'll be fun to find, too. Photo courtesy of the artist.


Forget oysters. For Brooklyn-based performance artist Maria Hupfield (Wasauksing First Nation) right now, the world is her egg. And she’s hopeful New Yorkers will have fun finding it.

A little confused? Don't be. The mystery surrounding what is likely to become one of the most popular Big Apple springtime events will be revealed when the Fabergé Big Egg Hunt kicks off tomorrow, April 1. Earlier hunts garnered much attention in the U.K. and Ireland. This year marks the event’s New York City debut.

Here’s how it will work: The organizers of the Fabergé Big Egg Hunt challenged more than 260 globally renowned artists, designers, and creatives—including Hupfield—to transform two-and-a-half-foot egg forms into compelling three-dimensional artistic masterpieces. The eggs are placed in secret locations “high and low” throughout the five boroughs. From April 1 through 17, the public is invited to take part in the hunt via a special smart-phone app, with incredible gemstone prizes from Fabergé serving as an incentive. From April 18 through 25, all the eggs will be on view in a free public exhibition at Rockefeller Center. 

Maria 1_webb_paul Niemi Maria detail2

Left: Performance artist Maria Hupfield at the National Museum of the American Indian in New York. Right: Bandolier bag with Woodland decoration (detail), made by Hupfield of industrial felt. Photos by Paul Niemi, NMAI.


Hupfield’s personal work explores universal conditions, locating the body in relationship to self, objects, and place. She was a logical choice to participate, not only because she has made a name for herself internationally with work featured at New York's Museum of Arts and Design and the Vancouver Art Gallery in the last couple of years, but also because of her lifelong immersion in craft. Craft was a big part of her upbringing as a member of the Wasauksing First Nation in Ontario, Canada. She is descended from a line of “makers,'” as she calls them—Hupfield’s father is a boat-builder, and many of her aunts make traditional quill boxes.

Felt
Hupfield creates beauty out of practical materials. Photos courtesy of the artist.

Accustomed to replicating everyday objects (a camera, for instance) in gray industrial felt for her art practice, Hupfield explains that she likes to think with her hands—to create things that show practicality as well as real aesthetic appreciation. “I work across different disciplines,” she says. Some of her pieces stand alone, sculpturally; others are used in performance to “activate them.”

When it came to cracking the design of her big egg, Hupfield admits, “I have never created something of that scale.” Hupfield’s traditional Anishinaabe culture, though, outweighed her lack of large-scale project experience. “My artwork is about ideas that are greatly informed by my upbringing and where I come from.” She recently used traditional Eastern Woodland floral patterns to adorn objects used in performance pieces that celebrate the exhibition Before and after the Horizon: Anishinaabe Artists of the Great Lakes, on view at the National Museum of the American Indian in New York through June 13. Hupfield found great inspiration in the innate shape of the egg and went to work translating the her relief designs. 

MARIA PROCESS 1a
Hupfield's sculpture dons its gray flannel suit—a clever disguise for an artwork that hopes to pass as just another businessegg in the city. Photo courtesy of the artist.

Hupfield contends that while she was given the same form as other artists, her egg offers something a little bit different. “It’s soft, huggable, and beautiful. You won’t necessarily be able to touch it, but there’s definitely a sense of tactileness,” she explains. “I'm excited to see how people respond to it.”

She’ll have to wait. Once ten people have found her egg, its location will be revealed. For now, not even Hupfield has an inkling where that may be. Event organizers expect the locations of all the eggs to go public by the end of the first week. 

One important thing you can know now is that the Fabergé Big Egg Hunt in New York is a charity event. Each egg will be auctioned off to the public online, with bidding beginning April 1 on the Fabergé Big Egg Hunt website. Funds raised this year will go to support Elephant Family and Studio in a School. 

Starting April 1, the event website is also the easiest place to go to download the egg hunt app.

So, where would you hide a two-and-a-half foot egg? 

For more information on the Fabergé Big Egg Hunt, please visit thebigegghunt.org/

Twitter & Instagram @thebiggegghuntNY & #thebigegghuntNY

Facebook.com/thebigegghunt

—Paul Niemi

Paul Niemi is an arts and culture writer and a Museum Ambassador at the National Museum of the American Indian in New York. The quotations in this piece are from Paul’s recent interview with Maria Hupfield at the museum.

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wow that was nice information. I can imagine how creative you are.

Awesome post.

March 30, 2014

This Day in the Maya Calendar: April 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 

5 Tz'ikin  |  Wednesday, April 30, 2014

262685_Tz'ikinCorresponding with this day in the Gregorian calendar is 5 Tz'ikin. Tz'ikin is Bird, best represented by the Hummingbird, also the Quetzal and Eagle; 5 is one hand. 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. —Jose Barreiro 

4 I'x  |  Tuesday, April 29, 2014 

262685_I'x

Corresponding with this day in the Gregorian calendar is 4 I'x. I'x is Jaguar; 4 is a balance. 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.

3 Aj  |  Monday, April 28, 2014 

262685_AjCorresponding with this day in the Gregorian calendar is 3 Aj. Aj is Cane Reed; 3 is a rotor. 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. 

2 Eh  |  Sunday, April 27, 2014

262685_EhCorresponding with this day in the Gregorian calendar is 2 Eh. Eh is Bobcat, also the Path and the Tooth; 2 is duality. 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. 

1 Batz  |  Saturday, April 26, 2014

262685_BatzCorresponding with this day in the Gregorian calendar is 1 Batz. Batz is Monkey; 1 is the beginning. 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. 

13 Tzi  |  Friday, April 25, 2014

6a01156f5f4ba1970b019b04c65ab2970d-200wiCorresponding with this day in the Gregorian calendar is 13 Tzi. Tzi is the Canine, the guardian; 13 is the highest turbulence. 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. 

12 Toj  |  Thursday,  April 24, 2014

262685_TojCorresponding with this day in the Gregorian calendar is 12 Toj. Toj is the mystic Fish—the tear of jade and drops of rain, water falling; 12 is the highest balance. 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. 

11 Anil  |  Wednesday, April 23, 2014

262685_AnilCorresponding with this day in the Gregorian calendar is 11 Anil. Anil is the fertility in the seed, Anil is Rabbit; 11 is high turbulence. 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. 

10 Kiej  |  Tuesday, April 22, 2014 

262685_KiejCorresponding with this day in the Gregorian calendar is 10 Kiej. Kiej is the Deer; 10 is a high balance. 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. 

9 Kame  |  Monday, April 21, 2014 

262685_KameCorresponding with this day in the Gregorian calendar is 9 Kame. Kame is the Owl and the recognition of death; 9 is a triple rotor. 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.  

8 Kan  |  Sunday, April 20, 2014 

262685_KanCorresponding with this day in the Gregorian calendar is 8 Kan. Kan is the Snake; 8 is a double balance. 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. 

7 Kat  |  Saturday, April 19, 2014

262685_KatCorresponding with this day in the Gregorian calendar is 7 Kat. Kat is Spider, also Web and Fire; 7 is a pivotal number. 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. 

6 Aqbal  | Friday, April 18, 2014

262685_AqbalCorresponding with this day in the Gregorian calendar is 6 Aqbal. Aqbal is the Dawn, also Bat; 6 is a middle, even number. 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. 

5 Iq  | Thursday, April 17, 2014

262685_IqCorresponding with this day in the Gregorian calendar is 5 Iq. Iq is Wind, also Moon; 5 is one hand. 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.  

4 Imox  |  Wednesday, April 16, 2014

262685_ImoxCorresponding with this day in the Gregorian calendar is 4 Imox. Imox is Lizard; 4 is a 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. 

3 Ajpu  |  Tuesday, April 15, 2014

262685_AjpuCorresponding with this day in the Gregorian calendar is 3 Ajpu. Ajpu is Caracol, Spiral Shell; 3 is a 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. 

2 Kawoq  |  Monday, April 14, 2014 

262685_KawoqCorresponding with this day in the Gregorian calendar is 2 Kawoq. Kawoq is Turtle, also Sky Serpent; 2 is duality. 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. 

1 Tijax  |  Sunday, April 13, 2014

262685_TijaxCorresponding with this day in the Gregorian calendar is 1 Tijax. Tijax is Fish, also Obsidian; 1 is the beginning. 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. 

13 Noj  |  Saturday, April 12, 2014

262685_NojCorresponding with this day in the Gregorian calendar is 13 Noj. Noj is Woodpecker; 13 is the highest turbulence. 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. 

12 Ajmac  |  Friday, April 11, 2014

262685_AjmacCorresponding with this day in the Gregorian calendar is 12 Ajmac. Ajmac is Bee, also Vulture; 12 is the highest balance. 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.  

11 Tz'ikin  |  Thursday, April 10, 2014

262685_Tz'ikinCorresponding with this day in the Gregorian calendar is 11 Tz'ikin. Tz'ikin is Bird, best represented by the Hummingbird, also the Quetzal and Eagle; 11 is high turbulence. 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.  

10 I'x  |  Wednesday, April 9, 2014 

262685_I'x

Corresponding with this day in the Gregorian calendar is 10 I'x. I'x is Jaguar; 10 is a high balance. 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.  

9 Aj  |  Tuesday, April 8, 2014 

262685_AjCorresponding with this day in the Gregorian calendar is 9 Aj. Aj is Cane Reed; 9 is a triple rotor. 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. 

8 Eh  |  Monday, April 7, 2014

262685_EhCorresponding with this day in the Gregorian calendar is 8 Eh. Eh is Bobcat, also the Path and the Tooth; 8 is a double balance. 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. 

7 Batz  |  Sunday, April 6, 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. —J. B. 

6 Tzi  |  Saturday, April 5, 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  |  Friday,  April 4, 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  |  Thursday, April 3, 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  |  Wednesday, April 2, 2014 

262685_KiejCorresponding 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  |  Tuesday, April 1, 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.  

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March 28, 2014

Meet Native America: Michell Hicks, Principal Chief of the Eastern Band of Cherokee 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.

Both Principal Chief Hicks and Principal Chief Bill John Baker of the Cherokee Nation are profiled in Meet Native America this week. The two nations join us in hosting Cherokee Days—a free festival of storytelling, films, dance, music, family activities, and cultural demonstrations at the museum in Washington, D.C., Thursday, April 3, through Saturday, April 5, 2014Visit the museum's online calendar for the full schedule of festival events. The festival will be webcast live from 11 a.m. to about 3 p.m. Friday and 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturday. —Dennis Zotigh, NMAI 

 

Chief Hicks portrait a
Michell Hicks, principal chief of the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians.

Please introduce yourself with your name and title.

Michell Hicks, principal chief of the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians.

Can you share with us your Native name and its English translation?

I possess no Native name or nickname, but the Cherokee word for chief is u-gu-wi-u-hi. 

Where is the Eastern Band located? Where was your nation originally from?

The Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians lives in western North Carolina in the Great Smoky Mountains. Our lands today were the heart of the Cherokee Nation at the time of European contact. At that time our tribe controlled parts of what are now eight states: North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia, Alabama, Tennessee, Kentucky, Virginia, and West Virginia. 

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

The story of the Eastern Band is one of survival. We avoided the Removal of our people in the 1830s and survived the destruction of the old Cherokee Nation.

How is the Eastern Band government set up?

Our government functions under a governing charter. However we formed in the later part of the 19th century under the Lloyd Welch Constitution. We have an executive branch, led by the principal chief and vice chief, which oversees the nation's day-to-day operations; a Tribal Council of elected officials from six voting districts, which develops legislation; and a Tribal Court system with civil and criminal courts as well as a Supreme Court.

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

The Eastern Band has many forms of traditional leadership. We have a thriving Ga-du-gi group of men and women who come together to support families during times of hardship. This includes digging graves and cooking for funerals, scraping snowy driveways, and providing wood to elderly community members. 

How often are elected leaders chosen?

The principal chief and vice chief are elected every four years. The Tribal Council is elected every two years. All office-holders may serve for an unlimited number of popularly elected terms. 

How often does the council meet?

Our Tribal Council meets in official session twice a month, once to resolve budget issues and once to undertake other business. Additionally, there are several Tribal Council committees that meet monthly to work on business and prepare for the regular Tribal Council sessions.

What responsibilities do you have as principal chief?

I have a responsibility to keep our community safe, to provide access to quality health care, to provide educational opportunities, and to promote a lifestyle that celebrates our heritage and preserves our language. 

Chief Hicks with children a
Chief Hicks presenting copies of the children's book True Blue to students at Cherokee Elementary School, Cherokee, North Carolina, December 4, 2006. Written and illustrated by Eastern Band members Annette Suanooke Clapsaddle and Paula Nelson, the story idea began with Sammi Suanooke, a kindergarten teacher at the school, who wanted her students to learn the rewards of patience and listening to elders. The book is part of a series of children's titles published by the chief's office to promote Cherokee values and encourage families to read to their children at home. 

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

My background is finance. I earned my CPA in 1994 and worked in accounting from 1987 until I was elected chief in 2003. Most notably I served as the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians' executive director of budget and finance for approximately seven years. I feel my experiences were the best preparation for the challenges facing our tribe today.

Who inspired you as a mentor?

There are several individuals who have inspired me by their service to the Eastern Band community. These include former Eastern Band Principal Chief Joyce Dugan, former Cherokee Nation Chief Wilma Mankiller, and Ray Kinsland

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

My family traces our lineage through my grandfather back to Charles Hicks (1767–1827), a tribal chief who lived in eastern Tennessee. In the first decades of the 19th century, Charles was very influential in easing tensions between the Cherokee Nation and their early non-Indian neighbors. My colleagues Bob Blankenship, councilmember for Yellowhill Township, and Nancy Maney, Eastern Band enrollment officer, recently shared research that traces my grandmother's family back to Chief Yonaguska (or Yonaguskia, 1760?–1839), who promoted both temperance and peace and who remained in the North Carolina mountains during the Removal and helped rebuild the Eastern Band. 

Approximately how many citizens are in the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians?

There are approximately 15,000 tribal members.

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

Enrollment is for those who are direct descendants of Cherokees listed on the 1924 Baker Roll and who are of at least one-sixteenth degree of Eastern Cherokee blood quantum. 

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

The Kituwah dialect is still spoken among our people, although there are fewer than 400 fluent speakers. Our tribe has invested in the New Kituwah Academy, a Cherokee language–based school, in an effort to preserve and further our language. We currently have approximately 60 students enrolled in this school.

What economic enterprises does your nation own?

The Eastern Band of Cherokees owns and operates Harrah’s Cherokee Casino Resort and will soon open the Harrah’s Valley River Casino & Hotel. We have several other enterprises including the Cherokee Boys Club, which provides administrative services for the Cherokee Central School system; Cherokee Bottled Water; and Cherokee Wildlife and Fisheries, which operates one of the largest commercial fish hatcheries in the eastern United States.

What annual events does your community sponsor?

I asked the Eastern Band tourism staff to help answer this, to do justice to all the special events we host: 

Events, festivals, fairs, and more abound in Cherokee throughout the spring, summer, and fall, all as diverse as they are delightful. They’re a great way to have a great time, and often they provide an easy opportunity to absorb some intriguing Cherokee culture through dance, food, craftmaking, and more. But some Cherokee events are simply a fun way to spend time with your friends and family.

The Cherokee Voices Festival is all things Cherokee—living history, traditional dances, music, singing, crafting demonstrations, and food. Hosted on the grounds of the Museum of the Cherokee Indian, featuring North Carolina Arts Council Heritage Award–winners and elders who typically aren’t able to perform at festivals, yet do so here. 

Traditional, Jingle, or Grass are only three of the categories world-champion Indian dancers will perform during the 39th Annual 4th of July Powwow. For three days it's a stirring spectacle of majestic tribal regalia, drum, and song, in a sea of twirling color. 

The Memorial Day Youth Powwow is a gathering of tribes, all focused on passing on what’s important to their youngest members—their sacred rituals and customs, their regalia and dance, and of course, their music.

The Open Air Indian Market presents Fine Cherokee art, made right before visitors' eyes by master artisans using age-old techniques.

Cherokee Indian Fair is over a century old. It’s a carnival and an agriculture show, an art show and a game show. 

It’s always a good time for a few stories by the bonfire, which is why we have Cherokee Bonfire all season long. Cherokee storytellers in their best 17th-century attire recount myths, legends, and history inherent to Cherokee culture. There’s dancing, too, and of course, marshmallows.

Another event people can enjoy throughout the season, Music by the River presents music in the fresh mountain air, for free.  

7 Clans Rodeo—a Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association–sanctioned event—is time to see cowboys pay for hundreds of years of beef jerky. There’ll be bull ridin’, bronco bustin’, and a corral full of skills competitions. Visitors might even see a cowboy get hurled into the —you know, fun for the whole family.

The Qualla Boundary has long been home to a host of barbecue lovers, purveyors, and enthusiasts. So the Eastern Band created the Cherokee Barbecue Festival to share our passion and skill. If you love all meats grilled, pulled, and smoked, join us. 

People can find dates and further details on these and other special events at VisitCherokeeNC.com.

What other attractions are available for visitors on your land?

The Museum of the Cherokee Indian is the oldest tribal museum in the United States and operates year round. The Cherokee Historical Association operates the Oconaluftee Indian Village, a re-creation of a 17th-century Cherokee Village, and the summer production of Unto These Hills, an outdoor drama. The Qualla Arts and Crafts Cooperative is the oldest Native artist cooperative in the United States and operates a retail store.

We are also the southern terminus of the Blue Ridge Parkway and the eastern entrance to Great Smoky Mountains National Park.

How does the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians deal with the United States as a sovereign nation?

We have worked extremely hard to build and maintain good relationships at the state and federal level and further have spent endless hours educating lawmakers about Eastern Band priorities.

What message would you like to share with Eastern Band young people?

Dreams can be achieved through commitment and a good work ethic.  

Thank you.

Photographs courtesy of the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians. Used with permission.

To read other interviews in this series, click on the banner below. 

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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 images used with permission. 

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I am a Hicks descended from Charles Renatus Hicks. I would like to know someone who stayed in the Cherokee nation who also descended from him. Like my great (however many) grandfather, I too am a Christian. My grandfather's father was a Edward Nathan Hicks. My grandfather's name was Charles Dewey Hicks.

March 27, 2014

The Museum's Artist Leadership Program Launches a New Collaboration with the Institute of American Indian Arts

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Melissa Shaginoff (Chickaloon Village) and Charles Rencountre (Lower Brule Sioux Tribe) are the first participants in a prototype Artist Leadership Program for students at the Institute of American Indian Arts. 

The Artist Leadership Program (ALP) of the National Museum of the American Indian (NMAI) aims to rebuild cultural self-confidence, challenge personal boundaries, and foster cultural continuity while reflecting artistic diversity. This year, the museum and the Institute of American Indian Arts (IAIA) in Santa Fe worked together to develop a prototype program within the ALP for IAIA college students from indigenous communities in the United States. The program's goal is to recognize and promote indigenous artistic leadership and, at the same time, enhance the artistic growth, development, and leadership of emerging student artists and scholars. Selection for the program is coordinated with the IAIA and is based on students’ proposed research, public art projects, academic presentations, digital portfolios, resumes, artist statements, and letters of support from IAIA faculty. Participating students register and receive credit for their independent study experience.

Melissa Shaginoff (Chickaloon Village) and Charles Rencountre (Lower Brule Sioux Tribe) are taking in the inaugural program, conducting research in the museum’s collections and making presentations to the museum’s staff. In the next phase of the program, Melissa and Charles will create new works of art for public display at IAIA, based on their research projects at the NMAI. Here are their personal stories of their NMAI research, staff experiences, and perceptions on Native art. 
 

CHARLES RENCOUNTRE 

I am a Lakota from Rapid City, South Dakota. I am enrolled at the Lower Brule Sioux Tribe. I am a student and artist working on a BFA at the Institute of American Indian Arts (IAIA) in Santa Fe, New Mexico. I will begin my senior projects in the fall semester of 2014.

My goal in coming to the National Museum of the American Indian (NMAI) was to research the calumet and see first-hand how they were constructed by the ancestors. My perception of the world of research changed over the course of the first several hours I spent at the Cultural Resource Center (CRC) during the week of March 17 to 22, 2014. I was introduced to Mr. Anthony Williams, a museum specialist, and he guided me through the research and treated me and the sensitive objects with the highest level of respect and professionalism. He also asked if I would like to use the smudge room, and I gratefully accepted this offer.

The level of security personnel, locked doors and departmental passes all seemed a normal part of the museum culture I have been accustomed to in the larger museum field. It was the level of kindness and family at the NMAI while attending to the need for security that affected my perception.

My wife Alicia brought this NMAI opportunity to my attention after seeing it in her IAIA email account. She is my strongest educational advocate. I will share my experience with my fellow art students as a must-do, and I will also share my new knowledge about the accessibility and proper protocols for attaining research through the NMAI. 

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Emil Her Many Horses (left) and Charles Rencountre working together at the museum's Cultural Resources Center. 

The most significant moment was when I was consulting with Mr. Emil Her Many Horses in the CRC collections. He is a respected artist, scholar, role model, and elder from my home community, the Lakota Nation in South Dakota. Mr. Her Many Horses took the time to share with me the stories of our people and how they related to the making of the calumets. He explained the reasons why different feathers, yarns, and colors were used. He taught me things that could only be taught person to person. His teaching will stay with me, and I will share it as I make my public art project for my community. 

Regarding the question of art, or of contemporary and traditional Native American Art: I have always identified myself as a Native American contemporary traditional artist. After visiting the Smithsonian’s National Museum of the American Indian and the Cultural Resource Center in Suitland, Maryland, my perception of the idea of art is reaffirmed. The making of what we call art is a gift of expressing what is important in our lives. It could be as simple as decorating a bag that holds a ration card from the early reservation era, or as large as a forty-foot totem pole from the Northwest coastal tribes. 

The value of this NMAI Artist Leadership Program experience to me is that I now have more of the skills required to be an effective researcher and artist, not only at the NMAI but also within the entire Smithsonian complex worldwide. I have been taught some of the foundational protocols for accessing information from the Cultural Resource Center’s staff. I have become a member of the NMAI’s family, something I value very highly, and I am deeply honored by it. 

The first skills I learned and will be practicing have to do with the archival aspect of research. I think this is the most important part for me, because I will be conducting research from afar. Working with Heather Shannon, Rachel Menyuk, and Michael Pahn in the archives department was gaining a very important tool that I can use immediately. I could have spent more time with them easily. 

Based on my desire to learn and on what the NMAI has shared with me, I will lead by example. I will continue to research with the tools I have been gifted and share with my fellow students my successes. 

I will use these new skills to research my Senior Projects in my last two semesters at IAIA. I will take these skills through the rest of my career and share them with all who ask for my help. 

It truly has been an honor to become a family member of the NMAI; it is a dream come true. Thank you Jill Norwood, community services specialist; Jacquetta Swift, repatriation manager; Heather Shannon, photo archivist; Rachel Menyuk, archives technician; Zandra Wilson, cultural interpreter; Dennis Zotigh, museum cultural specialist; and so many more of the Smithsonian family who where so helpful and supportive. 

—Charles Rencountre 


MELISSA SHAGINOFF

My name is Melissa Shaginoff, and I am Ahtna Athabascan of the Tsisyu clan from Chickaloon Village, Alaska. I grew up in the small fishing town of Kenai, Alaska. I received my first Bachelor’s degree in Psychology, from the University of Alaska, Anchorage, and I’m currently enrolled in the BFA program at the Institute of American Indian Arts. My current work centers upon my own personal identity and issues of contemporary indigenous female identity. 

My first intention was to gain a visual reference for objects I had been told about but had never seen back home. Items such as traditional red ochre painted regalia and symbolic amulets. I applied to the Artist Leadership Program in my first semester at IAIA. Being a new student, I didn’t think my research proposal would be chosen, but the chance to experience these items empirically was so intriguing I had to at least apply. And luckily I was chosen for this great opportunity. I would certainly recommend this experience to other students. My time at NMAI I feel has forever changed my art, and the knowledge I’ve gained I will share with my tribe and family.

ALP IAIA c
Melissa Shaginoff's research focuses on Ahtna–Athabascan objects in the museum's collections.

It’s hard to narrow down what was the most significant moment of this NMAI Artist Leadership Program experience, but I would have to say that a certain item I looked at was particularity special to me. There is only a small number of Ahtna-specified material in the NMAI collections, so I asked to look at all of it. I came across a knife and hide sheath. The NMAI collection staff member I was working with, Veronica Quiguango, suggested that we turn the item around and look on the back. When we did, we discovered the name Chief Nikolai carved into the hide sheath. Chief Nikolai was my great-great granduncle. There are some 800,000 items in the collection at NMAI and somehow I chose to look at this knife and sheath. Perhaps it is just serendipitous, but I feel very blessed to have been gifted with such a physical connection to my experience at the museum. This knife and sheath have inspired a confidence that I am on the right path in the current exploration of my art.

As artists we all draw upon personal history in developing our ideas and process. As an artist with a Native background, I naturally draw upon indigenous technique and material in my work. This experience with NMAI has only increased that background of techniques and materials to draw upon.

I feel that I gained a new respect for the collection itself. There’s a certain power to these items that I studied that is palpable and reverent. Both the knowledge possessed in the construction of these items and the thought that perhaps the last Ahtna person to hold these things quite possibly was my great-great granduncle is a humbling concept. I now want to become a leader of my community. I want to share what I’ve learned and experienced at NMAI and encourage others to reach out for opportunities, because experiences like this have the ability to change so much of one’s own work. I certainly will never be the same and neither will my art. I’ve grown as both an artist and as an Ahtna person. I cannot thank NMAI and IAIA enough for this gift. Tsin’aen—thank you.

—Melissa Shaginoff

 

To learn about Artist Leadership Program opportunities for mid-career artists and arts organizations, including detailed information on how to apply, see the Artist Leadership Program page on the museum’s website. Please note that this year's deadline for applications is Monday, May 5, 2014. 

The program Melissa and Charles have described is a prototype currently limited to applicants from Institute of American Indian Arts.

—Keevin Lewis 

Keevin Lewis (Navajo) is coordinator of the National Museum of the American Indian's Artist Leadership Program.

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Meet Native America: Bill John Baker, Principal Chief of the Cherokee 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.

Both Principal Chief Baker and Principal Chief Michell Hicks of the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians are profiled in Meet Native America this week. The two nations join us in hosting Cherokee Days—a free festival of storytelling, films, dance, music, family activities, and cultural demonstrations at the museum in Washington, D.C., Thursday, April 3, through Saturday, April 5, 2014. Visit the museum's online calendar for the full schedule of festival events. The festival will be webcast live from 11 a.m. to about 3 p.m. Friday and 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturday. Dennis Zotigh, NMAI 

Chief and Mrs Baker a
Cherokee Nation First Lady Sherry Baker and Principal Chief Bill John Baker, Cherokee Nation, Oklahoma. Photo © Jeremy Charles. Used with permission. 
 

Please introduce yourself with your name and title. 

Bill John Baker, principal chief of the Cherokee Nation

Where is your nation located?

The Cherokee Nation’s headquarters is in Tahlequah, Oklahoma, and our nation’s jurisdiction spans all or part of 14 counties in the northeastern corner of Oklahoma. 

Where were your people originally from?

Where we came from is an important part of who we are as Cherokee people. Our home now is in Oklahoma, but our original and ancestral homelands are in Tennessee, Georgia, Kentucky, Alabama, Virginia, South Carolina, and North Carolina. These are the lands we hunted and harvested, the places where our tribal systems of government and education were born, where our ancestors are buried, and where our dances and songs were developed and shared. 

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

Last fall marked the 175th anniversary of the start of the Trail of Tears, when we were forced to leave our homelands. Our ancestors endured unfathomable hardship and tragedy, yet they never gave up, and Cherokee people persevered. We estimate a quarter of the 16,000 Cherokees who started out on the Trail of Tears perished.

Knowing where we come from, and the fortitude and strength our ancestors showed in starting over in Oklahoma, is something deeply personal to each and every Cherokee citizen. That history lies within each of us and is a legacy that is ingrained in us as a people—and as a sovereign nation. After removal, the Cherokee people reestablished our government in Oklahoma. Tribal school systems were created and courts were established; our newspaper informed citizens of events and the day’s news. We rebuilt one of history’s most sophisticated societies.

Today, the Cherokee Nation is a nationwide model for economic, political and cultural sustainability and autonomy. As Cherokee people, we are stronger today than ever before. 

How is the Cherokee national government set up?

The Cherokee Nation has executive, legislative, and judicial branches, with executive power vested in the principal chief, legislative power in the Tribal Council, and judicial power in the Supreme Court and District Court. 

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

Ceremonial grounds still exist in several Cherokee communities and follow an ancient leadership and service model. Emphasis is on roles and responsibilities, rather than hierarchy. Each ground has a chief, second chief, community chief, and speaker.

There are seven clans, and each is led by an elder woman. Each clan also has medicine people who work for the wellness and protection of the community. Like in ancient times, the ceremonial grounds are autonomous, each serving and policing its own members and operating independently from the current adopted tripartite government model. However, leaders from the ceremonial grounds are advisors to the chief of the Cherokee Nation. 

How often are elected leaders chosen?

The principal chief, deputy chief, and Tribal Council are elected to four-year terms by registered tribal voters over the age of 18. The Cherokee Nation holds elections every two years, electing seven or eight of the councilors, who serve staggered terms. The principal chief and deputy chief are elected every four years in the same election. 

How often does your council meet?

The Cherokee Nation Tribal Council meets in regular session once a month, with various committee meetings held monthly as well.   

Chief baker at Health roll out 2b
Chief Baker announcing a $100-million commitment to improve health care for Cherokee Nation citizens. The investment of dividends from Cherokee Nation Businesses (CNB) was unanimously approved by the CNB board of directors. Tahlequah, March 28, 2013. Photo courtesy of the Cherokee Nation. Used with permission.

What responsibilities do you have as principal chief?  

As chief, I have taken an oath of office to preserve the history, the culture, and the heritage of the Cherokee Nation. I take my oath very seriously, and every decision I make, I make for the betterment of Cherokee people. I was taught that we honor our ancestors by living healthy, productive lives that leave our world better for the next seven generations. That is a principle that guides me day in and day out as the elected leader of my tribal nation. 

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

I am uniquely qualified to be the chief of the Cherokee Nation. I have worn many hats as a father, businessman, and Tribal Council member. As a small business owner, I understand budgeting, fiscal responsibility, and job creation. Because my parents and both my grandmothers were teachers, I grew up seeing the value of quality education and how it can shape the lives of young people. As a contractor, I built houses and saw firsthand how important a home is for successful family development. I’ve also farmed and ranched on my family land, which helped me develop an appreciation for conservation and natural resource protection. As the husband of a nurse, I have seen how quality health care can improve the lives of our families and our communities. 

Who inspired you as a mentor? 

I’m inspired by many Cherokee citizens throughout history—the leadership of Chief John Ross, who led the Cherokees during the removal period; the political insight and humor of Will Rogers; and the scholarly work of Sequoyah. However, my mother, Dr. Isabel Baker, is and has always been my moral compass in life. As a lifetime educator, the first mother is dedicated to community and forward progress, ideals guided by her faith and her family. She has always led by example and lived with the greater good in mind. I strive every day to match her work ethic, her priorities, and her spirit. 

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

I am the seventh great-grandson of Nancy Ward—Nanyehi in the Cherokee language—a Beloved Woman of the Cherokee. As a Beloved Woman, she headed the Women's Council and sat on the Council of Chiefs. She, along with the chiefs and other Beloved Women, made important decisions. In this powerful position, her opinion was highly influential in the tribal government and Cherokee history.

Approximately how many citizens are in your nation?

The Cherokee Nation is the largest sovereign tribal government in the United States, with more than 305,000 citizens. As a government, we provide our citizens essential services like health and human services, education, employment services, housing, economic development opportunities, and environmental protection.

What are the criteria to become a citizen?

In accordance with the Constitution of the Cherokee Nation, eligible citizens must trace their ancestry to at least one person listed on the Dawes Rolls. The Dawes Rolls were a federal census of those Indians living in the Cherokee Nation and were used to allot Cherokee land to individual citizens in preparation for Oklahoma statehood. There is no minimum blood quantum for citizens of the Cherokee Nation.

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

There are between 2,000 and 4,000 fluent Cherokee speakers, and many more who are second-language learners of Cherokee. Increasing these numbers is imperative and the primary reason for the Cherokee Nation language immersion school, a language preservation program designed to revitalize the Cherokee language, beginning with our children.

Through the efforts of our Cherokee translation department, the Cherokee language has been embraced by new technology. Now our tribal syllabary, or alphabet, is available on Apple, Microsoft, and Google products. The new generation of speakers we are educating will be able to text, email, produce documents and spreadsheets, and talk all in Cherokee. 

What economic enterprises does the Cherokee Nation own?

Sovereign tribal governments are among the biggest contributors to Oklahoma’s economy. The Cherokee Nation’s economic impact on Oklahoma is more than $1.3 billion. At Cherokee Nation Businesses, our holdings cover multiple sectors, such as gaming and hospitality, construction, aerospace and defense, manufacturing, technology, environmental services, real estate, and health care. In the coming year, we will continue to be aggressive in our approach to job creation and strategies for business growth. 

What annual events does the nation sponsor?

Cherokee National Holiday, held annually on Labor Day weekend, is a celebration of Cherokee heritage and cultural awareness, and a homecoming for our families. Every year tens of thousands of Cherokees and visitors return to our historic capital in Tahlequah to renew friendships and celebrate the Cherokee spirit. The holiday has been observed annually since 1953 to commemorate the signing of the 1839 Cherokee Constitution. Our entertainment, cultural, and athletic events have propelled Cherokee National Holiday into one of the largest festivals in Oklahoma, attracting more than 100,000 visitors from across the world.

What attractions are available for visitors on your land?

Cherokee Nation is located in northeast Oklahoma’s Green Country. With more than 66,000 acres to explore, the area is home to an abundance of lakes, rivers, state parks, and nature trails.

In the Cherokee Nation’s capital city, Tahlequah, and nearby Park Hill, Oklahoma, cultural-tourism efforts have led to the preservation and restoration of four historic sites, three of which are now Cherokee-owned and -operated museums. The Cherokee Heritage Center, one of Oklahoma’s most prestigious tourist attractions, operates in a joint partnership with the Cherokee Nation and recently opened a new outdoor village named Diligwa, reminiscent of the Cherokee Nation in the very early 1700s. Other sites include the Cherokee National Prison Museum, the Cherokee Nation Supreme Court Museum, and the John Ross School.

Cherokee Nation also operates two welcome centers and seven gift shops and partners with other tourism sites, museums and entities throughout the state.

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

The Cherokee Nation has a well-cultivated relationship with the federal government. In fact, many of the United States’ government-to-government trust responsibilities to Native tribes are the direct result of federal treaties and court decisions involving the Cherokee Nation.

We strive to preserve our self-determination and exercise our sovereign right to govern in our jurisdictional boundaries in northeast Oklahoma. We provide the same critical services to our citizens that the federal government does, including health care, housing, and education.

As tribal citizens, we are blessed to live under three distinct governments: the Cherokee Nation, the United States, and the state of Oklahoma. Our tribal leadership diligently and regularly meets with elected leaders in Washington, D.C., and with members of the administration to ensure our inherent rights to govern ourselves and provide for our citizens remain intact.   

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

Cherokee young people are the tribe’s most valuable asset. To them I would say, “Always be proud to be Cherokee. Your government is here to serve you. We will always be here for you to ensure you are healthy, have a home, and have access to a quality education. As your tribe nurtures you, one day you will give back to your people. You are our hope for a brighter future. The strength of our government and preservation of our culture mean that generation after generation of Cherokees have taken on that responsibility to lead. As a people, we have shown time and time again that we will not only survive against all odds, but we will also thrive.” 

Is there anything else you would like to add?

I will borrow a phrase from the great Will Rogers: “I am a Cherokee, and it's the proudest little possession I ever hope to have." 

Thank you. 


To read other interviews in this series, click on the banner below. 

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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 images used with permission. 

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