Meet Native America: Robert Wayne Flying Hawk, Chairman, Ihanktonwan Nation (Yankton Sioux 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, the 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, NMAI
Please introduce yourself with your name and title.
Robert Wayne Flying Hawk, chairman, Ihanktonwan Nation (Yankton Sioux Tribe).
Can you share with us your Native name and its English translation?
Mato ki Nanji, Standing Bear.
Where is your nation located?
The Ihanktonwan (Yankton) once roamed over 11 million acres in what is now southeast South Dakota and northwest Iowa. Currently we are located in southeastern South Dakota along the Missouri River.
Our boundaries established by the 1858 treaty defined 487,000 acres. As of today, we have a checkerboard of about 55,000 acres within our boundaries.
Where were your people originally from?
The peoples of the Great Sioux Nation—which included the Lakota, Nakota, and Dakota—were from the forested area now known as Wisconsin and Minnesota. The Ihanktonwan Nation is one of the seven council fires of the Great Sioux Nation. The Ihanktonwan are a Nakota band.
What is a significant point in history from your nation that you would like to share?
The name Ihanktonwan translates to “Land of the Friendly People.” We tried to keep peace during the Minnesota uprising of 1862, and we met with Lewis and Clark and warned them that some of the other tribes were not so friendly.
Struck by the Ree (1804–1888), a Yankton chief, was wrapped in an American flag by Meriwether Lewis. Lewis and Clark were in the area exploring Louisiana Purchase lands. As a leader, Chief Struck by the Ree managed to befriend the whites, yet remain dedicated and loyal to his people. He died at Greenwood in southern Dakota Territory.
How is your government set up? How often are elected leaders chosen?
The elected leaders make up the Business and Claims Committee (B&CC) and are chosen every two years. The entire Business and Claims Committee, comprised of four officers and five members, is elected during the same year. The current administration was elected in October 2013, and the next election will be held in 2015.
Is there a functional, traditional entity of leadership in addition to your modern government system?
Yes. The Ihanktonwan Nation is ultimately governed by a General Council, which is the most democratic form of governance. The General Council is comprised of all citizens 18 years of age and older. The Business and Claims Committee conducts the day-to-day business.
The Yankton Sioux Tribe Business and Claims Committee, meeting with Senator Tim Johnson (South Dakota). Standing, from left to right: Justin Song Hawk; Everdale Song Hawk; Robert Flying Hawk, chairman; Jason Cooke; Glenford "Sam" Sully, secretary; Mona Wright; Leo O'Connor, treasurer; Quentin "JB" Bruguier Jr. (Not shown: Jean Archambeau, vice-chairwoman.) Seated: Senator Johnson. Photo courtesy of the Yankton Sioux Tribe.
How often do the Business and Claims Committee and the General Council meet?
The B&CC meets frequently to deal with day-to-day activities of the tribe, and to resolve issues facing the Ihanktonwan Nation and consider other nation-building issues. The B&CC meets twice a week, more often if needed. General Council meetings are called as needed. I would estimate the General Council meets eight to twelve times a year.
How did your life experience prepare you to lead your nation?
My strong belief in my Native culture along with mainstream religion provided me with the foundation for my life.
What responsibilities do you have as a chairman?
My responsibilities as an elected leader are many. Here are just a few: I must be a fair leader to all. I set a good example for all, practice and participate in my Native culture and ceremonies, practice my faith or religion in my everyday life. And I communicate to the people about the activities and actions of the B&CC and why we chose to make those decisions.
Who inspired you as a mentor?
My elders inspire me. They have survived and provided a way of life for our people to exist. Our elders have passed the language and cultural ways on to the next generation. Our elders did not give up or quit. Today I am starting to realize the adverse conditions that our elders had to face in order to make the right choices for the next generation.
Are you a descendant of a historical leader? If so, who?
Yes, Chief White Swan, Maga ska.
Approximately how many members are in your nation?
There are 8,799 citizens of the Ihanktonwan Nation. Of those, 3,400 reside on or near the reservation.
What are the criteria to become a member?
Ihanktonwan enrollment standards are one-quarter total Indian blood; one-eighth must be Ihanktonwan blood and the other eighth another federally recognized tribal blood, no adoptions.
Is your language still spoken on your homelands? If so, what percentage of your people would you estimate are fluent speakers?
As with most Native American languages, the number of fluent speakers is low. As a nation we are proactive in preserving our language. The Marty Indian School language program has developed an app called Dakota One that teaches through images and sound files. You can read an article about it and see photos of people using it to get a good idea of how it works. It's available through iTunes, with funds going back to the school, which is owned and administered by the tribe.
What economic enterprises does your nation own?
We own the Fort Randall Casino & Hotel, Fort Randall Travel Plaza, and YST Propane.
What annual events does your community sponsor?
We host the Fort Randall Casino Anniversary Powwow every year in late June. Comin up are the Greenwood Powwow, July 4, 5, and 6, and the Lake Andes Powwow, a traditional powwow celebrating its 57th anniversary this year, the first weekend in August.
What attractions are available for visitors on your land?
In addition to having powwows and the casino, we attract a lot of hunters—for deer, pheasant, and turkey. The Missouri River is a big attraction for water recreation and fishing. The Yankton Sioux Tribe also owns a small herd of buffalo, and we sell hunting permits to members and nonmembers to hunt buffalo.
How does your tribe deal with the United States as a sovereign nation?
The Ihanktonwan Nation was very proud to be part of the historic visit from President Obama and Mrs. Obama’s to the Standing Rock Sioux Reservation this year.
President Obama has shown an in-depth awareness of the issues facing Native Americans and has exhibited a willingness to do more than make a speech! There is much more to be done for Native Americans, and this is a start on the right path.
The Ihanktonwan Nation participates in government-to-government relations on a county, state, and federal basis. At times it can be frustrating and overwhelming, but for the preservation of our culture and people we persevere.
What message would you like to share with the youth of your nation?
I would like share the message of faith, hope and courage. I encourage all youth to have faith in themselves, to embrace their Native culture, and to participate in their community or tribal and local government. I pray for our youth to learn to have respect for themselves and one another, to always show compassion and understanding. The Ihanktonwan Nation, as with any nation, always encourages youth to continue with their education—it is never to late to return to school.
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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.