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August 28, 2015

Meet Native America: Brenda Meade, Chairperson, Coquille Indian Tribal Council

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 

Brendameade
Chairperson Brenda Meade, Coquille Indian Tribal Council.

Please introduce yourself with your name and title.

My name is Brenda Meade. I'm chairperson of the Coquille Indian Tribal Council. 

Where is your tribal community located?

The Coquille Indian Tribe is headquartered in North Bend, Oregon, on the southern Oregon Coast.  

Where were the Coquille people originally from?

We are originally from Southern Oregon. Our knowledge of the exact boundary and use areas of our ancestors is evolving as we recover from federal termination. Our ancestral range includes lands in Coos, Curry, Douglas, Josephine, and Jackson counties in Oregon.   

Is there a significant point in your tribe's history that you would like to share?

It would have to be June 28, 1989, the day that Congress finally acknowledged the efforts of my tribal elders and restored federal recognition of the Coquille Indian Tribe.  As a result of that day, a historic injustice—the U.S. government's termination of the tribe as a nation and denial of our status as Indian people—was corrected. We are now the second largest employer in Coos County, Oregon, and an undeniable force for positive change in our communities. 

How is your tribal government set up?

We are governed by a seven-member Tribal Council that is elected by our General Council—all enrolled tribal members 18 years old or older. Our constitution reserves several rights to the General Council. We provide many leadership and government-participation opportunities for our members. One thing that I am especially proud of is that we are forming a youth council to promote leadership and cultural competence among our young tribal members. 

Coquille flag-raising
Chairperson Meade raising the flag of the Coquille Indian Tribe at a ceremony honoring Oregon's nine federally recognized tribes. Oregon Indian Education Association Youth Conference, University of Oregon, Eugene, October 2014.

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

I would say it is in the way we gain knowledge from our elders. We continue to gather as Indian people on this land and share information with each other. We continue to learn and understand as we hunt, fish, and gather traditional foods and materials together. 

How often are elected leaders chosen? 

All Tribal Council members serve three-year terms.

How often does your government meet?

Our Tribal Council meets at least twice per month. Our General Council has at least two meetings a year, always coinciding with the winter and summer solstices. 

What responsibilities do you have as a tribal leader?

My job is to be, at the same time, a servant and a leader of the Coquille Indian People. I represent my tribe in many different places. I make sure that our excellent tribal staff responds to our members’ changing needs. The Tribal Council adopts budget and policies that safeguard our people and our nation.

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

When I grew up my tribe was not recognized as a tribe by the federal government, and we had very few financial resources. But we had our collective desire to make a change. Coquille people are characteristically kind, generous, humorous, and absolutely unwavering when it comes to tribal sovereignty. These values shaped me and many other tribal members who grew up during that time. I understood how important sovereignty was and how important it was to uphold our cultural and historic values.   

Who inspired you as a mentor? 

Many people every day! But I would first recognize my uncle Jerry Running Foxe for teaching me as I was growing up to always fight for the rights of all Indian People. He taught me always with a kind heart and for the right reasons. Also my aunt Sharon—as a child I was lucky enough to spend time with her as she fought for us to be recognized as Coquille people. Her lifelong dedication and personal sacrifices in gathering Coquille people together in support of those efforts will never be forgotten. I watched her and many other tribal members work tirelessly for our people—after mass disbursement to the reservation, termination policies, and very successful assimilation programs—to be recognized again. Thankfully our elders never gave up, and for that reason we must continue to strengthen our nation every day.

I later was able to sit on Tribal Council with my auntie and many with other amazing tribal leaders. One that I must mention is our chief of 23 years who recently passed, Chief Ken Tanner. He taught me to be humble, to be grateful for what we have, and to always save some for the others. I must also recognize my amazing husband who supports me every day and allows me to do the things I feel I need to do. All of my family influences me—my children, my mother, my brothers, and those who have passed. I have also been very fortunate in my life to be able to work and spend time with many of our tribal elders and our tribal youth. I know that we must learn from our elders, teach our children, and never forget!

Brenda Meade fishing
Chairperson Meade fishing for salmon on traditional Coquille waters.

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

My family descends from Old Whiskers from the Nasomah village complex on the Coquille River. He was a headman and a treaty signer. He was marched to the reservation along with his children and many other Coquille people. He later returned to our homelands on the Coquille River. He and the others who returned are the reason we continue to gather on these ancestral homelands today. 

Approximately how many members are in the Coquille Indian Tribe?

Today we have 1,031 tribal members.  

What are the criteria to become a member?

A person must be a lineal biological descendant of an original Coquille member.  

Is your language still spoken on your homelands? 

Restoring the use of our languages is one of our tribal priorities. We have dedicated resources to training our youths in our traditional languages. The key to restoring a language is finding a way to use that language in daily life.   

What economic enterprises does your tribe own?

We own the Coquille Economic Development Corporation, which operates the Mill Casino Hotel and RV Park and operates ORCA Communications, a fiber-optic technology company. We recently kicked off K2, a log-export joint venture with Knutson Towboat. The tribe also owns a bowling alley and golf course in Medford, Oregon. Finally the tribe owns approximately 9,000 acres of forestland in the southern Oregon Coast Range.  

What annual events does the Coquille Tribe sponsor?

We sponsor more events than I could possibly list here. Two big events that we host are our annual fireworks spectacular over Coos Bay on July 3—show up early if you want a space—and the annual Mill Luck Salmon Celebration, normally held in the second week of September.

We are a potlatch tribe: It is very important for us to give back to our communities. My tribe is headquartered in a community that was, and is still, economically devastated by the decline of the timber and fishing industries. Shortly after our restoration we made a long-term decision that our members can thrive only if we help our surrounding communities survive. 

What other attractions are available for visitors on your land?

Our number one attraction is the Mill Casino Hotel and RV Park, which is located right on beautiful Coos Bay. We have the nicest hotel on the South Coast of Oregon, and I doubt there’s a better view anywhere in our beautiful state.

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

We interact frequently with federal officials. It is a constant education process, but I do think that things have improved. 

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

Be strong. Study hard. Treat your elders with respect. Treat yourself with respect. And never forget where we come from. 

Is there anything else you would like to add?

It is important to know that Coquille people have been here on this land since time began and will be here forever!

Thank you.

Thank you. 


Photos courtesy of the Coquille Indian Tribe; used with permission.

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

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August 27, 2015

Interning at the Museum: Charlotte Basch, Community and Constituent Services

The blog series Interning at the Museum highlights the projects and accomplishments of the National Museum of the American Indian's interns. Each intern completes a 10-week internship in a department at one of the museum's three facilities—the museum on the National Mall in Washington, D.C.; Cultural Resources Center in Suitland, Maryland; or George Gustav Heye Center in New York City. The museum’s Internship Program offers sessions in the spring, summer, and fall. The next deadline for applications—for the spring 2016 session—is November 20, 2015. These interviews feature members of this year's recently completed summer session. —Sarah Frost 

Charlottebasch
During her internship at NMAI, Charlotte Basch helped create resources for tribal museums.

Tell us a little about yourself and your background.

My name is Charlotte Basch, and I am a master's student in museum anthropology at Columbia University. I am from Seaside, Oregon, and from the Puyallup Tribe of Indians and the Clatsop–Nehalem Confederated Tribes.

What department did you intern in this summer, and what projects were you working on?

I interned in the Community and Constituent Services Department (CCS) under the supervision of Jill Norwood. My main projects have involved researching and writing for the department's Tribal Museum Listserv. The listserv includes over 200 tribal museums, cultural centers, universities, and similar institutions throughout the country and is used to circulate announcements and resources for the tribal museum world. Much of my time was spent contacting and working with tribal museum professionals to compile a list of current exhibition trends in the tribal museum world. The completed report featured over 20 institutions and exhibition trends such as language, basketry, military, and sports. I’ve also had the amazing opportunity to work with the CCS and offices in the Museum Scholarship Department on the early stages of creating professional development programs specifically for tribal museum staff members.

Why did you decide to intern at NMAI?

I decided to intern at the museum not only because of the obvious ties to Indian Country, but because of the way the museum works to build relationships with the Native peoples and communities it represents. In both my personal and professional experience, I’ve witnessed negative interactions between tribal communities and mainstream museums. These experiences motivated me to enter the museum field with a goal to strengthen Native voice in the museum world. After reading about NMAI and hearing wonderful stories about the work it does, I knew I had to find a way to work alongside the dedicated staff who work tirelessly to represent indigenous peoples in ways never done before.

What is your favorite aspect of your internship?

My favorite aspect of my internship has been communicating with tribal communities and people throughout the country. It’s been an honor and a privilege to talk directly with the communities that I write about—an experience that has been absent from the museum world for far too long. In every listserv write-up, I tried to get first-person input from those actively working in tribal museums. This was not always easy, and it usually took a lot of time, but hearing how thankful tribal museum professionals were to be involved made it absolutely worth it.

What have you learned, and what do you hope to achieve because of this internship?

I have learned so much from this internship! I’ve learned that both the museum world and Indian Country are very small. For this reason it was so important to make positive connections during my time at the NMAI. Of course, this hasn’t been hard since all the staff are wonderful passionate people. I hoped to learn how a mainstream institution like the Smithsonian works with underrepresented communities to tell the stories and truths that have so often been silenced. This is a huge task that NMAI is undertaking every day, and I have been able to see the many “arms” that make it work. NMAI is so much more than a tourist attraction, and I think I’ve achieved a better understanding of the massive amount of teamwork it takes to make the museum’s mission a reality.

How has interning helped you understand your own cultural interests?

As a Native person living very far from home, I’ve come to truly appreciate the rich community that is Indian Country. I was admittedly hesitant about working for any institution, including the Smithsonian, as I wasn’t sure how present Native voices would be in daily work. Being at NMAI, though, has shown me that it is possible for a reputable institution to acknowledge, respect, and implement the historical and modern lifeways of the cultures it represents. All of the staff are incredibly passionate about their work and strive to weave the museum’s mission into everything they do. It has made me truly proud to be a Native person in the museum field and hopeful for the work to come.

Do you have advice for aspiring interns?

Always look for ways to make connections! The NMAI interns are so lucky to have the opportunity to meet with various staff, including the director and other senior staff. Remember that you are here to work, but you are also here as an up-and-coming professional and will most likely be working with these people in the future. Their insight will strengthen your understanding of their scholarship and projects, as well as help you get a better handle on your future role in the museum world.


Interviewer Sarah Frost spent her summer internship at the museum as a member of the Web staff, helping launch the Inka Road website and other new projects online and in social media. She will continue to work on the museum's digital projects this fall.

Photo courtesy of Charlotte Basch, used with permission.

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August 26, 2015

The Indian Arts and Crafts Board: Introduction and Tohono O'odham Bowl

In 2000, the Indian Arts and Crafts Board (IACB) transferred its Headquarters Collection to the Smithsonian's National Museum of the American Indian. Since its creation in 1935, the IACB—a federal agency within the U.S. Department of the Interior—had collected and purchased examples of Native art. The collection transferred to the Smithsonian is from the IACB office in Washington, D.C., and does not include the collections of the IACB's three regional museums in Oklahoma, Montana, and South Dakota.

The collection contains a wide range of things, including baskets, ceramics, beadwork, textiles, paintings, sculptures, and experimental pieces. Since the IACB's concentration is economic development enterprises for American Indians and Alaska Natives, many pieces were produced for the tourist market.

The Early Collection

It may seem odd that a federal agency has an art collection. The IACB was created during the New Deal era, when the federal government invested in cultural development initiatives such as public mural projects, documentary photography, and graphic arts workshops. The IACB is part of what is called the Indian New Deal, a series of federal policies and programs set to reverse assimilative policies towards Native Americans in favor of promoting cultural pluralism and increased tribal sovereignty.

During its first decade, the IACB conducted surveys on Native art, supported the establishment of tribal arts and crafts cooperatives, and endorsed Native artists for public mural projects. Under the direction of Rene d'Harnoncourt from 1936 to 1944, the IACB curated two monumental exhibitions of Native art—the Indian Court at the 1939 Golden Gate International Exposition in San Francisco, and Indian Art of the United States at the Museum of Modern Art in New York in 1941.

Initially the IACB did not catalog its collection. There are few records and little other documentation available for its early purchases. This bowl was noted as "number 2" on a card file from 1951 and is one of the few pieces from the 1930s.

NMAI 25-9250

Tohono O'odham bowl, circa 1930. Arizona. 11.8 x 14.8 cm; pottery, paint, tree pitch. Purchased by Indian Arts and Crafts Board representatives from an unknown source at an unknown date prior to 1940. Indian Arts and Crafts Board Collection, Department of the Interior, at the National Museum of the American Indian, Smithsonian Institution. NMAI 25/9250


Coiled by hand, the bowl gets its reddish color from hematite present in the clay. Mesquite sap is used to paint designs on the surface, and the sheen is from burnishing the surface with a smooth stone. This bowl was created by an unknown Tohono O'odham artist. The Tohono O'odham Nation is one of the indigenous nations in Arizona; the nation's traditional lands extend from the Phoenix area into northern Mexico.

The bowl was exhibited during the 1941 exhibition Indian Art of the United States at the Museum of Modern Art; it appears on page 204 of the exhibition book.

—Anya Montiel

Anya Montiel (Tohono O'odham/Mexican) is a PhD candidate at Yale University and a curatorial research fellow at the National Museum of the American Indian. This post is the first in a series Anya is writing on the Indian Arts and Crafts Board Collection at the museum.

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August 21, 2015

Meet Native America: Georgene Louis, State Representative for House District 26, New Mexico State Legislature

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 

 

NM Rep Georgene LouisRep. Georgene Louis (Acoma), presiding over the New Mexico House of Representatives. She served as Speaker of the New Mexico House for a day as a freshman legislator. 2013, Santa Fe, New Mexico. 


Please introduce yourself with your name and title.

Georgene LouisState Representative for House District 26. I am honored to be serving my second term in the New Mexico State Legislature.

What Native Nation are you affiliated with?

I’m a member of Acoma Pueblo

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

Acoma people, like many other Natives, have a calamitous story to tell. In the late 1500s, the Acoma rebelled against the Spanish when the Spanish forced the Acoma people into hard labor, demanded goods from them, and suppressed traditional religious activities. Although the Acoma people were later punished for the rebellion—many lost their lives, men over the age of 25 had one foot amputated, and others were enslaved—it was the beginning of Pueblo rebellions to protect the culture and religion that still exist today. 

How is your state government set up?

The state government is comprised of executive, legislative, and judicial branches. The state legislature includes 70 representatives and 42 senators.

How are leaders chosen?

Leaders in the state government are elected. Representatives are elected to two-year terms, and senators are elected to four-year terms. There are no term limits. 

Are Democrats or Republicans more dominant in your state? Do people vote along party lines?

Democrats are dominant in New Mexico. Voters don’t necessary vote a party line. 

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

I’m delighted to serve with other Natives in the legislature. Senator John Pinto (Navajo) has served since 1977. Representative Roger Madalena (Jemez) has served since 1985. Other Native legislators currently serving are Senator Benny Shendo (Jemez), and Representatives Doreen Wanda Johnson (Navajo), Sharron Clahchischilliage (Navajo), and Patricia Roybal Caballero (Piro-Manso-Tiwa of Guadalupe Pueblo).

Reps. Madalena and Louis after a runRep. Roger Madalena and Rep. Louis getting ready to go for a run. July 2015, Jemez Pueblo, New Mexico.


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

There are 23 federally recognized tribes in New Mexico. The tribes include the Pueblos of Acoma, Cochiti, Isleta, Jemez, Laguna, Nambe, Ohkay Owingeh, Picuris, Pojoaque, Sandia, San Felipe, San Ildefonso, Santa Ana, Santa Clara, Santo Domingo, Taos, Tesuque, Zia, and Zuni; as well as the Fort Sill Apache Tribe, the Jicarilla Apache Nation, the Mescalero Apache Tribe, the Navajo Nation, and the Ute Mountain Tribe. 

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

I have the pleasure of meeting with Native people in the state very often. Tribal governors, presidents, and chairs often testify at committee hearings and are very involved in state issues. I’d love to see more Native people participating in the process by testifying before committees, serving as legislators, working at the state capital, and voting. 

Mother Daugher Vote
Georgene Louis (right) and her daughter, Jonisha, voted early on the day Rep. Louis was elected to her first term as a state representative. November 2012, outside the Acoma Room on the campus of the University of New Mexico, Albuquerque. 

Do the Native people in New Mexico vote in state elections? 

Too few Native people vote in state elections. I believe it would be a game-changer if more Natives would vote in state and local elections. Our state and local leaders make decision that affect tribes and Native people all the time. Our voter turnout in tribal communities is very low. I hope that Natives will turn out more votes, not only in the 2016 elections, but in all elections—including elections to school boards, county commissions, and other state and local offices. 

How often does the state legislature meet? 

The state legislature conducts session once a year. The legislature meets for 60 days in odd-numbered years and 30 days in even-numbered years. 

What responsibilities do you have as a state representative? 

I am responsible for advocating for the needs of my community. During session, I attend committee meetings and floor sessions where I vote on legislation on behalf of my constituents. During the interim, I attend committee meetings to learn about issues that are important to all New Mexicans. I also attend meetings and events in my district and throughout the state to hear the concerns and ideas of the people of New Mexico.  

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

I grew up on the Acoma reservation, and I had my daughter when I was a sophomore in high school. My family, friends, teachers, and community leaders did everything they could to encourage me to finish school. I graduated from high school with my classmates, finished my undergraduate studies in four years, and then went to law school to become an attorney. 

My life experiences have prepared me to become a leader because I understand the challenges that face everyday people. I know that some people are afraid to speak up or uncertain of where to turn to for help. It’s my job as a leader to listen to people’s concerns and look for ways to help them. 

Are you a descendant of a historical leader? 

No. 

Who inspired you as a mentor?

I’ve been blessed to have so many mentors throughout my professional career, and I’m grateful for each and every one of them. My life mentors, however, are my parents. My mom taught me to be considerate and to have compassion for others, which is one of the reasons I sought public office. My dad taught me how to live a balanced life. I strive to be both productive and active. We share the love of running. It’s tough to fit in a run after a long day, but it’s a form a prayer that makes me feel so much better. 

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

There are approximately 30,000 people in House District 26; the Native population is around four percent. 

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

I use my position to educate and encourage others. There are many issues before the New Mexico Legislature that affect Native people. I often debate those issues in the House Chamber in attempts to educate my colleagues on such matters. Fortunately, our caucus leadership and other legislators trust me enough to look to how I vote on Native issues and vote the same way. I hope to use my position to encourage others to be voices of our people—not only Native people, but all people who are currently underrepresented. 

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

Be a participant in life and pursue your passions. I find joy in doing what I love—I have the honor of being a voice of my community, and I dedicate a lot of my time to serve the public. I realize, however, the importance of taking a break from work to spend time with my family and friends and to travel the world. 

It’s not important that you win an election, or a footrace, or any other activity for that matter. But it’s imperative that you participate in something positive. 

Is there anything else you would like to add? 

There’s absolutely nothing special about me, except that I have people in my life who love and support me. I work hard every day to make them proud. Seek out those people who will cheer you on. Once you achieve your goals, don’t forget to pay it forward. 

Thank you. 

Dawee' —thank you, in the Keres language. 


All photos are courtesy of Rep. Louis and are used with permission.


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

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August 14, 2015

Meet Native America: Cedric Cromwell, Chairman, Mashpee Wampanoag 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 

Chairman speaking at US CapitolChairman Cedric Cromwell, Mashpee Wampanoag Tribe, speaking in front of the U.S. Capitol during the Reservation Economic Summit. June 16, 2015; Washington, D.C. 

Please introduce yourself with your name and title.

Cedric Cromwell, chairman of the Mashpee Wampanoag Tribe.

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

It's Qaqeemasq. It means Running Bear.

Where is your tribe located? 

We're in Mashpee, Massachusetts, on Cape Cod.

Where was your tribe originally from?

We have always been here, for over twelve thousand years. We were here when the Pilgrims touched the shores in Plymouth, Massachusetts, and we are still here and have a significant presence today. 

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

A significant time for our tribe was in 2007 when we received federal recognition after 35 years of working and waiting for the process to be completed. Many people from the area and beyond celebrated with us, including the late Ted Kennedy, U.S. senator from Massachusetts and brother of President John F. Kennedy.

How is your tribal government set up? 

Our tribal government is council-run. The Mashpee Wampanoag Tribal Council is made up of 13 members. The council is led by four officers—chairman, vice chair, secretary, and treasurer. Of the nine other sitting members, two are our chief and medicine man. All council members are voted in by our membership at tribal elections.

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

We have a Chief’s Circle that provides counsel to tribal members regarding family and community concerns for healing and medicine. We also have peacemakers who work to resolve disputes among tribal members to avoid the legal process.

How often are elected leaders chosen?

We have elections every four years. The terms are staggered to avoid ever having an entirely new council.

How often does your council meet?

Tribal Council meets weekly, mostly during the evening though there are some all-day meetings. Our tribe holds a meeting of the general membership every second Sunday of the month. 

Chairman Cromwell and his mother
Chairman Cromwell and his mother, Constance Lone Eagless Cromwell, at the Mashpee Wampanoag Tribal Ball. March 22, 2015; North Falmouth, Massachusetts.

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

At an early age, my mother would bring my brother and me to all the tribal meetings. She was the tribal secretary for 35 years and at that time was responsible for keeping all the historical tribal records. There were even times when I would be sitting on her lap in the meetings. So I was exposed to tribal government at a very early age. I guess you could say being a member of the tribal government was in my blood. 

What responsibilities do you have as a tribal leader?

I have the same responsibilities as the president of the United States. We are considered to be a nation, and as leader I am expected to oversee the workings of this nation. I meet with community leaders on behalf of the tribe. I meet with Congress and many U.S. government agencies. I meet with Commonwealth of Massachusetts representatives and senators. I have been involved in the public school system to ensure our Native children are being well served. Our council has also been instrumental in securing our tribal rights for hunting, fishing, and gathering and seeing that these rights have been upheld in our community and the surrounding towns.

Who inspired you as a mentor?

My mother was my driving force to be “all that I can be” and more. She and my dad taught my brother and me that there are no obstacles in life that we can’t forge. She is gone now to that great Grand Lodge in the sky, but I can still hear her voice in my ear encouraging me to be strong and push on in spite of everything.

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

I am descendant of the great Wampanoag sachems Massasoit Ousamequin and Massasoit Popnomett.

Approximately how many members are in the Mashpee Wampanoag Tribe?

Approximately 2,700.

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

Direct family lineage from specific families identified in the Earle Report—the Report to the Governor and Council, concerning the Indians of the Commonwealth, under the Act of April 16, 1859. We have a very strong Genealogy Department that has very strict and appropriate guidelines.

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

Our language was lost for many years. In the past 10 years, behind the vision of our Vice Chairwoman Jessie Little Doe Baird, we have had the privilege of seeing our language reclaimed. It is being taught to our children, our young people, and our elders. We have several fluent speakers of the Wômpanâak language and in the not too distant future will have many more who will be able to speak our language fluently. 

What economic enterprises does your tribe own?

We have a shellfish farm and a museum. Currently we provide historic cultural monitors for the Commonwealth of Massachusetts. We are in the process of obtaining land in trust and developing a $500-million destination resort in the city of Taunton, Massachusetts. 

What annual events does your tribe sponsor?

We have our powwow—next July will be the 95th annual Mashpee Wampanoag Powwow—Quahog Day, Ancestors Day, and our annual Mashpee Wampanoag Tribe Thanks Giving Day—which is observed for different reasons than America traditionally celebrates on Thanksgiving.

What attractions are available for visitors on your land?

Powwow attracts a few thousand people each year to this area. We have a museum of our history that visitors from all over the world come to visit and a new, award-winning $15-million Community and Government Center.

Opening the Mashpee Wampanoag center

Opening the new Mashpee Wampanoag Tribal Community and Government Center. March 29, 2014; Mashpee, Massachusetts. 

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

Being a federally recognized tribe means we have a nation-to-nation relationship with the U.S. government. I'm glad you asked about Canada, as well. The indigenous peoples of this part of the United States and Canada share traditions and many other aspects of culture together. My father is from Yarmouth, Nova Scotia, Canada; he is Micmac and Mohawk Indian. 

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

We are intelligent Native American people and a historical tribal nation with a strong culture that is tied directly to our homelands in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts. Mashpee was the first Indian-governed town recognized as such in the United States, incorporated by the Commonwealth of Massachusetts in the year 1870.

Is there anything else you would like to add?

It is very important that we as Native Americans remember our past so that our future is bright with all that we can be to lift our tribal nations. I have a vision that Indian Country’s culture and people will thrive through diverse economies that will extend our prominence and forward-thinking for next seven generations and beyond, for us and all of mankind.

Thank you.

Kutâputush—thank you.


Photographs courtesy of the Mashpee Wampanoag Tribe. 

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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 photos used with permission. 

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