March 02, 2016

The voyage of building an outrigger canoe: Lashing the booms to the hull

Part 1: Introduction and author bio
Part 2: Harvesting a canoe log . . . or plywood
Part 3: Roughing out the hull
Part 4: Making tools without metal, and, on some islands, without rock
Part 5: Stitch and glue
Part 6: Sanding and gluing
Part 7: Outrigger and booms
Part 8: Cordage


The iako, or booms, lashed to the hull of my canoe. Where my hull has reinforcements around the holes that the ropes pass through, an old Hawaiian canoe would have pepeiao—ears—carved into the hull, to hold a cross brace called a wae.


Lashing this canoe together needs to be quick and efficient. I say this because I drive a VW golf. With my roof racks, I can strap all the canoe parts on the car and drive to the Chesapeake Bay in half an hour. It takes maybe another 30 to 45 minutes to unload it, lash the whole thing together, and rig it. I can sail for a few hours, come back, take it all apart, put it back on top of the car, and drive home. For two to three hours' sail, it's worth it. Ahhhhh. But it means that I'm always putting the canoe together and taking it apart.

The lashing of a canoe is both an art and a science. The lashing needs to be strong enough to hold the craft together in rough seas, it must be tight so the pieces can flex but don’t wobble, and it can be beautiful as well.

There are two sets of lashing required for a small canoe like this. The first is connecting the booms (‘iako) to the hull, and the second connects the other ends of the ‘iako to the ama, the outrigger float. How these connections are done depends on the configuration of the canoe. On the Hawaiian-style canoe, the ‘iako are lashed to the hull using two projections called pepeiao—ears—carved on the inside of the hull. These projections have holes through which the rope can pass and are used for anchoring U-shaped braces called wae that span the hull. By projecting, the pepeiao provide much more room to lash the ‘iako and give greater stability.


Left: Pepeiao on the Kapi‘olanio canoe, carved out of the hull itself. Right: The brace and lashing of the ‘iako on the museum's much more modern ‘Auhou canoe. Note how the U-shaped wae is lashed to the pepeiao.

Lashing my canoe did not involve these wae braces, so to better understand Hawaiian canoes, I went to my canoe-building friend Jay Dowsett of the Friends of Hōkūleʻa for a lesson.

Jay Dowsett, a canoe-builder and member of Friends of Hōkūleʻa.

Jay demonstrated on a modern fiberglass canoe, using a block of wood in place of the ‘iako. This is based on examples of old canoes. It seems a little tricky, but Jay assures me that doing this repeatedly is what’s going to teach you. First time is a learning curve, second time you’re pretty much getting it down, and by the third time you’ll be teaching it. He explains while I assist him:

This length of line is a total of 12 fathoms, and we then split the difference, put a loop in the center, and then we feed the loop around the wae, and then the two ends that you actually use for lashing through this loop. Then you try to tighten it up so that the ropes are coming off the bottom of the wae.

Now most people are under the impression that you’re using cotton cord because cotton shrinks when you wash it, but it’s actually the opposite: Cotton swells and gets thicker. It’s the swelling action that makes this tighter and tighter. Yes, when we do the lashing, the lashing is going to be very tight, but once it gets wet and starts to swell, that’s what really makes it bulletproof.

Making the loop

To begin lashing an ‘iako (boom) to his modern canoe, Jay folds 12 fathoms (72 feet) of cotton rope in the middle, then pulls the two ends of the rope through the loop in its center. In this fiberglass canoe, the wae (cross brace) is built right into the hull, but the method and principle are the same.

Jay and I stood on opposite sides of the canoe worked one of the two ends of the rope. I followed what he was doing as he talked me through the steps:

We’re going to do a series of cross-overs to hold it down. The rope comes over the back and goes forward, then through that hole. I’ll do the same.

A lot of people, when they first start rigging, they want to pull as tight as they can on the very first time. You can’t. What’s going to happen is, when you pull, the whole ‘iako is going to get shoved backwards. So doing the first one is a little tough as far as getting it really tight.

Then you go underneath the ‘iako, over the top, and through the back hole.


Still lashing Still more lashing
More lashing





Clockwise from upper left: Jay seats the knot of the loop at the bottom of the wae. We each bring an end of the rope over the ‘iako and thread it through a hole on our side of hull. Once outside the hole, we loop the rope around the ‘iako, then thread it through the other hole on our side of the hull. Then the rope loops back over the center of the wae and goes to the opposite side, and we follow the same steps again.

We’re going to repeat this whole process over and over again until we run out of line. Now the key here is that someone is going to be considered first, and someone is going to be considered second. That means someone has to start the lashing, and someone has to follow.

Every time I go, I’m going to go behind this loop that you first put in, and then you’re going to go behind the loop after me. Then you’re going to come across and you’re going to lock me in. Bang, bang, bang, bang—these keep locking each other in. This loop is going to keep the rope from getting pulled over to my side. Now, you’re going to do the same thing. Now you can pull it as tight as you can manage.

Now to make it look pretty, you see where it crosses over, you don’t want to do that haphazardly anywhere. You want to try to keep it looking good, and keep it in the center. So as you cross over, all of the cross bars will be in the center. And then there’s always the question of, are we lashing to the inside or to the outside? That is, every time we cross over, are we going to be on the inside of the rope or the outside of the rope? In this particular case, we’re going to the inside, so each time we do it, we’re going to be moving closer and closer to the center. And there is method to this madness—you’ll see why.”

We continue following the same pattern. For the sake of this example, we will go around four times, but seven or eight is normal. It’s all repetition up to this point, following the same pattern and keeping it neat. Then we switch to just wrapping it four times with each end of the rope.

Then we switch ropes and take them straight over the top, again wrapping it four times with each end of the rope. Normally we would be pulling it very tight each time. After the fourth cross-over, we switch ropes.

Lashing x 4

For this demonstration, Jay and I did four rounds of lashing, as opposed to the more typical seven or eight, then wrapped each end of the rope over the center of the wae and ‘iako four times.

Now we go through and around those vertical loops we just made. Each time, we switch and take each other’s rope, then do it again. We are just wrapping—frapping, it’s called—the binds to pull them tight together. That tightens it all up and draws the 'iako down tight.

At the end we pull against each other, and that tightens it all up and pulls it down. Now we tie it off with a regular square knot. Normally I would tie the square knot on the other side. We shove the ends through and tie the knot on the other side.

Frapping More frapping Square knot








Clockwise from upper left: To “frap” means to “tighten the slack.” This is done by wrapping the rope around the previous loops and “choking” them very tight together. The lashing is tied off with a square knot.




Then the excess—if you want, you take it around a couple of times and bury it. Or we can attach a bailer to it with a slip loop, so the bailer is hanging right there handy.

Now with the bigger boats, you’d just go with a straight clamp down, just clamp it down as tight as you can, but do it in several spots. And the way the lines were run, you’d come across and do figure eights. You’re talking about 16 or 20 wraps each time, and then you start getting into a figure eight wrap. That frapping then takes that whole rope and turns it into something like a solid piece of wood. When you knock on it, it sounds like a piece of wood.


Starting figure 8s More figure 8s

Above, left and right: Jay demonstrates making figure-eight bundles.

You will notice that Jay’s lashing weaves an attractive geometric pattern where the ropes cross each other. This, it turns out, is not just for looks. It actually locks down the ropes each time, making for less chance of catastrophic failure. I witnessed this after riding on a contemporary outrigger with folks from Windward Community College on O‘ahu. As we were putting the canoe up, we noticed that someone had vandalized the lashing by slashing it. Nonetheless, it had held together. “I’d like to have met the people who figured out this geometric pattern over time,” Jay says, “because those guys were geniuses. It was probably guys, because canoes were a male-dominated activity.”

Booms of the Makali'i
Above: The lashing on the booms of the Makali‘i voyaging canoe. Right: This vandalized lashing still holds together thanks to the interlocking pattern.

Cut lashing

These drawings show how James Wharram, whose Polynesian design I've been following for my canoe, suggests lashing the booms. It’s a very simple, in-and-out, over-and-under kind of lashing, exactly as Jay demonstrated, but without the wae. The rope goes through a hole, loops around the boom, then through the other hole, then does the same on the other side. Then wrap it around the lashing to “choke” it tight, and tie it off with a square knot.

Wharram drawings horiz






Lashing instructions from plans for the Melanesia, courtesy of James Wharram and Hanneke Boon.


And here’s what it looks like, finished:

Doug's lashing

The booms lashed to Doug's canoe.

It was a little confusing at first, and once in a while I still make a mistake, but mostly it goes very quickly. Now attaching the outrigger to the other end of the booms is an entirely different story, and the subject of my next installment.

Douglas Herman, NMAI

Doug Herman, senior geographer at the National Museum of the American Indian and a specialist on the cultural knowledge of Hawai'i and the Pacific Islands, is curator of the exhibition E Mau Ke Ea: The Sovereign Hawaiian Nation, on view at the museum in Washington, D.C., through January 2017. He also blogs for the Smithsonian and is the institution's liaison with the round-the-world voyage of the Hōkūleʻa, scheduled to visit Washington later this spring.

All photos by RDK Herman, Pacific Worlds, unless otherwise credited.

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Astonishing post on how you built and still you build those fantastic canoes. I recommend reading here. Greetings from one who is visiting Seville.

November 10, 2015

The Indian Arts & Crafts Board: Otellie Loloma

Cast in bronze and resting on a marble base, Hopi-Hoya by Otellie Loloma (Hopi, 1921–93) won two awards at the Second Scottsdale National Indian Arts Exhibition in 1963—first prize in sculpture and wood carving and the Charles de Young Elkus Memorial Award for “the most outstanding piece of Indian arts and crafts which is new in material, technique, or design.”[1] 

261879 loloma hopi-hoya
Otellie Loloma (Hopi, 1921–93), Hopi–Hoya, 1963. Arizona. Cast bronze on a marble base; 47.7 x 11.7 x 10.1 cm. Purchased from the artist in 1963 by representatives of the Indian Arts and Crafts Board. Indian Arts and Crafts Board Collection, Department of the Interior, at the National Museum of the American Indian, Smithsonian Institution. NMAI 26/1879

The juried competition received 372 entries that year, and the exhibition's chair, Paul Huldermann, noted that a number of artworks reflected new styles and techniques.[2] Hopi-Hoya, which was purchased directly from the artist by the Indian Arts and Crafts Board, depicts a Hopi child with long hair leaning forward with arms crossed behind its back. Later that year, Loloma entered three bronze sculptures and one clay figure into the juried Indian Annual exhibition at the Philbrook Museum in Tulsa, Oklahoma. Muowi (Young Bride), Loloma's terra cotta of a Hopi bride draped in a cotton wedding robe, won first place in the sculpture category. The Philbrook purchased the work for its permanent collection.[3]

Otellie Pasiyava was born in 1921 at Second Mesa on the Hopi Reservation in Arizona. As a child she created “doll-like sculptures out of clay” while spending time with her grandmother.[4] In about 1942 she married the painter Charles Loloma (Hopi, 1921–91), who later became a celebrated jewelry artist. Otellie Loloma began formal training in ceramics in 1947 after she received a scholarship and Charles used the G.I. Bill to study at the new School for American Craftsmen, then part of Alfred University in western New York.[5] After finishing the two-year program, the couple returned to Arizona and in 1956 opened a pottery shop in Scottsdale where they marketed a line of ceramic dishes called Lolomaware.[6]

In 1959 Otellie Loloma became one of the first instructors for the Southwestern Indian Art Project at the University of Arizona at Tucson. That project led in 1962 to the establishment of the Institute of American Indian Arts (IAIA) in Santa Fe, where Loloma was again one of the first faculty members hired. She instructed students in ceramics and painting and occasionally taught dance with textile artist Josephine Myers Wapp (Comanche, 1912–2014).[7] 

Jacquie Stevens (Winnebago, b. 1949), a ceramicist who is well known for her large, asymmetrical vessels, calls Loloma a mentor. Stevens enrolled at the IAIA as a museum studies student until a ceramics course from Loloma changed the direction of her education. She reflects:

It must have been fate that made me take a class taught by Otellie. It was like I returned home; clay became my expression. Otellie taught me that each pot has its own life, personality, character, and form—and that is what set me free. Pottery is like people, every one is different and not perfect. I thought about this and decided it was an important idea. So I developed a new way, an unconventional way, of looking at form.[8]  

Two ceramic artworks by Loloma are represented in the Indian Arts and Crafts Board Headquarters Collection, both purchased in 1965.[9] Her figurative sculpture Desert Bird is both wheel-thrown and hand-built of stoneware. The sculpture is delightfully textural with marks from Loloma's fingers and palms forming the bird’s feathers and wings. She finished the piece by stringing clay and glass beads to its feathers. The other ceramic work, a cylindrical vase of glazed stoneware, was thrown on a wheel. Loloma then incised abstracted figures of people, plants, and rain clouds around the exterior.

259286 loloma—bird

Left: Otellie Loloma (Hopi, 1921–93), Desert Bird, 1965. Arizona. Stoneware; glass, shell, and stone beads; twine; 31.5 x 22.9 x 26.1 cm. NMAI 25/9286. Below: Otellie Loloma (Hopi, 1921–93), vase, 1964. Santa Fe, New Mexico. Incised, glazed stoneware, 16.9 x 15.7 cm. NMAI 25/9245.

259245 loloma

Both: Purchased in 1965 by representatives of the Indian Arts and Crafts Board  from the Department of the Interior Indian Craft Shop, Washington, D.C. Indian Arts and Crafts Board Collection, Department of the Interior, at the National Museum of the American Indian, Smithsonian Institution.

While she acknowledged that Hopi cosmology influenced her work, Loloma revealed that “no one Hopi [person] would probably recognize that they are Hopi figures because I have done it all from my own imagination.”[10] Hopi stories provided inspiration for her work but never sources for duplication. Loloma felt at ease using several ceramic techniques and materials. During a 1968 exhibition of her work in Washington, D.C., actor and art collector Vincent Price noted that Loloma created “beautifully realized sculptures [that reflect] a great awareness of the techniques at her disposal today.”[11] 

A member of the IAIA faculty until her retirement in 1988, Loloma taught generations of Native American artists. Students of Loloma's whose work can be seen in the collections of the National Museum of the American Indian include Peter B. Jones (Onondaga/Seneca, b. 1947), Dan Namingha (Hopi–Tewa, b. 1950), and Robert Tenorio (Santo Domingo, b. 1950). 

After her passing, fellow artist and IAIA instructor James McGrath dedicated a poem to Loloma, one verse of which reads,

I think of her pots,
    of the fullness inside 
    where treasures are held, 
    secure and loved in their silence.[12]

—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 part of a series Anya is writing on the Indian Arts and Crafts Board Headquarters Collection at the museum. 

[1] “Prizes and Awards,” Second Scottsdale National Indian Arts Exhibition (Scottsdale AZ: Executive House, 1963), 3. The memorial award is named for Charles de Young Elkus (1881–1963), a San Francisco lawyer who was a Native rights advocate and a collector of Native arts.

[2] Ibid, 2.

[3] Christina Burke, curator of Native American and non-Western art, Philbrook Museum of Art, email conversation with Anya Montiel, 5 November 2015.

[4] Jaune Quick-to-See Smith, “Women of Cedar, Sweetgrass, and Sage,” Women’s Studies Quarterly 15, no. 1/2 (Spring–Summer 1987), 41.

[5] Later Otellie Loloma also attended Northern Arizona University and the College of Santa Fe.

[6] The couple divorced in 1965.

[7] Loloma and Wapp performed at the White House and at the 1968 Summer Olympics in Mexico City with students from the IAIA.

[8] Susan Peterson, “The Legacy of Generations: Pottery by Contemporary American Indian Women,” in Women Artists of the American West, Susan R. Ressler ed. (Jefferson NC: McFarland & Company, 2003), 110.

[9] The National Museum of the American Indian has another work by Loloma in the collection, a watercolor painting that was donated by Charles and Ruth Elkus in the 1950s.

[10] Smith, 41.

[11] Vincent Price, “Introduction,” Three from Santa Fe (Washington DC: Center for Arts of Indian America, 1968).

[12] James McGrath, “A Song for Otellie,” At the Edgelessness of Light: Poems (Santa Fe NM: Sunstone Press, 2005), 38.

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July 17, 2015

The 6th annual Living Earth Festival is on!

YoughtanundThe group Youghtanund demonstrates women’s powwow-style dancing in the Potomac Atrium during the 2015 Living Earth Festival. Photo by Dennis Zotigh, NMAI.

It’s that time of year again: The Living Earth Festival—a signature program of the National Museum of the American Indian in Washington, DC—takes place today, Friday, July 17, through Sunday, July 19. This ecologically friendly family festival has something for every age group! This year’s highlights include a ladybug release in the garden outside the museum, Native dance performances, Native foods, artist demonstrations, a wine tasting, gardening workshops, an Indian Summer Showcase Concert by Quetzal Guerrero, a Native chef cooking competition, hands-on  bracelet-making, and a symposium titled On the Table: Creating a Healthy Food Future.

The events begin at 10 am each day and run until 5 pm. Native food chefs Julio and Heliodora Saqui create traditional Mayan dishes in the Akaloa fire pit outside the museum's first floor. Artist demonstrations are being offered by Janie Luster (Houma), who makes unique jewelry and other items from alligator gar scales found in her home state of Louisiana. Also taking part in the festival are artists Stephanie Madere Escude (Tunica–Biloxi); father and daughter artists Juan and Marta Chiac (Maya) from Belize; Peruvian jeweler Evelyn Brooks (Ashaninkas); and Guatemalan weaver Angelica Lopez (Maya).

Information booths have been set up by the InterTribal Buffalo Council, Traditional American Indian Farmer’s Association, Native Seed/SEARCH, and Twisted Cedar Wines. Navajo Community Health Outreach has a poster exhibit of its work. These presentations take place in the Potomac Atrium and outside the Rasmussen Theater on the first floor. 

Visitors ages 5 and up are invited to make ti leaf lei bracelets in the imagiNATIONS Activity Center on the 3rd floor. This hands-on activity is first come, first served basis.

Music and dance take place in the Potomac Atrium on the first floor: The Youghtanund Drum Group from Richmond, Virginia, will perform powwow-style dances and songs each day at 11 am and 2 pm (2:30 on Friday). At 12:30 and 3:30 pm on Friday and Sunday, 12:30 only on Saturday, musicians from the Washington-area Central American group GuateMarimba join Grupo AWAL to present traditional Maya dances.

Each afternoon of the festival, the Cedar Band of Paiute Indians of Utah host a wine tasting of their tribally owned Twisted Cedar Wine. Times vary, but the wine tastings all take place in the Mitsitam Coffee Bar on the first floor. 

On Friday at 2 pm, the Living Earth symposium On the Table: Creating a Healthy Future features speakers Ricardo SalvadorClayton Brascoupe (Tesuque Pueblo), and Robin Kimmerer, and moderator Tim Johnson (Mohawk). The symposium—a lively discussion covering sustainable farming, the impact of genetically modified organisms (GMOs), the conservation of heritage seeds, and traditional Indigenous approaches to the environment and harvest—takes place in the museum's Rasmuson Theater. If you can make it to the National Mall, you can watch the symposium live via webcast

On Saturday at 3 pm in the Potomac Atrium, the museum hosts the first of three Indian Summer Showcase concerts for 2015. Quetzal Guerrero and his band bridge Latino and American music styles, including blues, jazz, and hip-hop.

Sunday's highlights include a Native chef cooking competition between Hawaiian chefs Kiamana Chee and Robert Alcain, beginning at noon on the Welcome Plaza outside the museum's main entrance. This year's secret ingredient is cacao, but don't tell anyone. Beginning at 2:30 pm in the Rasmuson Theater, Navajo young people working with Navajo Community Health Outreach will share their tribe’s effort to improve health education and access to healthy foods in the Navajo Nation. Come by and let them know you appreciate the important work they're doing.

—Dennis Zotigh

Dennis Zotigh (Kiowa/San Juan Pueblo/Santee Dakota Indian) is a writer and cultural specialist at the Smithsonian National Museum of the American Indian in Washington, D.C.

Events from the Living Earth Festival are webcast live throughout the weekend. Take a look at what's on the schedule or go directly to the museum's Live Webcasts page.

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April 22, 2015

Every day is Earth Day

NMAI from woodland landscape
The Smithsonian National Museum of the American Indian in Washington, D.C. Foreground, lower left: George Rivera (Pojoaque Pueblo), Buffalo Dancer II (detail). Cast bronze, 2nd of an edition of 4. Gift of the Pueblo of Pojoaque, George Rivera, and Glenn Green Galleries. NMAI 26/7920. For the Pueblo Indians of the Southwest, the Buffalo Dance is an enduring celebration, a prayer for the well-being of all.

The National Museum of the American Indian on the National Mall in Washington, D.C., stands out for its evocation of monumental sandstone cliffs and tumbling streams. The grounds that surround the building are a living collection of indigenous plants, and details throughout the museum connect indoor spaces to the natural world. The museum's commitment to the environment, however, goes beyond the building's striking and thoughtful design to engage staff members at all levels—from senior management to cultural interpreters to facilities specialists and kitchen crew.

In 2011, the National Museum of the American Indian became the first Smithsonian museum to achieve LEED status. LEED—Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design—is the building rating and certification system developed by the U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC) to promote sustainability in building design, construction, operation, and maintenance. LEED measures nine key areas:

  • Sustainable sites
  • Water efficiency
  • Energy and atmosphere
  • Materials and resources
  • Indoor environmental quality
  • Location and linkages
  • Awareness and education
  • Innovation in design
  • Regional priority

The museum has an active sustainability program and a sustainability committee of staff from various units and departments to monitor museum activities, brainstorm ideas to address challenges, and take follow-up actions. To give just one example, the staff works to improve recycling throughout the museum. New signage in English and Spanish helps visitors and staff be more aware of separating recyclables and compostables into the correct bins. The museum recycles more than 60 percent of total waste and this year redirected 35 tons of material from disposal in landfills to reuse via recycling and composting.

In addition to LEED certification, the museum received a 3-star rating from the Green Restaurant Association (GRA) for the award-winning Mitsitam Cafe. The GRA certifies restaurants' environmental friendliness, including waste reduction and recycling, water efficiency, sustainable furnishings and building materials, sustainable foods, energy consumption, disposables, and chemical and pollution reduction efforts. 

The museum seeks to reflect Native values in all its work. One teaching that comes to mind today is to think in terms of seven generations: Our ancestors gave us the world to keep in trust for our children and grandchildren. Happy Earth Day, everyone!

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October 24, 2014

Meet Native America: Daniel S. Collins Sr., Chairman, Shinnecock Indian Nation Council of Trustees

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

Please introduce yourself with your name and title. 

Akwe, my name is Daniel S. Collins Sr., and I am the chairman of the Shinnecock Indian Nation Council of Trustees.  

Chairman Collins
Daniel S. Collins Sr., chairman of the Shinnecock Indian Nation Council of Trustees. Photo by Beverly Jensen, courtesy of the Shinnecock Indian Nation.

Can you share with us your Shinnecock name? 

My mother gave me the name Eagle Feather after birth. 

Where is your community located?

The Shinnecock Indian Reservation is adjacent to the town of Southampton, on Long Island in New York. 

Where are the Shinnecock people originally from? 

The Shinnecock are referred to as the People of the Stony Shores. I believe that the air, land, and sea represent all that our bodies are made of. The air gives life, the land is a solid and forms the body, and water is the cycling process that sustains the body. All of these elements come together along the shore.

In a vision I had back sometime, I saw the waves rolling in onto the stony shores of Shinnecock. Each time the waves would break and begin to roll back out, a man and woman would evolve from the waves onto the shore. When the waves stopped, the shores were outlined as far as the eye could see east to west with beautiful brown-skinned human beings, known today as the Shinnecock, the People of the Stony Shores. Our people were put here by the Creator and have lived and survived here since time immemorial. 

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

First contact with early settlers sailing in to Conscious Point in 1640. The loss of ten Shinnecock men in the shipwreck of the Circassian in 1876. Most recently, I would have to say, our receiving federal recognition as the 565th Indian Nation, on October 1, 2010. These are just a few historical points, which outline how we have been here and our current-day status. 

How is your tribal government set up? 

Prior to December 2013, the government structure of the Shinnecock Nation consisted of a three-man Board of Trustees. The chairman was decided based upon who received the most votes. In December of 2013, we enacted the ratified Constitution of the Nation and a new Council of Trustees was elected consisting of a seven council members: chairman, vice chairman, treasurer, council secretary, General Council secretary, sachem (male elder), and sunksqua (female elder). The new Council of Trustees afforded the Shinnecock Nation the opportunity to elect two female councilors to serve for the first time in Shinnecock history. 

Shinnecock Nation Council of Trustees 2014
The Shinnecock Indian Nation Council of Trustees, 2014. Left to right, back row: D. Taobi Silva, treasurer; Eugene Cuffee II, sachem; Bradden Smith Sr., vice chairman; Daniel S. Collins Sr., chairman, and Bryan Polite, Council of Trustees secretary. Front row: Nichol Dennis-Banks, General Council secretary; and Lucille Bosley, sunksqua. Photo by Beverly Jensen, courtesy of the Shinnecock Indian Nation.

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

The sachem and sunksqua are members of the Council of Elders and provide spiritual guidance and act as peacekeepers. 

How often are elected leaders chosen? 

The last election was held in December. Until then, since 1792 the Shinnecock Nation held trustees elections every April on the first Tuesday. We are currently proposing staggered terms to ensure forward progress of the nation’s business endeavors with the newly elected and remaining trustees each year. 

How often does your tribal council meet? 

The Council of Trustees meets weekly. There is also a monthly meeting between the Council of Trustees and the General Council, which consist of all the enrolled community members. This is done to ensure community involvement and transparency. 

What responsibilities do you have as a Shinnecock leader? 

As a tribal leader, my role is to care for, defend, and protect the well being and safety of all tribal members, as well as all tribal property and assets. I'm also charged with maintaining current programs and resources while seeking additional resources that would improve upon the current process of working towards tribal self-sufficiency with no negative impact to our sovereignty. Public safety and cultural awareness are my major interests. 

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

First and foremost, the pride of being Shinnecock has always been the strength that guided me through all I have endured growing up until the present. Having the opportunity to move around the world in my younger days allowed for me to become very diverse and open-minded. My career in the military and in both municipal and tribal law enforcement exposed me to many situations involving people from many different backgrounds, cultures, and beliefs. Having held multiple leadership roles and positions throughout my entire career has grounded and prepared me well for the position to which I have been elected. 

Who inspired you as a mentor? 

I have been afforded the opportunity to work with many great leaders and mentor figures. My grandfather, Chief Thunderbird, was a great man. He loved his people and culture. He instilled the pride of Shinnecock in all of his family and tribal members. He was a forgiving man and a great educator. He maintained and expressed his passion and pride of Shinnecock through his role as ceremonial chief each year of his adult life at our annual powwow. He is my inspirational and honorable mentor. 

Are you a descendant of a historical leader? 

How do you define a historic leader—one that makes the history books? The fact that the Shinnecock people have been here on our traditional lands since time immemorial speaks to our all being descendants of great leaders. I will take this opportunity to honor my father, Avery Dennis Sr., Chief Eagle Eye, for his twenty years of service as a former tribal trustee, and to honor all who served and stood for our great nation. 

Approximately how many members are in your community? 

Total membership of the Shinnecock Indian Nation is approximately 1,600 enrolled members. 

What are the criteria to become a member? 

Criteria for enrollment are outlined in our nation’s Enrollment Ordinance adopted by the General Council, which is in line with the federal recognition process. 

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

Our people, the Shinnecock, lost the use of our language in the early days. It was deemed inappropriate by the settlers, and our ancestors actually were punished for using our language. After thirty years of research, today we are bringing our language back through language classes, and many of our adults and children who participate are able to speak in complete sentences. It is really inspiring and represents a true testament that we are not going away. We are regaining our strength and place here in our home, the woodlands and stony shores of eastern Long Island—Shinnecock USA. 

What economic enterprises does your nation own? 

The Shinnecock Nation recently initiated the pursuit of cigarette distribution, which would benefit the community by enhancing our education and health programs. We are pursuing several other potential economic endeavors, pending General Council input and approval.  

What annual events does your community sponsor? 

Our nation holds several events annually. For most of them, we extend invitations to our relative tribal nations and local guests. Annually we celebrate a fall Thanksgiving Nunnowa Feast (on the Thursday before national Thanksgiving Day) and a spring tribal gathering referred to as June Meeting (the first Sunday of June). Our main sponsored event is our powwow. For the past 68 years, we have gathered in celebration of the life and pride of Native America. This celebration brings together representatives from over five hundred tribal nations. It takes place on Labor Day weekend on our historic Powwow Grounds. We love our powwow! 

Shinnecock Nation Powwow a
The 67th Annual Shinnecock Powwow, 2013: Members of the Board of Trustees lead the Grand Entry. From left to right: Taobi Silva, Daniel S. Collins Sr., and Eugene Cuffee II. Photo by Beverly Jensen, courtesy of the Shinnecock Indian Nation.

What other attractions are available for visitors on your land?

The Shinnecock Indian Nation is home to the Shinnecock Nation Cultural Center and Museum. The museum recently opened Wikun Village—an outdoor, traditional Shinnecock village—to offer physical education and the experience of the way we lived historically. The museum is open year round and is a must-see if you ever have a chance to visit. 

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

We understand that the Shinnecock Indian Nation needs to be a neighbor in good faith with the surrounding communities and states, whose friendship we embrace. The U.S. government has a trust responsibility to all Native nations, and we hold them to that. Shinnecock has always been a sovereign nation. As the 565th federally recognized tribe, we honor the government-to-government relationship that has been established with the United States. We trust that the United States will provide the resources and protections as stated in all applicable federal laws, codes, and regulations. We honor all of our Native veterans and especially those who paid the ultimate price for our freedom under the U.S. flag. 

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

To our youth I say: Be proud of who you are, no matter where you are. Teach others about who you are and your culture and tradition. Have a dream and hold on to it; know that everything is possible and achievable. Respect yourself and your elders; learn from positive mentors and role models in your community and abroad. Always give back to your community by doing your part to develop the generations that follow. Always remember that you are loved and that you matter! 

Is there anything else you would like to add? 

I would like to thank you for affording me this honorable opportunity to share with you! Tabutne (thank you). 

Thank you.

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