August 19, 2016

Meet Native America: Theodore Hernandez, Chairman of the Wiyot 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

Chmn & Ms. Hernandez
Wiyot Tribal Chairman Theodore Hernandez and his wife, Rose Hernandez. March 2016, Loleta, California.

Please introduce yourself with your name and title.

I'm Theodore Hernandez, chairman of the Wiyot Tribe, located on the Table Bluff Reservation.

Can you share your Native name and its English translation, or your nickname?

My nickname with the youth on the Table Bluff Reservation is Gray Wolf. Most people know me as Ted.

Where is your reservation located?

The Table Bluff Reservation is in Northern California on the outskirts of Loleta, California. Our main office and tribal reservation overlook Humboldt Bay and the Pacific Ocean.

Where is your tribe originally from?

Wiyot people have always lived along the Pacific Ocean and around Humboldt Bay. Before the 1850s and the times of the Gold Rush, the Wiyot people covered 40 miles of coastline, going inland about 10 miles. The tribe’s ancestral territory includes Little River to the north, Bear River Ridge to the south, and from the Pacific Coast out to as far as Berry Summit in the northeast and Chalk Mountain in the southeast.

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

For the Wiyot people there are a couple points in history that are unquestionably significant. We can never forget about the lives we lost during the massacre in the 1860s on Indian Island in Humboldt Bay, as well as on the banks of the Eel River and Mad River. This major event in history practically brought the Wiyot people to extinction. In fact, in the early 1900s there were only about one hundred tribal members.

Shortly after the early 1900s though, the tribe began to prosper again and grow our membership. Sadly, hardship hit the Wiyot people again, this time in 1961 when the California Rancheria Act terminated the legal status of the tribe and the Wiyot effectively became non-Indian Indians. A major thank-you goes out to Wiyot tribal members Albert and Beverly James and their families who fought to get the tribe's rights back and ultimately succeeded. In 1975 the tribe filed suit against the federal government for unlawful termination, and in 1981 federal recognition and trust status was reinstated.

How is your tribal community government set up?

Our Tribal Council is made up of seven tribal members who are elected by the tribal membership. The Wiyot Tribe has a chairman, vice-chairman, secretary, treasurer and three members-at-large who assist with representing the tribal membership.

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

The Wiyot Tribe has committees that council members and other interested tribal members sit on. These committees represent our membership and tribe throughout the organization. Traditionally we respect our tribal elders and their wisdom, which is often consulted.

How often are elected leaders chosen?

Council members of the Wiyot tribe have a staggered four-year term for each position on the Tribal Council.

How often does your Tribal Council meet?

Our Tribal Council has Business Council meetings twice a month. Tribal membership is also asked to attend these meetings and take part in the public forum. The council also meets at different times throughout the year for committee meetings and economic development meetings. In addition to our Business Council meetings, we also have General Council meetings twice a year.

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

I believe that all my life experiences, both good and bad, helped me to become who I am today and have aided me has a tribal leader. Throughout life I gained experience in everything I did and specifically by taking part in the workforce. I started as a laborer and worked my way up to management, developing business leadership skills. I regained my cultural drive to lead the tribe when I was able to participate in my daughter's coming-of-age dance. This moment in my time brought the tribe's culture back into my life and motivated me to make it my goal to reach tribal leadership and strive to do better for the tribal membership.

What responsibilities do you have as a tribal leader?

I consider my main responsibility as the tribal chairman to be to provide for and make the best decisions for tribal members. It is especially important to provide for the youth of the tribe and to insure their well-being and success, since they after all will be the future of our tribe.

Chmn Theodore HernandezChairman Hernandez taking part in the unveiling of a mural created by students at Humboldt State University in collaboration with the artist Saba (Randy Sabaque) and the wider community. The mural celebrates the cultures of traditionally underrepresented students at Humboldt State. December 2015, UC Quad, Humboldt State University, Arcata, California.


Who inspired you as a mentor?

My mother was the biggest inspiration in my life. She possessed strong leadership skills and outstanding morals. There have also been numerous elders who have influenced me through their teaching of our culture and their stories.

Approximately how many members are in your tribe?

There are approximately 640 enrolled members in the Wiyot Tribe.

What are the criteria to become a Wiyot tribal member?

Our membership requirement is through blood quantum. Each member is required to have one-eighth Wiyot blood to be considered for enrollment. Furthermore, if you are a descendant from a base roll member you are automatically qualified to be a Wiyot tribal member.

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

There are no remaining fluent Wiyot speakers that we know of at this time. The last known fluent speakers died between the 1940s and 1960s. Some of their descendants know some words or phrases, but there is no one left who could have a full conversation in Wiyot. At this time Dr. Lynnika Butler, the tribe's language specialist, is learning the Wiyot language from audio recordings, written word lists, stories, etc., that were gained from the elders who spoke the Wiyot Language. Dr. Butler then teaches Wiyot to the youth and other tribal membership through language workshops.

What annual events does your tribal community sponsor?

One of the biggest events that the tribe hosts is the annual Wiyot Days. Wiyot Days brings Native American dancers and drummers from across the Northwest to perform during the ceremonies. At Wiyot Days there is also a friendly competition among the men of the Wiyot Tribe in traditional game sticks, a salmon feed, and various things offered by local vendors. In addition to Wiyot Days, in 2014 the Wiyot Tribe started observing our World Renewal Ceremony, which hadn’t been done in over 150 years. The tribe is also proud to support the Boys and Girls Club of the Table Bluff Reservation and local youth sport teams.

What attractions are available for visitors on your land?

The Wiyot Tribe on Table Bluff Reservation overlooks Humboldt Bay and the Pacific Ocean, so our scenic views and beach access are like nowhere else. Moreover, the Wiyot Tribe also has an onsite Heritage Center where priceless artifacts and one-of-a-kind paintings can be viewed. If the beach and bay are not your thing, if you visit the Wiyot area you can also hike along the redwood trails and enjoy the towering redwoods above you.

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

I would like to encourage the youth in our tribal community to continue to practice our beliefs, traditions, and language, to keep our cultural alive and to pass it on to future generations. I also would like to encourage our youth to seek higher education, to enrich their lives as individuals and make them able to offer their hand to our community and assist the tribe in growth and development with the wisdom they gain. I also believe our youth should always listen to the elders in the community, to learn from their stories and pass our history on to future generations.

Thank you.

Thank you.


Photos courtesy of the Wiyot 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 02, 2016

The Longest Walk 5: Visions

Since 1978, American Indian activists have used protest marches across the United States to call attention to issues of great concern to their nations and communities. This is the last post in a three-part series by April Chee (Navajo) on the Longest Walk 5: Declaring War on Drug Abuse and Domestic Violence. April's first post gives a brief history of the Longest Walk. In the second post, she interviews Dennis Banks, a leader in the American Indian Movement from the beginning, about his goals for activism, in past decades and today. 

LW5 AmigoNonProfitFilmsThe Longest Walk 5 reaches its destination—the Lincoln Memorial, the site of so many important demonstrations for civil rights. July 15, 2016, Washington, D.C. Photo courtesy of AmigoNonProfitFilms, used with permission.

 

It has been a little more than two weeks since the Longest Walk 5 made its way into Washington, D.C. Into the nation’s capital, where it is not every day that you see a tipi on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial. Not every day that you hear the sound of a powwow resonating as tourists capture their photos of the memorial pool, Native supporters showing up in their traditional clothing, adorned with beadwork, turquoise, and feathers, their moccasins tied tight. It is a remarkable sight to experience, in the center of a city where Supreme Court decisions are made, our president addresses the world, and Congress discusses legislation, the words spelled out for all to see from a distance away, “WE ARE STILL HERE.”

Aware or unaware, we are all standing in the midst of history. One day you are simply reading about the American Indian Movement and the lengths protestors took to have Native rights heard, and the next you are in the midst of it all, meeting people who walked that walk in 1978. Thirty-eight years after the original Longest Walk, “We are still here.”

The Longest Walk 5: Calling an End to Drug Abuse and Domestic Violence was not a walk just for Native people. It was a walk for all of humanity, calling attention and asking for action on issues that to some degree affect every single person living in this great nation. Calling attention and asking for action to protect our generations to come, to protect those who are still here, to re-establish that connection to a healthy, positive life. To heal our communities and move forward in a way that benefits not only ourselves, but also our families, neighbors, coworkers, friends, and fellow citizens. This is a call to end the high rate of suicide among our Native youth, to end the statistic that one in three Native women will be the victim of sexual abuse in her lifetime. The Longest Walk 5 did not take the journey across the United States lightly. The people who made the walk carry a burden felt by all of Indian Country.

As part of the walk, people across the country conducted forums and discussions on what can be done to end drug use and domestic violence. By holding on to the healing that comes from spiritual and cultural connections that have long helped Native people survive, we are still here. Surveys were conducted, talking circles were held, and healing was offered to those who needed it most. Like the walk across the country, that journey will be long. 

Longest Walk 2 2016-07-15
Since the American Indian Movement organized the first cross-country journey in 1978, the Longest Walk has called people's attention to treaty rights, tribal sovereignty, the protection of sacred sites and the environment, healing drug abuse and violence against women and children, and other crucially important issues. July 15, 2016, National Mall, Washington, D.C. Photo by April Chee, NMAI.

On July 15, 2016, people arrived at Arlington National Cemetery at 8 in the morning to begin their walk to the Lincoln Memorial. Artist Kid Valance performed a theme song and reflection. A traditional Native American Water Ceremony was conducted, followed by remarks on the movement by members of the Longest Walk 5, Dennis Banks, and allies. Longest Walk 5 members plan to continue to collect data as they did on their journey. They will make this information available to Native nations and communities both to support more funding for resources and to give community members who have first-hand experience with these issues more input into healing.

After a 3,000-mile walk across the United States that spanned a five-month period, the Longest Walk 5 convened on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial. On the steps of a memorial to a U.S. president who gave the word to have 38 Dakota prisoners executed in 1862, members of the Longest Walk 5, an American Indian Movement–led walk, stood to say, “We are still here.” To have survived hundreds of years of wars, termination, removal, and assimilation, Native Americans are still here and still fighting for our people.

—April Chee, NMAI

April Chee (Navajo) is Tábąąhi (Waters Edge Clan) born for Naakaii Dine′é (Mexican People) from Coalmine, New Mexico. April is pursuing a bachelor's degree in Native American Studies at the University of New Mexico and will graduate in fall 2016. She was selected as a Smithsonian intern for the summer of 2016 and is working in the Public Affairs Office of the National Museum of the American Indian.

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July 28, 2016

Meet Native America: Jeff Haozous, Chairman of the Fort Sill Apache 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 Jeff Haozous
Chairman Jeff Haozous, Fort Sill Apache Tribe.

Please introduce yourself with your name and title.

I'm Jeff Haozous, chairman of the Fort Sill Apache Tribe.

Can you share your Native name and its English translation? 

My last name, Haozous, can be translated as a pulling up motion or the sound of pulling roots. My grandfather was named Sam Haozous. My father changed his last name to Houser when he was young. I changed it back to Haozous in 2001.

Where is your tribal community located?

Our tribe is headquartered in Apache, Oklahoma, in the southwest part of the state. Our members live all over the United States. In 2002 we acquired trust land in our homelands in southern New Mexico, and in 2011 that land was declared to be a reservation by the Secretary of the Interior. It is the first reservation for the Chiricahua Apaches since our last one was closed in 1877.

Where is your tribe originally from?

Originally our people lived in what is now southwest New Mexico, southeast Arizona, and northern Mexico. The tribe as a whole was referred to as Chiricahua Apache. It was composed of four bands named Chiricahua, Warm Springs, Bedonhke, and Nednais.

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

In the late 1800s the Chiricahua and Warm Springs reservations in Arizona and New Mexico were closed, and the tribe was moved to the San Carlos Apache Reservation in eastern Arizona. It was a very difficult period for our people. Fearing for his life, Geronimo, one of our more notable members, left the reservation. This started a conflict with the United States that led to the imprisonment of our people and their removal from the Southwest to Florida, then Alabama, and finally to Fort Sill in Oklahoma, where they were released in 1914. This nearly 28-year imprisonment is one of the most significant eras in our history.

How is your tribal government set up?

We have a General Council, which consists of all members of the tribe 18 years of age or older. The General Council votes annually to approve the tribal operations budget and to elect members of the Business Committee.

The Business Committee consists of six members including a chairman, vice-chairman, and secretary–treasurer. The Business Committee oversees the tribal membership application process, maintains the tribal rolls, prepares and manages the tribal operations budget, and supervises tribal government programs.

Additionally, the Business Committee appoints members of boards that are responsible for various aspects of the tribe’s operations, and when applicable approves the boards' budgets.

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

No.

How often are elected leaders chosen?

Business Committee members are elected to two-year terms. The terms are staggered so that each year two members are up for election.

How often does your tribal council meet?

The General Council meets on the first Saturday of October, which coincides with Business Committee elections, and as needed.

The Business Committee meets as needed, usually once a month.

What responsibilities do you have as tribal chairman?

I preside at meetings of the General Council and of the Business Committee. I represent the tribe in interactions with other governments and organizations. I’m also chairman of the Board of Trustees of our Economic Development Authority, which oversees our casino and government-contracting businesses. I preside over meetings of the Board of Trustees and provide general oversight for the authority as authorized by the board.

Groundbreaking, Apache Casino Hotel
Tribal leaders, employees, and construction staff at the groundbreaking for the new Event Center at the Apache Casino Hotel. Lawton, Oklahoma, December 2015.


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

My family, as well as our tribe, has always emphasized the importance of education. I was fortunate to have the opportunity to go to college and graduate school. This has helped me serve in my position.

Also, I worked in the business world prior to coming to the tribe. Through this experience, I developed the skills that help me to lead and oversee our tribe’s business operations.

Who inspired you as a mentor?

My father was my first inspiration. He taught me to work hard and to do my best and he emphasized the importance of education. My aunt Ruey Darrow, who preceded me as chairperson, was a great mentor to me. I was also inspired by the examples set by tribal leaders Inman (Cloyde) and Lupe Gooday.

Finally, although he died before I was born, I am inspired by the life of my grandfather Sam Haozous. He was taken from his homeland as a boy and held as a prisoner of war until he was 42 years old. He was released into poverty conditions onto an allotment in southwestern Oklahoma where he and my grandmother raised several accomplished, educated children.

In 1946, he was a plaintiff in the land claim in which we were found to be the legal successor to the Chiricahua Apaches in New Mexico and Arizona. The settlement of this claim led to the organization of our tribe as the Fort Sill Apache Tribe. He did not live to see the settlement of the claim or the subsequent restoration of our tribe. This example of efforts leading to benefits for future generations inspires me as I contemplate projects that I know will not be completed in my own lifetime.

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

Apache Chief Mangas Coloradas was my great-great grandfather. In 1852, he signed the only treaty ever made between the United States and the Apaches.

Approximately how many members are in your tribe?

We have 730 members.

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

Members must be descended from a person who received an allotment in Oklahoma after our people’s release from imprisonment, have one-sixteenth degree blood quantum, have a natural parent who is a member of the Fort Sill Apache Tribe, and have not taken land or money as an adult member of another tribe.

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

Our language is not spoken fluently on our homelands. We have language classes, but no fully fluent speakers.

What economic enterprises does your tribe own?

The tribe owns the Apache Casino Hotel in Lawton, Oklahoma; the Apache Homelands Smokeshop Restaurant in Akela, New Mexico; and Fort Sill Apache Industries, a government contractor.

What annual events does your tribe sponsor?

We hold an annual dance and celebration at our headquarters in Apache, Oklahoma, on the third weekend of September. This year it will be held on September 16 and 17.

Fort Sill Apache Gooday Dance Group
Chairman Haozous (second from left) with members of the Fort Sill Apache Gooday Dance Group. 


What other attractions are available for visitors on your land?

We have very little land and few attractions except for our casino in Oklahoma and our restaurant in New Mexico.

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

We deal with the U.S. as a sovereign nation in the same manner as other federally recognized tribes. We have no active treaties with the United States.

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

We have a rich culture and a deep history. If you can, please make an effort to learn about it. It doesn’t matter where you live. Call our offices and we can help you.

Do your best to get an education. If you plan to go to college, take advantage of our educational assistance. You are the future of our tribe.

Is there anything else you would like to add?

It is my life’s mission to return our people to our homelands in New Mexico and Arizona, to provide jobs, then housing, then to establish the institutions that will support a community—schools, health care, cultural centers, etc. I realize that this will not be completed in my lifetime. I’m doing it for the benefit of our ancestors and of our descendants.

Thank you. 

Thank you. 


Photos courtesy of the Fort Sill Apache 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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July 08, 2016

The Longest Walk 5: An Interview with Dennis Banks

Since 1978, American Indian activists have used protest marches across the United States to call attention to issues of great concern to their nations and communities. This is the second post in a three-part series by April Chee (Navajo) on the Longest Walk 5: Declaring War on Drug Abuse and Domestic Violence, which will reach Washington, D.C., on July 15. April's first post gave a brief history of the Longest Walk movement. The final post describes the arrival of the Longest Walk at its symbolic destination, Lincoln Memorial on the National Mall in Washington.


Dennis Banks with members of the Lumbee community
Dennis Banks (Ojibwe) meeting with members of the Lumbee and Tuscarora tribes on the Longest Walk 5. June 2016, Robeson County, North Carolina. 


Thank you for giving the museum this interview. Many people are familiar with your work, but for those who aren't, could you introduce yourself?

My name is Nowa Cumig, also known as Dennis Banks. I am Ojibwe and Turtle Clan, born April 12, 1937, on Leech Lake Reservation, Minnesota.

You’ve been credited with the idea for the original Longest Walk in 1978. Where did the idea or inspiration come from?

Well, when the anti-Indian bills were introduced, organizations like NCAI [the National Congress of American Indians] were flying delegates to Washington, D.C., to protest the legislation. I kept thinking that AIM [the American Indian Movement] does not have that kind of money to fly out our members to D.C. Then I thought of the Long Walk of the Navajos and the Trail of Tears, and how people were forcibly removed from their Indigenous land. I thought, “We know this country, why not walk across the country and go back to Washington, D.C., with purpose?” We will think about all of our ancestors and the walks they were forced to endure while we walk across the country ourselves.

It [the Longest Walk] would be a forced walk, because Congress was trying to get out of their own commitments, agreements, and declarations by nullifying the treaties. I then proposed the idea to our Oakland Chapter and my good friend Bill Wahpepah (Sac and Fox), and the walk started to come to reality with notable support from Marlon Brando, Carlos Santana, and Tony Bennett, and of course the support from Native people across the country.

Why do you think it was important to emphasize the protest as a peaceful, spiritual march? What was the greater significance?

It meant that it was a departure from the actions at Wounded Knee,. This time we would pledge to walk across with our pipes, and it would be a great spiritual walk. A spiritual movement brought us to better understanding about our spiritual beliefs and who we are as a cultural people. To me that was a huge stand of education that was brought down to seconds and minutes in making our decision on how to proceed with the march. We smoked a pipe at Alcatraz and every day we did the same thing as we walked across this country. It not only beautifies the struggle but it strengthened the struggle, it helped us understand that this is what our people did. To remember our ancestors, we had to make this walk a spiritual walk and remember their struggle in this way.

Longest Walk with the Seminole at Big Cypress
Walkers and supporters of the Longest Walk 5 with members of the Seminole Indian Nation. June 2016, Big Cypress Reservation, Florida. 


How do you think the relationship between activism and legislation has affected Native communities?

It is a learning experience in what the communities go through, too. Sometimes we put too much weight on our politicians and elected leaders. We trust them to do all of this leg work, and they can’t. We elect them but we cannot expect them to do all of the legwork alone. For instance, if you are praying for an answer, you cannot expect something to happen without your doing something, without taking action. If you want something done, then you have to organize something around it. We need that with our leaders to pave the way to legislation and meeting with members of Congress and meeting with program directors within the U.S. government. A protest has to take action as well, I don’t want us just to hold signs. Prayer and ceremony demand action.

Each walk interacts directly with issues that Native communities face. What does the Longest Walk 5 mean to you and different Native communities?

The issue of drug abuse is out of control right now. It is now 2016, and I can say unequivocally that we have lost the right time to strike to end drug abuse. What can we do to end drug abuse, prescription abuse? Walking across the country collecting information is only one part. The only thing that is really going to help us is our spiritual and cultural beliefs. We have to recover using our traditional spiritual beliefs like the Sun Dance ceremony, sweat lodge ceremony, pipe ceremony, walking, and running to have a clean and healthy life.

This is all within our grasp, but if we do not get up and take a stand against drug abuse then we will never get ahead. We are losing generations upon generations of our young people to suicide and drug abuse, and we need to do something to stop this epidemic. We might not be able to stop it within my lifetime, but we need to start something: I will be sure that there is a beginning. We can only blame ourselves if we don’t provide for the seventh generation a much better outlook in life. Let’s start talking about domestic violence, about drug abuse, let’s put these issues on the table and discuss what we can do to help our people.

Could you tell us more about your experience during this walk and the kind of dialogue you hope to create along the way?

Our level of participation across this country coming from Native people has been immense. People themselves want to speak about their experiences with domestic violence and with drug abuse. People speak on their road to recovery from domestic violence, and it’s always moving to hear these stories and how families have come back together in a healthy way, or found ways to take themselves out of unsafe situations to better their lives.

I remember seeing a sign in a home that I visited while on this tour, and this sign said, “I stayed with my husband so that our children could have a father. I left my husband so that my children could have a mother.” This was a powerful statement that stuck with me. We have heard different stories along the way, and some are positive and some had tragic endings. But regardless the first thing we have to do is put these issues on the table.

What is your ultimate goal in completing this major walk for now the fifth time?

The Longest Walk 5 will officially end after three separate walks. We are doing the southern walk right now, and next year we will cover the middle states. Then after that walk we will walk the northern states of the U.S. and some of Canada, always ending in Washington, D.C. The ultimate goal is recovery. Helping our people who are addicted to drugs to take part in recovery programs through spiritual healing. Lead our people back to our traditional way of life.

I believe that we can still function as traditional, spiritual people and still successfully participate in American life. We are ultimately looking for recovery, for healing our people. We have found that once you begin discussing it, people will come to the table and say, “Yes, it’s wrong,” that drug and alcohol abuse needs to come to an end.

Is there anything else you would like to say?

I have a strong belief that in the end of any situation, goodness will prevail, that love of ourselves will prevail. We can coexist with people even if our beliefs are different. Whatever helps a person to be a better person, then I pat them on the back for what their beliefs are. Full steam ahead, never give up, never give in.

Thank you.

—April Chee, NMAI

April Chee (Navajo) is Tábąąhi (Waters Edge Clan) born for Naakaii Dine′é (Mexican People) from Coalmine, New Mexico. April is pursuing a bachelor's degree in Native American Studies at the University of New Mexico and will graduate in fall 2016. She was selected as a Smithsonian intern for the summer of 2016 and is working in the Public Affairs Office of the National Museum of the American Indian.

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Meet Native America: Terri Parton, President of the Wichita and Affiliated Tribes

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

President Terri Parton
President Terri Parton, Wichita and Affiliated Tribes. Anadarko, Oklahoma.

Please introduce yourself with your name and title.

My name is Terri Parton. I am the president of the Wichita and Affiliated Tribes and an enrolled member. I am also of Caddo descent. I have a 23-year-old son, Jacob, and a 10-year-old nephew, Joshua.

Can you share your Native name and its English translation, or your nickname?

My maiden name is Terri Ann Brown. I do not have a Native name.

Where is your tribal community located?

The Wichita and Affiliated Tribes is located in Anadarko, Oklahoma. Our former reservation boundaries include the northern half of Caddo County, Oklahoma. Parts of Grady, Canadian, Blaine, Custer, and Washita counties are also included in the former reservation boundaries.

Where is your tribe originally from?

The Wichita and Affiliated Tribes consists of the Wichita proper, Waco, Keechi, and Tawakoni bands. Our tribe is indigenous to Oklahoma, south central Kansas, and most of Texas. Our tribe is the only tribe aboriginal to Oklahoma.

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

The Wichita people once lived in the areas from around Wichita, Kansas, all through Oklahoma and down to Waco, Texas. We were once called the Quivira. We now sit on a former reservation area that we were forced to share with two other tribes. Much of that land no longer belongs to us. The most significant point in our history is when the Wichita, Waco, Keechi, and Tawakoni people were forced to give up our land.

How is your tribal government set up?

The supreme governing body is all tribal members 18 years and older—our General Council. Our tribe elected to be governed by a Governing Resolution instead of by a constitution. The Governing Resolution passed by the General Council delegates authority to a seven-member Executive Committee. The Executive Committee is composed of a president, vice president, secretary, treasurer, and three committee members.

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

We have traditional leadership that mostly focuses on the Wichita–Pawnee Visitation that has gone on for centuries. While we do our best to promote culture and our traditional ways, this is not integrated into the politics of the government.

How often are elected leaders chosen?

The Wichita and Affiliated Tribes holds elections for all seven members of the Executive Committee every four years. Elections are held the third Saturday in July. The next elections will be held this month. A candidate must receive the majority vote of those voting to be elected.

How often does your council meet?

The Governing Resolution of the Wichita and Affiliated Tribes calls for an annual General Council Meeting to be held on the third Saturday in July of each year. Occasionally, other meetings of the General Council are called by the president.

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

My life experiences help guide me in everything I do. Every time someone comes in and needs help, I can usually relate in some way to what they’re going through. My life has not been perfect at all. I have lived. I have had bad times, bad experiences, and dealt with the things that many of our people go through in some shape or form. I've chosen to never let those experiences keep me down, though. I learned from them and let those lessons be my guide when helping others.

I have had help along the way when I thought no one could help me, and so I know the importance of being able to help someone when they think there is no hope or help. Helping my people in those instances is the most rewarding thing about my job.

What responsibilities do you have as a tribal leader?

While there are certain things in our Governing Resolution that are duties of the president, such as presiding over meetings and having supervision of the business of the General Council and the Executive Committee, there is a much deeper sense of responsibility that comes with the position for me.

My responsibility lies in caring for my people. This is carried out in variety of ways. I represent my people to the best of my ability. I work to do my best to make things move in a positive direction for our tribe. I try to filter out negativity and stay focused on the positive side to move our tribe forward.

It is my responsibility to do my best to get to know my people and who they are. I try to be there when needed or asked, at least to do the best I can. There are times I have to take a break, too, though.

Most importantly I am responsible for making sure that our tribe has a future and to keep the best interest of the tribe at heart. I focus a lot on our children, but not forgetting to take care of our elders. I want to know that as I grow older and become an elder, I will feel confident in stepping aside and letting our younger generation lead, while still maintaining a connection to be a mentor. It is my responsibility to share my knowledge to ensure our future.

Red Earth Parade with PrincessesPresident Parton and princesses representing the Wichita and Affiliated Tribes at the 31st annual Red Earth Festival. June 2016, Oklahoma City, Oklahoma.


Who inspired you as a mentor?

The definition of a mentor is “someone who teaches or gives help and advice to a less experienced and often younger person.” There are a lot of people who were mentors through various stages of my life. Of course my dad, mom, and grandparents were the greatest mentors in raising me.

Mary Bailey, my fifth grade teacher; former President Gary McAdams's wife, Ardina McAdams, who is of Wichita descent; and Anita Ross (Wichita) were mentors from my younger years. They were mentors before I actually started working for our tribe.

I was very fortunate as young Wichita tribal member when I began working for our tribe 18-and-a half years ago to have many Wichita mentors. While I can think of a lot of elders who shared their life experiences and wisdom with me, there are handful of mentors who were at the forefront of why I have been able serve as president for our tribe for the last four years.

Kristoffer Ira Hight hired me and taught me a lot of the things he knew about the tribe and its programs when I first started. He wasn’t afraid to teach me or for me to follow in his footsteps. He wasn’t afraid to tell me when I was wrong, either. That is a mark of good leader. I carry that with me now and do my best to teach our youth what I know. Ira and I remain good friends to this day.

Frances Wise was the first tribal administrator I worked under. She made me believe that as a young Wichita Indian woman I could accomplish anything I set my mind to. She made me believe that I could be president of our tribe one day. I was cleaning the president’s office one day when I was about 26 years old, trying to file the piles of mail. I was young and didn’t realize the significance of sitting at the desk of the president. She stepped in the doorway and said, “You look good behind that desk. You could be president one day.” It had never crossed my mind until that point. That started about a 10-year journey before I became president. It was rough at first, but she was always there and knew when to call me when I needed that push to go on. She once told me that I had integrity. She helped me believe I could do anything I wanted in life as a strong Wichita woman.

Gerald Collins is a former Wichita Executive Committee member who served with me when I was secretary of the tribe. He now works for the tribe and continues to help me along. He has always had good words of wisdom for me when things got tough.

Doris McLemore, the last fluent speaker of the Wichita and Affiliated Tribes. Doris is also a tribal elder whom I love dearly. I was able to work with her as I taught our language class to our children several years ago. She taught me a lot about our language. She has become a symbol for me of why I love working for my people. When things get rough, as they often do in tribal politics, I often go to her for hugs to help me remember why I am on this journey.

Gary McAdams in my eyes was a great leader for our people. He cares about our people and preserving our culture. He has been my friend and mentor and was a major influence in my journey to becoming president of our tribe. I believe he enjoyed giving me more work to do when he realized the journey I would take someday as president. There wasn’t anything within our tribe that he held back teaching me. I’d like to think that he saw a leader in me. He believed enough in me to teach me many things about our history. I believe he trusted me and knew that I would carry on those things he taught me for our people. He knew even when it got tough as a tribal leader that I would always find my way keeping the best interest of our people at heart.

Stratford Williams was the mentor of all mentors for me. He was first person I saw when I first started to work for the tribe in 1998. He asked me about my family. We were both Wichita and Caddo. He called me his granddaughter on the Caddo side. He taught me everything he could about being a leader over a span of many years. He taught me how to be the leader that I wanted to be. To always help people even if they weren’t always the nicest to you. He cared about our people and our future. You could see it on his face and hear it in his prayers. He taught me about our history, politics, family, and prayer. He believed in my leadership possibilities and helped me believe in myself as a leader. I continue to honor him as I carry on the things he taught me.

The people I named are people I worked with daily at the tribe. They helped shape the leader that I am today. I can’t forget to mention James Ross, William Norman, Gladys Walker, Joni Williams, Kay Ahtone, and Marvin Delaware for their mentorship as elders and friends, for their advice, and for helping me keep my faith at times when things got rough these last four years. While I mention all of these mentors, there are still many more people who have helped me along the way. I have been blessed with a lot of mentors in my life.

Are you a descendant of a historical leader?

My father was Oscar Bruce Brown, Jr., who was Caddo/Wichita. My grandmother was Myra Ross Brown, who was full-blooded Wichita. My great grandfather was Charlie Moore Ross, who was full-blooded Wichita. My great-great grandfather was Walter Zumah Ross. Walter Zumah Ross was a sub-chief. He was photographed by Edward Curtis. There are also many books that talk about him. Our tribe had various bands with various chiefs.

Approximately how many members are in your tribe?

The Wichita and Affiliated Tribes has 2,953 enrolled tribal members as of June 22, 2016.

What are the criteria to become a member?

As of June 22, 2016, you must be one-eighth Wichita to be enrolled. There is a provision for a blood consolidation of other Indian blood. On July 16, 2016, there will be a vote of the tribal membership on whether to lower the blood quantum.

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

As I mentioned earlier, we have only one fluent speaker left. Her name is Doris McLemore, and she is an amazing woman. At 89 years old, she still worked for the tribe cooking breakfast for staff and teaching language. Recently she has had to remain at home, but she still loves to speak and teach our Wichita language.

What economic enterprises does your tribe own?

Our tribe owns and operates Sugar Creek CasinoHinton Travel Inn, Wichita Tribal Smoke Shop, Wichita Travel Plaza, and the Wichita Child Development Center. We also have two Small Business Administration 8(a) companies—Anadarko Industries and Wichita Tribal Enterprises.

What annual events does your tribe sponsor?

The Wichita Annual Dance is held the second week of August of each year. It begins on Thursday and ends on Sunday. A Spirit Walk is also held in conjunction with the dance. It is our biggest event and the event that draws many of our Wichita people to come home. We also have a lot of programmatic functions on annual basis. We recently started a Community Easter Event to give back to our community.

What attractions are available for visitors on your land?

We are in the process of constructing the Wichita Historical Center north of Anadarko on highway 281. It features a thatched grass house and summer arbor. We also have the Sugar Creek Casino located in Hinton, Oklahoma. There are other attractions in the area that are not tribally related.

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

We have consultations with the government. Those consultations aren’t always what tribes expect, though. We have 638 contracts through the BIA and Indian Health Services. We interact in various other ways, such as attending meetings of the National Congress of American Indians; working on initiatives with the U.S. Chamber of Commerce Native American Enterprise Initiative; and participating as a member of the United Indian Nations of Oklahoma, Kansas and Texas. Tribal leaders of Oklahoma also meet with the governor at least once a year.

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

Always be proud to be Wichita. For all Indian youth, be proud to be Indian. Be proud of who you are. Don’t forget who you are and where you come from. Get to know your people and your tribe. Learn as much as you can. Get an education so you can be game-changers for our Indian communities. You will be the leaders of our tribes one day. Don’t be afraid to ask questions. Listen to your elders even when you don’t always agree. As you get older you’ll realize why they took the time to tell you the things they knew. They see something in you and they want to share that knowledge with you.

Be good to each other. Don’t be afraid to teach those younger than you. Always do things with a good heart when you’re working for your people. Love each other and forgive. You never get anywhere by yourself. Have faith in our Creator and don’t forget to pray. Learn from your mistakes, but don’t be afraid to make them. You will fall at times, but always pick yourself back up. Do the best you can do in all you do. Rise up and be great leaders for your tribe.

Is there anything else you would like to add?

I have been blessed to be able to work for my tribe for 18-and-a-half years. There have been a lot of ups and downs and highs and lows, but it has been a great journey. I completed my Bachelors of Science degree in Business Administration and my Master of Jurisprudence in Indian Law degree while I was president. I was 36 years old when I went back to school. I was 38 when I became president in 2012. Don’t give up on your dreams and don’t think you're too young to live those dreams.

Our Creator has blessed my life by allowing me to serve my Wichita people. I know he will direct my steps and those of our tribe in the future. I’m thankful for my family, friends, and mentors, and my Wichita people. I appreciate this opportunity to share a little about me and about my journey as president of the Wichita and Affiliated Tribes over the last four years.

So:ti:c?a. [Thank you.]

Thank you.


Photos courtesy of President Terri Parton; used with permission.

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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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