July 24, 2014

Meet Native America: Sheri Doxtator, Chief, Oneida Nation of the Thames

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.

Sheri Doxtator, elected chief for the Oneida Nation of the Thames. The name Oneida comes from the original Onyota’a:ka, which means People of the Standing Stone. Oneida is a member of the Six Nations, also known as the Iroquois. 

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Chief Sheri Doxtator, Oneida Nation of the Thames.

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

Teyotawunli (pronounced day yo dah wun lee), it means Travelling Woman. A'no:wál niwaki’taló:tʌ̲ is how to say, "I am of the Turtle Clan."

Where is your nation located? 

Our physical location is Southwold, Ontario, Canada, but we refer to our territory as Oneida Settlement. We are located next to the Thames River, and this is why we refer to ourselves in English as the Oneida Nation of the Thames.

Where were the Oneida people originally from?

What is now known as New York State, in the U.S.A.

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

May I quote from an article by Eileen M. Antone, an Oneida and member of the faculty at the University of Toronto and the Ontario Institute for Studies in Education? 

Oneida Nation of the Thames holds a unique position among the First Nation communities in Canada in that we purchased our lands and arrived as settlers from New York State. Our original homelands are in the Madison County area of New York and well beyond. However, following the American Revolution, the Governor of N.Y. saw fit to reward returning American soldiers with parcels of Oneida lands.

Documented from living memory of stories handed down (orature), money was thrown at the feet of Oneidas by the N.Y. officials, telling them that this was payment for their lands and they should leave the state. Arrangements were quickly made between Oneida Castle and the Land Commission of Upper Canada to purchase the land in Delaware Township along the banks of the Thames where we now reside in collective ownership.

Two-hundred-forty men, women, and children arrived at the settlement in 1840, and each paid $42 to settle here. The settlement later became Reserve No. 41, after the Oneidas were unable to pay the  huge debt of back taxes, most of which had been accumulated by the previous owners.

You can read more in Prof. Antone's History of the Oneida of the Thames Move to Canada. An excerpt from the book describing the earlier history of the Oneida is available online courtesy of the Oneida Language and Cultural Centre

It should also be noted that Oneidas remained in New York and also settled in Wisconsin. Our Oneida sisters and brothers are located all over Turtle Island. However, we have tribal lands in Ontario, Canada, and in New York and Wisconsin, in the United States. 

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Graphic design by Chancey Teholatanek Chrisjohn based on the Hiawatha Belt, a symbol of the agreement among the five original Iroquois (Haudenosaunee) nations and their promise to live in unity and stand by one another in times of trouble. © Chancey Teholatanek Chrisjohn, used with permission. 

How is your government set up? 

We currently have elected governance and traditional governance systems. As we move into building our nation stronger, we hope that our systems will continue on a path of unity. As the elected chief of Oneida Nation of the Thames, I hold my seat with pride and honor to represent Onyota’a:ka with twelve elected councillors. They are listed by our clan system as follows:

Ohkwa:lí̲ (Bear Clan): Carolyn J. Doxtator, Charity J. Doxtator, Sue Doxtator, Ransom Doxtator, Zelda Elijah, Olive Elm, Randall Phillips

A'no:wál (Turtle Clan): Sheri Doxtator

Othahyu:ní̲ (Wolf Clan): Joel Abram, Clinton Cornelius, Gloria Doxtator, H. Grant Doxtator, Harry Doxtator

Our newly elected council—which took office as of July 9, 2014—is excited to nurture our relationship with the traditional governance systems in our territory. As Onyota’a:ka we all believe that we have a responsibility to our future generations and that our ancestors watch over us. The elected leaders convene our council meetings using the traditional medicines that the Creator has provided for us, offer an opening and closing prayer in the Onyota’a:ka language, and sit according to clans.

How often are elected leaders chosen?

We currently follow the Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development Canada regulations with regards to our elections. This means that elections occur every two years.

How often does the council meet?

We have established regular meetings to be four times a month, but we realize that special meetings may need to be called from time to time. The council relies on a portfolio system that may see regular monthly meeting of various committees dealing with a large variety of issues concerning our nation.

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

I feel that I am honored to have been chosen to take over the “family business.” My father, Harry Doxtator, and grandfather Manson Ireland also held elected office as both chiefs and councillors.  It is with great love and respect to my mother, Linda, and my grandmothers Christine and Elsie that these men and I have been able to hold these titles.

I have been involved with leadership roles and youth councils at the Assembly of First Nations and the National Association of Friendship Centres and in almost every educational institution I have attended since I started school at the age of four. My work experience with a variety of Indigenous organizations on Turtle Island at local, regional, national, and international levels has also prepared me for my current role as elected chief. 

What responsibilities do you have as a chief?

The elected chief is accountable to all the people of the Oneida Nation of the Thames. As the top spokesperson for our people, I take my direction from them and by extension the elected council. Our decision-making process is one of consensus. Our hope is to move forward in the spirit of unity and build the strength of our nation. As the elected leadership, we develop key priorities to focus on.

Due to the short length of term in office, leadership has been limited on what can be accomplished. Through a review of our election code and improved engagement with our people, we hope to reduce the constant changes of leadership and goals that seem to come every two years. 

Long-term planning is important for all our success. Specifically, elected leadership works with various levels of government—municipal, provincial, and federal—to advocate for Indigenous issues, concerns, and legislation. We provide a number of services for our people, such as housing, education, health, child welfare, and safety, to mention a few. As is true of many of the First Nations in Canada, we are very limited on funding, and this creates a sense of dependency on governments who control the purse strings. Thus, we are looking at increasing our own-source revenue streams, developing fundraising strategies, and creating social enterprises. 

Our larger goals are expressed in our mission statement: 

We the Oneida people will strive to strengthen and restore a better understanding of the Great Law, our spirituality, history, language, culture and traditions in order to retain our identity and values as Unkwehonwe people;

We the Oneida people recognize the need to create a safe, harmonious and self sufficient community that will provide a clean environment, healthy life choices and a sustainable economy for the benefit of all;

Together we the Oneida people will strive to govern and manage our own affairs with the courage to exercise our sovereignty and independence as we evolve into the future.

Who inspired you as a mentor?

My parents and grandparents are the most important mentors and influences in my life. In everything I do, I always ask myself, “Would this make my grandma proud?”

My father has been and is still a leader of our community for over four decades. This position can be challenging at times, and he gained respect from our people, our councils, and other Indigenous leaders from around the world.  He makes me proud, and I hope to be half the leader he is.

He did it with my mother by his side. She is a strong woman who taught me that strength is not measured by our physical being. Rather we build our strength from one another, and our love grows with each passing day. 

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Harry Doxtator, Sheri Doxtator's father, current elected Councillor for Oneida Nation of the Thames and a former elected chief who served for 24 years. 

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

None that I know of.

Approximately how many members are in your nation?

The currently population for Oneida Nation of the Thames is almost 5900.

What are the criteria to become a member of the Oneida Nation of the Thames?

We currently recognize our people through the clan system. If you are born into Bear, Turtle, or Wolf Clan, then you are Oneida. Through the federal system, the external government has created a numbering system to identify our people as Status Indians as recognized under the Indian Act. This is legislation that the government of Canada still adheres to maintain control over many First Nations in Canada. 

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

We only have 63 master speakers. They are fluent elders within our settlement. We encourage language use in our early years and elementary education system. We also have developed a relationship with a local university to have our language taught and accredited.  As leadership, we are committed to language revitalization and are learning new words, phrases, and sentences every time we conduct a council meeting.

What economic enterprises does your nation own?

Our for-profit arm, Twataya’Takenhas, Incorporated (TTI; the full name is pronounced dwa dah ya dah giin haas), has made investments in mySmart Simulations (mSS) and D’Arcy Lance Incorporated (DLI). mSS is a software development company that focuses on e-learning for healthcare professionals. DLI is a local registered massage-therapy school that focuses on both human and equine massage. 

What annual events does your nation sponsor?

Our nation supports local athletes in a variety of sports. This year we supported Oneida athletes in their various sports at the North American Indigenous Games (NAIG) held the week of July 20, 2014.  We also support our young hockey players at the Little Native Hockey League (Little NHL) tournament held every year during our spring break in March. This Little NHL event sees children and youth—ages 3 to 18—from all over Ontario come together in a show of sportsmanship.  

What attractions are available for visitors on your land?

We currently have a re-created Iroquoian village that is located five minutes from Oneida Settlement. It is called Skanahdoht, meaning, “A village stands again.” On the settlement we hope to see investment in a language and cultural center.

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

Oneida Nation of the Thames is committed to nationhood with the Iroquois people. We assert our inherent rights as sovereign people by living along and crossing the U.S.–Canada border.  Our people stand united as Iroquois, and we continue to live and work freely in North America. We also meet with elected officials of other Iroquois nations through the Iroquois Caucus. Collectively we represent approximately 70,000 people.

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

Our youth are leaders. I have learned a lot from listening to our youth. They are intelligent, well-spoken, and will be holding my seat as chief and seats as members of the council in the future. As a role model, I am an abstainer from alcohol, drugs, and tobacco. I speak with a clear mind and in a good way. I believe that revitalizing our language will strengthen our nation. I will continue to be an ambassador of the Oneida Nation and represent our people to the best of my abilities. I will be quiet and listen to our people, when required, and will continue to “make decisions that would make my grandma proud”!  

Is there anything else you would like to add?

I thank the Creator every day for all creation and for the opportunity to represent my people.  Yaw^ko—an Oneida word meaning, “Great big thanks!” 

Thank you.


All photographs courtesy of Oneida Nation of the Thames, 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 17, 2014

Meet Native America: Paul Brooks, Chairman, Lumbee Tribe of North Carolina

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 
 

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Chairman Paul Brooks, Lumbee Tribe of North Carolina. 

Please introduce yourself with your name and title.

My name is Paul Brooks. I am the chairman of the Lumbee Tribe of North Carolina. My childhood nickname is Bean. I was raised in a family 14, so I’m not sure how I got that name.

Where is the Lumbee Tribe located? Where was your band originally from? 

The Lumbee Tribe of North Carolina is located in Robeson and adjoining counties. We are descendants of the Cheraw Indians who migrated from Virginia to North Carolina and settled along the banks of Drowning Creek, which is known today as the Lumber River. 

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

One significant point in Lumbee history was the elimination of double-voting in the 1970s in Robeson County. Double voting allowed city residents in Robeson County to vote for both the city and county school board, giving non-Native city residents unusual control over county schools, where most Lumbee children studied. The system was struck down by the U.S. Court of Appeals in Richmond, Virginia. The movement to end double-voting helped our tribe progress in leadership roles. 

How is your tribal government set up? 

We have a constitutional form of government, which was established by a vote of the people in 2000. We have three separate but equal branches of government—judicial, executive, and legislative. 

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

There is not a traditional entity of leadership in addition to our government system.

How often are elected leaders chosen? 

We have 21 council members who represent 14 districts in Robeson, Cumberland, Scotland, and Hoke counties. The council representatives are elected every three years and can serve no more than two consecutive terms. 

How often does the Tribal Council meet? 

The Tribal Council meets once a month. It may hold special-called council meetings when needed. 

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Chairman Brooks meeting with members of the Lumbee community.

What responsibilities do you have as a tribal leader? 

According to the Lumbee Constitution, the chairman is given all executive powers, including implementation of and compliance with annual budgets. The chairman assures that all tribal laws are executed.

The chairman must deliver to the membership an annual State of the Tribe Address during the first week of July. The address shall include a proposed budget for the upcoming fiscal year.

The chairman has the authority to veto any ordinance enacted by the Tribal Council. The chairman nominates a Tribal Administrator, and the chairman represents the Lumbee Tribe before all other governments and tribunals, including the United States, the state of North Carolina, and all federal and state agencies. 

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

The role that my father, the late Pete Brooks, played in my life is what prepared me to be a leader within my tribe. This is my biggest attribute. He instilled in me the importance of education, hard work, and a strong work ethic. 

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Greg Richardson, director of the North Carolina Commission of Indian Affairs, presents Paul Brooks with the Order of Long Leaf Pine. 39th annual North Carolina Indian Unity Conference, Raleigh, March 2014. The award honored Chairman Brooks for hs achievements during 40 years of public service.

Who inspired you as a mentor? 

The people who inspired me as mentors were my father and my cousin, the late Dexter Brooks. Dexter Brooks was the first American Indian Superior Court Judge in North Carolina. 

Are you a descendant of a historical leader? 

I am a direct descendent of Joe Brooks, one of our historical leaders. Joe Brooks was instrumental in working on behalf of the Lumbee Tribe during the time of the 1934 Indian Reorganization Act.

Approximately how many members are in your tribe? 

There are about 55,000 members in our tribe. 

What are the criteria to become a member of the Lumbee Tribe? 

Our tribal membership is based on descendancy from the tribe’s base rolls and maintaining contact with the tribe. 

Is your language still spoken on your homelands? 

Our language was lost years ago.  

What economic enterprises does your tribe own? 

The tribe owns the former North Carolina Indian Cultural Center

What annual events does the Lumbee Tribe sponsor? 

Annual events hosted by the tribe include the "Dance of the Spring Moon” Spring Powwow, Senior Ms. Lumbee Pageant, and a Veterans Luncheon. The tribe also plays an integral part in the annual Lumbee Homecoming festivities. 

What attractions are available for visitors on your land?

There are several historical sites across our tribal territory, including the former North Carolina Indian Cultural Center. This 389-acre site is the home of the outdoor drama Strike At the Wind!, performed from the 1970s until 2007. The center also includes a golf course, pool, walking trails, and campgrounds.

The Indian Normal School, now known as the University of North Carolina at Pembroke, is also an historical site. 

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

The Lumbee Tribe receives federal funds based on our status as a sovereign American Indian tribe.

What message would you like to share with Lumbee youth? 

My message to our youth would be to work hard, be honest, obtain an education, and, above all else, be ready to work for your people.

Also, I would like to add, to get involved with your community. The smallest contribution can have the largest impact. 

Thank you. 

Thank you. 


All photos courtesy of the Lumbee Tribe of North Carolina. 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 10, 2014

Meet Native America: Frank Kengie Paiz, Governor, Ysleta del Sur Pueblo

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

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Governor Frank Paiz, Ysleta del Sur Pueblo.

Please introduce yourself with your name and title.

Frank Kengie Paiz, governor for the Ysleta del Sur Pueblo. 

Can you give us your Native name?

I can give you my official title on the Tribal Council:Ta-budeh means governor in our native language, Tiwa.

Where is your community located?

The Ysleta del Sur Pueblo is located within El Paso County in far West Texas and is comprised of a reservation having a checker-boarded, noncontiguous geography. Its primary land base, housing the tribal government headquarters and residential districts, is surrounded by the cities of El Paso and Socorro. The tribe owns more than 74,000 acres of land with approximately 3,000 acres held in trust by the U.S. Department of the Interior.

The tribe has also invested in the acquisition of property for tribal businesses and future development. The tribe owns the Chilicote Ranch, totaling more than 70,000 acres of grasslands, hills, canyons, and highlands located in Presidio and Jeff Davis counties. In addition to the diverse wildlife and plant life, the Chilicote houses the tribe’s cattle ranching operations.

Where was your tribe originally from?

After leaving the homelands of Quarai Pueblo due to drought, the Tigua sought refuge at Isleta Pueblo, located in what is now Albuquerque, New Mexico. The people were later captured by the Spanish during the 1680 Pueblo Revolt and forced to walk south for more than 400 miles. The Tigua settled and built the Ysleta del Sur Pueblo in El Paso, Texas, and soon after built the acequia (canal) system that sustained a thriving agricultural-based community. The tribe's early economic and farming efforts helped pave the way for the development of the region. The tribe maintains its traditional political system and ceremonial practices and continues to flourish as a Pueblo community.  

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Governor Paiz speaking at the annual Honoring Veterans Ceremony, with Councilmen Roberto Pedraza III and Frank Gomez. November 2013, Ysleta del Sur Pueblo.

What responsibilities do you have as a tribal leader?  

The governor/administrator is the chief administrative executive for the Ysleta del Sur Pueblo, performing executive management and administrative duties in planning, organizing, and directing the administrative systems and direct service programs of the tribal government. The governor/ administrator provides visionary, innovative leadership, supervision, and general direction for the Pueblo management team to coordinate their efforts as they work to achieve departmental objectives. The governor/administrator is the chief liaison between the government administration and Tribal Council. 

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

Born and raised on the Ysleta del Sur Pueblo reservation, I experienced many obstacles and challenges that helped shape the tough exterior and sympathetic heart needed to serve as a tribal leader of a small, tight-knit pueblo. Rooted in deep tradition, my family line prepared me for the leadership role I believe I was born to assume, and I vowed to restore a traditional grounding to the Tribal Council.

I can relate to many of our community members and the socioeconomic challenges that oftentimes plague our children and families. Conditions of poverty, unemployment, and discrimination sometimes coincide to paralyze progress. The promise of our children, however, and the assets we possess as a collective pueblo always resonated in my will to institute change. I labor daily to make decisions and chart courses that will lift the pueblo in success and sustainability. As I enter my ninth year in office, I often reflect on the experiences of the past to keep me grounded, humble, and accountable.

Who inspired you as a mentor?

The legacy of tribal leaders in my family line has always been the driving force behind my inspiration to serve in tribal leadership and to promote the Tigua customs and traditions. I remember looking in awe at my relatives during tribal feast days as they stood proud to be Tigua. I am a child of the Ysleta del Sur Pueblo and was raised and mentored not only by my immediate family, but also by extended family members, neighbors, and elders alike who now serve as my inspiration for creating and administering responsible government.

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

Yes, the Ysleta del Sur Pueblo has a Traditional Council consisting of a cacique (chief), capitan de guerra (war captain), aguacil (tribal sheriff), tribal governors, and four capitanes (captains). The cacique and war captain provide spiritual and traditional guidance. The cacique and war captain are appointed to life-long terms. Members of the traditional council are elected annually on New Year’s Eve and are responsible for maintaining all aspects of Tigua culture, including traditional ceremonies, feast days, marital and death rites, and other related functions. 

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Members of the Ysleta del Sur Tribal Council for 2014. Seated at center: Francisco Holguin, cacique . Standing from left to right: Carlos Hisa, lieutenant governor; Roberto Pedraza III, councilman; Frank Gomez, councilman; Frank Paiz, governor; Bernardo Gonzales, aguacil; Rafael Gomez, Jr., councilman; David Gomez, councilman; Javier Loera, war captain.

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

The All Pueblo Indian Celebration Day at Ysleta del Sur Pueblo (YDSP) on November 17, 2009, signified a momentous spiritual and historical event for YDSP and all Rio Grande Pueblos: We came together for the first time in more than 400 years to pledge to work in harmony and strengthen cultural preservation, sovereignty, and self-determination. In observance of the YDSP’s inauguration into the All Indian Pueblo Council (AIPC), YDSP hosted the celebration, which was part of a three-day visit of all pueblos convening to hold their quarterly meetings. Together with YDSP, the pueblos gathered to discuss restoring, reconnecting, and strengthening interpueblo relations.  

AIPC advocates for cultural preservation, traditions, and modern day political, economic, education, health, and governance needs. Although the pueblos have worked collaboratively throughout history to address the needs of Pueblo people, the AIPC formally adopted a constitution and bylaws in 1965.

I requested AIPC membership in January 2009, appealing for equal consideration and representation. On August 21, 2009, AIPC voted to instate YDSP.  With YDSP’s membership, AIPC is now comprised of the twenty Pueblos of New Mexico and Texas, including Acoma, Cochiti, Isleta, Jemez, Laguna, Nambe, Ohkay Owingeh, Picuris, Pojoaque, San Felipe, San Ildefonso, Sandia, Santa Ana, Santa Clara, Santo Domingo, Taos, Tesuque, Ysleta del Sur, Zia, and Zuni. Combined we are the collective voice of all Pueblos. 

Approximately how many members are in your tribe?

As of the first quarter in 2014, the enrolled population is 1,731 with a population make-up of:

  • 54 percent female to 46 percent male
  • 19 percent minors (17 years and under)
  • 72 percent adults (18 through 64 years)
  • 9 percent elders (65 years and over)

Our tribal-descendant population is 1,723 with a population make up of:

  • 48 percent female to 52 percent male
  • 61 percent minors 
  • 39 percent adults 
  • 0 percent elders 

The Pueblo is currently engaged in a citizenship reform effort known as Project Tiwahu to self-determine YDSP membership requirements. Project Tiwahu began when the federal government changed the tribe’s Texas Restoration Act in 2012. The act federally recognized the tribe in 1987. However, restrictive language in the original act only recognized individuals with one-eighth degree or more of Ysleta del Sur Indian blood as enrolled members. The new legislation (Public Law 112-157) empowers the Pueblo and aligns it with other federally recognized tribes whose enrollment membership is not regulated by a federal statute. 

Thank you.


All photos courtesy of Ysleta del Sur Pueblo. 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 images used with permission. 

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July 03, 2014

Do American Indians celebrate the 4th of July?

The museum updated this short essay, originally posted on July 3, 2013, with a few more people's descriptions of how they spend the 4th of July. How do you, your family, or your community observe the day? Share your comments here, or look for the discussion on the museum's Facebook page

How do Indians observe the 4th of July? Do we celebrate? To answer, let’s turn back the pages of time. A reasonable chapter to begin in is July 1776, when the Continental Congress adopted the Declaration of Independence and 13 colonies became the United States of America. With the emergence of a nation interested in expanding its territory came the issue of what to do with American Indians. History tells us that as the American non-Indian population increased, the indigenous population greatly decreased, along with their homelands and cultural freedoms.

From the beginning, U.S. government policy contributed to culture and land loss. Keeping our focus on the 4th of July, however, let’s jump to the early 1880s, when Secretary of the Interior Henry Teller developed what has come to be called the Religious Crimes Code—regulations at the heart of the Department of Interior, Office of Indian Affairs, Code of Indian Offenses that prohibited American Indian ceremonial life.

Teller's general guidelines to all Indian agents were to end tribal dances and feasts. Enforced on reservations, the code banned Indian ceremonies, disrupted religious practices, and destroyed or confiscated sacred objects. Indian ceremonial activities were prohibited under threat of imprisonment and/or the withholding of treaty rations.

The Secretary of the Interior issued this Code of Regulations in 1884, 1894, and 1904 through Indian Affairs Commissioner's circulars and Indian agent directives. Indian superintendents and agents implemented the code until the mid-1930s. During this 50-year period, Indian spiritual ceremonies such as the Sun Dance and Ghost Dance were held in secret or ceased to exist. Some have since been revived or reintroduced by Indian tribes.

In response to this policy of cultural and religious suppression, some tribes saw in the 4th of July and the commemoration of American independence a chance to continue their own important ceremonies. Superintendents and agents justified allowing reservations to conduct ceremonies on the 4th of July as a way for Indians to learn patriotism to the United States and to celebrate its ideals. That history is why a disproportionate number of American Indian tribal gatherings take place on or near the 4th of July and are often the social highlights of the year. Over time these cultural ceremonies became tribal homecomings. American Indian veterans in particular were welcomed home as modern-day warriors. The Navajo Tribe of Arizona and Pawnee of Oklahoma are two examples of tribes that use the 4th of July as an occasion to honor their tribal veterans.

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The Pawnee Indian Veterans Homecoming Pow Wow recognizes returning veterans. Pawnee, Oklahoma. The 68th annual Pawnee homecoming takes place July 3 through 6, 2014. Photo courtesy of Pius Spottedhorsechief, vice president of the Pawnee Indian Veterans. Used with permission.


During these celebrations, tribal flag songs and veterans’ songs are sung. More than 12,000 American Indians served during World War I, and after the war, the American flag began to be given a prominent position at American Indian gatherings, especially those held on the 4th of July. This symbol of patriotism and national unity is carried into powwow and rodeo arenas today. It is extremely important to note that before the Reservation Era, when most Indians saw the American flag coming toward their villages and camps, it symbolized conflict, death, and destruction.

Today tribes hold ceremonies and celebrations on or near Independence Day for different reasons. The Lumbee of North Carolina and Mattaponi of Virginia use this time as a homecoming for tribal members to renew cultural and family ties. The Kiowa Tribe of Oklahoma holds Gourd Clan ceremonies on the 4th of July because the holiday coincides with their Sun Dance, which once took place during the hottest part of the year. The Lakota of South Dakota and Cheyenne of Oklahoma continue to have some of their annual Sun Dances on the weekends closest to the 4th of July to coincide with the celebration of their New Year. Some American Indians do not celebrate the 4th of July because of the negative consequences to Indian people throughout history, while others simply get together with family and have cookouts, like many non-Native American citizens.

Jumping ahead to the present: To find out how American Indians across the country spend their 4th of July, we went to Facebook. This handful of replies represents both the diversity of responses we received and the direction of the discussion: 

Carnegie, Oklahoma: We celebrate every 4th Gourd Dancing, camping, and visiting my Kiowa people while we’re here, listening to the beautiful Kiowa songs. For three days we are just in Kiowa heaven. Been doing this for years. Now my parents have gone on, but we will continue to attend the Kiowa Gourd Dance Celebration.

Oklahoma City, Oklahoma: Do American Indians celebrate the 4th of July? Answer: Yes, it represents freedom in the United States of America. Freedom to continue to worship Creator, freedom to dance my prayers, freedom to sweat, freedom to rise early and pray the day in and be up late to pray the day out. We, the Host People, celebrate the 4th of July every day!

Prewitt, New Mexico, and the Navajo Nation: No, I do not celebrate. Because I as a Diné will never relinquish my belief or understanding that we as a people and a nation have the right to be loyal to the Holy Ones before all others, including the United States of America, since we as a people existed long before there was ever a United States.

Taos, New Mexico: Taos is a very close knit community, and even more so at Taos Pueblo nearby. Both have had many citizens serve in America's military in the heartfelt belief that they are protecting our nation. One of our honored tribal elders is Tony Reyna, 97, who survived the Bataan Death March in World War II. I have been told many times that, for us, the idea of protection goes deeper than for most Americans, because this land is where our people emerged, and that any threat to it is met from a place of deep, deep meaning. People here celebrate Independence Day pretty much as they do everywhere. It's a day off, and there are parades and fireworks displays. But for many we remember WWII, Korea, Vietnam, Iraq and Afghanistan, and the sacrifices our people made. I wish all people could remember that, especially those who allow blind bigotry and hate to cloud their judgment.

Parshall, North Dakota, and the Three Affiliated Tribes: The 4th is the celebration of independence, which Native people have practiced as sovereign nations for generations.

Shawnee, Oklahoma: No, I do not celebrate Independence Day, simply because the Declaration of Independence labels my people "our enemies, the merciless savages of our frontiers." You notice they were already calling the frontiers "ours" when the land was not theirs. Because I do not celebrate Independence Day does not mean I am not proud of our Native American veterans and soldiers. I am very proud of them and of the fact almost all Native American families have a family member who is a veteran and/or an active member in the Armed Forces.

Anadarko, Oklahoma: I am Kiowa/Delaware/Absentee Shawnee, my mom is a Kiowa/Comanche, my uncle is a vet, as many of my other relatives are, as well as my stepdad (Comanche/Caddo). My Delaware grandma always said, “This is not our holiday. Out of respect we will honor their day, because our people helped them.” She said, “I will mourn on this day.”  She would wear a black dress that day.

Laguna, New Mexico, and the Pueblos of Acoma and Laguna: I celebrate the 4th of July and I do so proudly. . . . When you have been lucky enough to travel and see life in other places, you come to appreciate the home and land you live on. Maybe I'm not as bitter as some of my other Indigenous brothers and sisters because my tribes were not relocated and have been lucky to remain on ancestral lands. Our Pueblo people . . . fought against the Spanish in the Pueblo Revolt, but also learned to harmonize with the Catholic Church. Many years—even centuries—of healing have taken place to get us to this point. And I think by celebrating the 4th of July, I feel I am honoring that healing my Pueblo ancestors have prayed for. . . .

Sawmill, Arizona, and the Navajo Nation: I recognize Independence Day as a day off, as time with family. I recognize that the United States declared its independence on that day, but Native people weren't a part of their envisioned emancipation. As Native people, we recognized our independence through our prayers and practicing our traditions. We didn't need a special day to mark our freedom, we just were. So on the 4th of July, I will practice my American heritage and celebrate this country's Independence Day. But my heart knows I don't need a day to recognize my autonomy.

Oklahoma City and the Choctaw Nation of Oklahoma: I think of the 4th of July as American Ideals Day. If only America would live up to its own stated ideals, none of what happened to American Indian people would have happened. Today, if those ideals were finally acted upon, American Indian sovereignty would be fully recognized and the treaties would be kept intact. The fireworks celebrate the great ideals that could be America, if only greed were not allowed to pervert them.

Norman, Oklahoma: My 13-year-old son (Comanche/Cherokee) is currently reading the U.S. Constitution (just because). When I asked him about the 4th the other day, he kind of shook his head and said that most people just don't get it. Reading the comment above on American Ideals Day made me think of how true it is—how little we know about America's ideals of the past and where we hold them now.

Wichita, Kansas: My people, Kiowas, have always held this time of the year as a gathering of all our bands. They would celebrate for a week, indulging in each society’s dances, renewing friendships, visiting relatives, and so on. As we progressed into this modern society we are a part of, we recognized the importance of this celebration even more so. To honor our freedoms and the men and women who sacrificed for us today is truly a reason to celebrate the 4th of July. Does it mean we are to forget our struggles and the plight of our people? NO, but it commemorates the beauty of our land and the resolve of this nation we call America.

Pawnee, Oklahoma: [It's a day] to celebrate all our Native men and women who served in the Armed Forces of the United States of America, our Native men [the Codetalkers] without whose tribal language, [World War II] might have been lost. To honor our fallen ones, who sacrified their lives for us, and the veterans who are buried in our tribal cemeteries. . . and overseas. To honor my daughter . . . in the U.S. Army, a proud Native American woman who is serving our country. 

Waikoloa, Hawai'i, via the Red Cloud Indian School, Pine Ridge, South Dakota: It is a sad time, . . . thinking of all the treaties never honored. I try to hold my children and grandcubs near and invite others who are alone or ill or elderly to eat lots of food that I cook until I am very tired and thank the Creator for another wonderful day.

As Americans everywhere celebrate the 4th of July, I think about how many American Indians are taking their yearly vacations back to their reservations and home communities. All across Indian Country, tribes hold modern celebrations— including powwows, rodeos, and homecomings—that coincide with the United States’ Independence Day celebrations.

As for me, I’ll be with my two daughters, and we'll watch a huge fireworks display!

—Dennis Zotigh, NMAI

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.


How do you, your family, or your community observe the 4th of July? Share your comments here, or look for the discussion on the museum's Facebook page.

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June 26, 2014

Meet Native America: Robert Wayne Flying Hawk, Chairman, Ihanktonwan Nation (Yankton Sioux Tribe)

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

 

RFH 2014 a
Robert Wayne Flying Hawk, chairman, Ihanktonwan Nation (Yankton Sioux Tribe). Photo courtesy of the Yankton Sioux Tribe. 

Please introduce yourself with your name and title.

Robert Wayne Flying Hawk, chairman, Ihanktonwan Nation (Yankton Sioux Tribe).

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

Mato ki Nanji, Standing Bear.

Where is your nation located? 

The Ihanktonwan (Yankton) once roamed over 11 million acres in what is now southeast South Dakota and northwest Iowa. Currently we are located in southeastern South Dakota along the Missouri River. 

Our boundaries established by the 1858 treaty defined 487,000 acres. As of today, we have a checkerboard of about 55,000 acres within our boundaries.

Where were your people originally from? 

The peoples of the Great Sioux Nation—which included the Lakota, Nakota, and Dakota—were from the forested area now known as Wisconsin and Minnesota. The Ihanktonwan Nation is one of the seven council fires of the Great Sioux Nation. The Ihanktonwan are a Nakota band.

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

The name Ihanktonwan translates to “Land of the Friendly People.” We tried to keep peace during the Minnesota uprising of 1862, and we met with Lewis and Clark and warned them that some of the other tribes were not so friendly.

Struck by the Ree (1804–1888), a Yankton chief, was wrapped in an American flag by Meriwether Lewis. Lewis and Clark were in the area exploring Louisiana Purchase lands. As a leader, Chief Struck by the Ree managed to befriend the whites, yet remain dedicated and loyal to his people. He died at Greenwood in southern Dakota Territory.

How is your government set up? How often are elected leaders chosen?

The elected leaders make up the Business and Claims Committee (B&CC) and are chosen every two years. The entire Business and Claims Committee, comprised of four officers and five members, is elected during the same year. The current administration was elected in October 2013, and the next election will be held in 2015.

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

Yes. The Ihanktonwan Nation is ultimately governed by a General Council, which is the most democratic form of governance. The General Council is comprised of all citizens 18 years of age and older. The Business and Claims Committee conducts the day-to-day business. 

BC&C a
The Yankton Sioux Tribe Business and Claims Committee, meeting with Senator Tim Johnson (South Dakota). Standing, from left to right: Justin Song Hawk; Everdale Song Hawk; Robert Flying Hawk, chairman; Jason Cooke; Glenford "Sam" Sully, secretary; Mona Wright; Leo O'Connor, treasurer; Quentin "JB" Bruguier Jr. (Not shown: Jean Archambeau, vice-chairwoman.) Seated: Senator Johnson. Photo courtesy of the Yankton Sioux Tribe. 

How often do the Business and Claims Committee and the General Council meet?

The B&CC meets frequently to deal with day-to-day activities of the tribe, and to resolve issues facing the Ihanktonwan Nation and consider other nation-building issues. The B&CC meets twice a week, more often if needed. General Council meetings are called as needed. I would estimate the General Council meets eight to twelve times a year.

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

My strong belief in my Native culture along with mainstream religion provided me with the foundation for my life.

What responsibilities do you have as a chairman?

My responsibilities as an elected leader are many. Here are just a few: I must be a fair leader to all. I set a good example for all, practice and participate in my Native culture and ceremonies, practice my faith or religion in my everyday life. And I communicate to the people about the activities and actions of the B&CC and why we chose to make those decisions.

Who inspired you as a mentor?

My elders inspire me. They have survived and provided a way of life for our people to exist. Our elders have passed the language and cultural ways on to the next generation. Our elders did not give up or quit. Today I am starting to realize the adverse conditions that our elders had to face in order to make the right choices for the next generation.

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

Yes, Chief White Swan, Maga ska. 

Approximately how many members are in your nation?

There are 8,799 citizens of the Ihanktonwan Nation. Of those, 3,400 reside on or near the reservation.

What are the criteria to become a member? 

Ihanktonwan enrollment standards are one-quarter total Indian blood; one-eighth must be Ihanktonwan blood and the other eighth another federally recognized tribal blood, no adoptions.

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

As with most Native American languages, the number of fluent speakers is low. As a nation we are proactive in preserving our language. The Marty Indian School language program has developed an app called Dakota One that teaches through images and sound files. You can read an article about it and see photos of people using it to get a good idea of how it works. It's available through iTunes, with funds going back to the school, which is owned and administered by the tribe.

What economic enterprises does your nation own?

We own the Fort Randall Casino & Hotel, Fort Randall Travel Plaza, and YST Propane.

What annual events does your community sponsor?

We host the Fort Randall Casino Anniversary Powwow every year in late June. Comin up are the Greenwood Powwow, July 4, 5, and 6, and the Lake Andes Powwow, a traditional powwow celebrating its 57th anniversary this year, the first weekend in August.

What attractions are available for visitors on your land?

In addition to having powwows and the casino, we attract a lot of hunters—for deer, pheasant, and turkey. The Missouri River is a big attraction for water recreation and fishing. The Yankton Sioux Tribe also owns a small herd of buffalo, and we sell hunting permits to members and nonmembers to hunt buffalo.

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

The Ihanktonwan Nation was very proud to be part of the historic visit from President Obama and Mrs. Obama’s to the Standing Rock Sioux Reservation this year.

President Obama has shown an in-depth awareness of the issues facing Native Americans and has exhibited a willingness to do more than make a speech! There is much more to be done for Native Americans, and this is a start on the right path.

The Ihanktonwan Nation participates in government-to-government relations on a county, state, and federal basis. At times it can be frustrating and overwhelming, but for the preservation of our culture and people we persevere. 

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

I would like share the message of faith, hope and courage. I encourage all youth to have faith in themselves, to embrace their Native culture, and to participate in their community or tribal and local government. I pray for our youth to learn to have respect for themselves and one another, to always show compassion and understanding. The Ihanktonwan Nation, as with any nation, always encourages youth to continue with their education—it is never to late to return to school.  

Thank you. 

Thank you.


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 images used with permission. 

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