August 12, 2016

Perspectives on Museum Archives: An Interview with Archives Technician Rachel Menyuk

The Smithsonian’s National Museum of the American Indian has two public facilities, the Museum on the National Mall in Washington, D.C., and the George Gustav Heye Center in New York City. A third facility, the Cultural Resources Center (CRC) in Suitland, Maryland, is home for the museum’s collections. This post, the third in a series of interviews of staff members who work at the CRC, looks at the career of an archivist.

Also in this series: Becoming a Conservator and Logistics and Detail: Museum Registration.

Describe your background for us. Why did you go into museum archive work?

I sort of got into archival work in a complicated way. Most archivists have a degree in Library Science with a focus on Archival Studies. I actually don’t! I did my undergraduate degree in Anthropology and Theatre. After graduating, I went on to New York University (NYU) to get a master’s degree in Performance Studies, which combines anthropology and theatre, particularly the study of theatre history. At NYU I focused on political theatre in indigenous communities in Latin and South America and also on women using performance as a means of social protest.

While I was living in New York and going to school, I needed to find a job, so I went to NYU’s library and asked what kinds of positions they had for graduate students. They turned out to be hiring a graduate assistant in the Tamiment & Wagner Labor Archives. During my interview, I said, “You know, I don't have any archival experiences, but I love libraries!” I later heard that they were so impressed with my enthusiasm, it was the reason that they hired me! I had also previously worked with Jewish organizations, so I had that knowledge base for understanding the collection they wanted me to process.

I ended up loving the work, and I especially loved the research process—getting my hands dirty with the information. That is one of my favorite things about working in archives: You really are able to focus on the research. The head archivist at NYU at the time really took me under her wing, and I gained amazing experience in working with and processing large, organizational records.

Rachel MenyukRachel Menyuk, archive technician at the National Museum of the American Indian.

When I finished my degree in Performance Studies and moved back to the D.C. area, I realized I wasn’t sure what I wanted to do, so I began looking at other options at museums. I saw a posting for a three-month contract position processing organizational records at a “museum in D.C.” Though the posting didn’t mention which museum, they were specifically looking for someone who knew how to use Archivist Toolkit, which is a particular database that archivists use. I knew how to use Archivists Toolkit, and I had just spent the last two years processing huge organizational records. It was just luck that the museum ended up being NMAI. I had always loved the National Museum of the American Indian. I had been in D.C. when the museum opened and was taking a class where I got to review the opening exhibitions, and I really loved the museum and its collections.

That was six years ago, and since then I’ve become a permanent federal employee. Our former head archivist, Jennifer O’Neal, also really took me under her wing. I’ve been lucky to have some really great mentors who have continued to inspire me to keep learning about the archival profession, the history of NMAI collections, and the incredible value of working directly with Native communities.

What does your average workday look like?

The average day has changed a lot for me because we’ve hired more staff. Recently I’ve been more focused on processing, which means I'm working with archival collections that have not been organized yet. This is a long process of inventorying, organizing, arranging, and describing materials to produce a guide to each collection that will then go online. That is my main task right now. Once that is done, I also write blog posts about the collections, work with communities to look at digitization of collections, and deal with the transcription center. That is really what I do on a day-to-day basis.

Previously I was working a lot with researchers. Even though we now have someone who is working on that specifically, if someone contacts us about a collection that I know a lot about, I will work on that, which falls under the reference umbrella. I also frequently talk about the Archive Center on tours of the Cultural Resources Center. This summer in particular, I’ve been working really closely with our interns and helping them through their projects.

I do attend meetings sometimes, and the ones that I attend usually have to deal with cross-Smithsonian archival groups. There are 14 archival repositories across the Smithsonian, and we want to put all of these collections together online, which requires standards. I’m really embedded in that world.

So, my day can really encompass a lot of different things.

If you had to pick, what is your favorite object in the collections?

Frank C. Churchill (1850–1912), portrait of E-me-yob-be or Semo (Choctaw), 1901. Tuskahoma, Pushmataha County, Oklahoma. Acetate negative, 5 x 7 in. (N27245)

This is such a hard question to answer because it is constantly changing depending on what I’m working on. I can tell you a little about the collection I'm about to start working on, the Churchill Collection. Frank Churchill was an Indian inspector for the Bureau of Indian Affairs. He went around visiting Indian boarding schools across the United States between 1899 and 1909, and his wife traveled with him. Together they took thousands of photographs (we have 30-plus albums!), and she, Clara, wrote journals documenting everywhere they went. Their personal perspective is obviously a little off, as they were all about assimilation, but the collection shows a snippet about this part of history that really needs to be remembered and brought to life. Clara was really good about documenting people’s names, so we can add names to faces, which is not always the case. It’s a really important collection that we can hopefully get digitized and give people access to.

Could you give a piece of advice to readers who might be aspiring museum or archives professionals?

I think it is really important to have some kind of subject interest, in addition to the practical archival skills. It will make it so much easier in the long run if you have a background in something, even if it is as basic as history. With that, there are a lot of dual degrees now. For example, one of our interns, Kelsey, is doing a dual degree in Archives and Art History so she can work specifically with artists’ records. Doing that type of program is helpful because you can’t get boxed into one viewpoint. You get a broader perspective, which helps a lot in the museum world.

Thank you.

—Lillia McEnaney, NMAI

Lillia McEnaney is pursuing a bachelor’s degree in Archaeology and Religious Studies at Hamilton College; she will graduate in spring 2017. Lillia is a research assistant for Hamilton’s Religious Studies Department, the blog intern for the Council for Museum Anthropology, the webmaster for Art/Place Gallery, a content contributor for Center for Art Law, and an intern for SAFE/Saving Antiquities for Everyone. She is a summer collections management intern at the National Museum of the American Indian’s Cultural Resources Center.

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i heard lots of interesting stories through our librarian. The stories of some peoples are the most interesting.

March 24, 2016

Searching Heye and Low for Museum Documentation

In the 100 years since the founding of the Museum of the American Indian–Heye Foundation (MAI), many of the connections between archival records and objects in the museum’s collections—now the cornerstone of the National Museum of the American Indian—have been lost. The museum has been plagued with a reputation for having little information about our amazing collections. Some critics blamed George Heye, the original collector, and his purported lack of interest in recordkeeping and suggested that whatever documentation once existed was discarded. Over the last several years, however, the museum's staff has been working to correct this problem. A project has been underway since 2010 to reunite archival records with museum objects and ultimately restore their connections to the individuals who made, used, collected, or sold them. As you’ll see below, it has been wildly successful.

In 1999, ten years after the National Museum of the American Indian was created as part of the Smithsonian, the MAI paper records were transferred to the museum's Cultural Resources Center. After the transfer, it took the Archive Center until 2011 to complete processing those records. An earlier post by the Archive Center staff describes that project. When it was finished, the MAI records comprised more than 600 boxes of reorganized material, including correspondence, collector and registration department files, expedition reports, and financial records.

The reorganization of the MAI's archival records provided the museum's Collections Research and Documentation Department with a new opportunity. In the past, research on the collections began with an object and a search through the archives for documentation related to it. This very frequently led to dead ends, especially when people researched objects purchased for the collections. Take, for example, the Seminole coat pictured below. Its original catalog card typifies the limited information recorded for MAI purchases: The card gives no names of sellers or previous owners and no dates of manufacture or sale. And without names or dates, there were seldom any clues about where to start looking in the archives to find documentation about such objects. 

204884 Seminole Coat
Above: Seminole man's coat, ca. 1930. Florida. Cotton cloth, thread. NMAI 20/4884. Below: The coat's catalog card.



The current project uses the opposite strategy: Instead of beginning with objects, we review the newly organized records box by box and match them with objects, photos, films, and other items in the collections. Based on this work, it has become very apparent that the long held belief that NMAI collections were poorly documented is false.

By piecing together bits of information and through plenty of detective work, we are reconstructing how George Heye and the Museum of the American Indian acquired the collections. We have uncovered connections between long-neglected documentation and objects, as well as additional details about objects whose documentation was known but incomplete.

Let's look again at the Seminole coat: In MAI correspondence, we found the letter below from Deaconess Harriet Bedell (1875–1969), an Episcopal missionary teacher who worked with the Seminole people of South Florida from 1933 to 1961, to MAI curator William Stiles. In the letter, which is dated January 19, 1942, Deaconess Bedell states that she is sending a councilman’s coat worn by “Ingram Billy”—Ingraham Billie (1895–1983), a traditional Miccosukee Seminole religious and community leader. 

1942.0103 Correspondence in chronological order
Letter from Deaconess Harriet Bedell to Museum of the American Indian curator William Stiles. NMAI.AC.001 Box 11.2


In a different box from the letter, we found a receipt for the MAI's purchase of the coat from Bedell. Based on the date and description, the documents seem to match a Seminole coat in our collection catalogued in the 1940s (catalog number 20/4884).

In her letter Bedell also mentions sending photographs. Searching in our database for photographs associated with Bedell, we found a photo of Ingraham Billie wearing this very coat, confirming the match between the documentation and the object. 

P15356 ingram billie
Ingraham Billie (Miccosukee Seminole Nation) wearing the coat 20/4884. Deaconess Harriet M. Bedell photographs, NMAI.AC.037 P15356


Although museum catalog records identified Deaconess Bedell as the donor of the photograph, there had never been a clear connection between her and the coat or between the coat and its original owner, Ingraham Billie. Now we not only know how and when the museum obtained this coat, but we have restored a meaningful connection to the Seminole leader who wore it.

This project has greatly changed our perception of the museum's collections and blown a hole in the longstanding belief that they are largely undocumented. In retrospect, the separation of documentation from the objects and other items they represent was more likely a result of the passage of time and evolving museum standards, rather than any lack of interest in recordkeeping on George Heye’s part. To ensure that the connections we're making now are not lost again, the project includes digitizing the relevant archival material and adding it to the collections information database so that it is accessible and can easily be shared.

The newly reconstructed story of Ingraham Billie, his coat, and Deaconess Bedell is just one of thousands of connections made by the project in its first five years. To date, more than 75 percent of the object collections and 40 percent of the photo collections have now been linked to related archival documentation. Not every document we find provides us with as much detail as we might like—it may only consist of a seller’s name and a date—but gaining even the slightest clue about an object’s origin gives us a starting point for research we may not have had before.

As part of our centenary celebration, this month we have added photographs from the Deaconess Harriet Bedell collection to the Smithsonian Online Virtual Archive (SOVA). You can now view featured photographs from Deaconess Bedell's collection online.

Check back next month for another blog on museum history!

—Maria Galban, NMAI 

On May 11, the National Museum of the American Indian in New York will host the gala evening Legacies of Learning to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the establishment of George Gustav Heye's extraordinary collection as the Museum of the American Indian and to toast the museum's century of contributions to scholarship and cultural understanding. For more information about the gala and how it supports the museum's educational mission, or to read about the recipients of the 2016 NMAI Awards who will be honored that night, visit Legacies of Learning on the museum’s website.

Maria Galban is a research specialist on the Collections and Research Documentation staff at the National Museum of the American Indian.

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Very happy to see the progress being made. Do you have any information concerning George Heye's agents' purchase of a large collection from Dr. John McGregor of Waterdown, Ontario, CANADA in 1916?

February 25, 2016

One Hundred Years of Museum History

This year marks the 100th anniversary of the founding of the Museum of the American Indian (MAI), now the Smithsonian National Museum of the American Indian (NMAI). On May 10, 1916, George Heye—along with trustees F. Kingsbury Curtis, Frederick K. Seward, and William Lare—signed a foundation deed creating the museum as an institution for “the collection, preservation, study and exhibition of all things connected with the anthropology of the aboriginal people of North, South and Central Americas, and containing objects of artistic, historic, literary and scientific interest” (MAI Foundation Deed, NMAI Archive Center B153.3). The basis of the MAI’s collection was the approximately 175,000 objects already assembled by George Heye and informally referred to as the Heye Museum.

P11449 Laying Cornerstone of MAIGeorge Heye laying the cornerstone of the Museum of The American Indian–Heye Foundation. November 8, 1916; New York City. NMAI P11449

George Heye had begun collecting Native American objects in 1897. By 1904 he became serious about founding his own museum, devoting much of his time to acquiring and cataloging large collections. He hired museum assistants, including staff from the American Museum of Natural History (AMNH) who worked after hours to help clean and organize his collections.

Time card AC001 266-51905 time card for George Lentz, a museum assistant at the American Museum of Natural History, for his evening work for George Heye. NMAI.AC.001, Box 266.5

Heye cultivated relationships with collectors, dealers, and institutions that held Native American collections. He developed a vast network of ethnologists and archaeologists, including George Pepper (AMNH), Marshall Saville (Columbia University), Mark Raymond Harrington (a Columbia graduate), and archaeologist Theodoor de Booy, who collected material for Heye throughout the Americas. 

N10987 Supper at Heye MuseumSupper at the Heye Museum. 1912, New York City. From left, seated: Mrs. Marie Heye (George Heye’s mother), Harmon Hendricks, Thea Knowne Page (later Mrs. George Gustav Heye), and George Gustav Heye; standing: George Pepper, Theodoor De Booy, and Marshall H. Saville. In 1904 Heye rented two floors of a loft building at 10 East 33rd Street to house his growing collections. NMAI N10987

As early as December 1905, Heye sought support to found an institution with two facilities—one for exhibitions and one for storage, with research space for students. His motivation for collecting was not solely to amass a large private collection but to create an institution for the serious study of the people of the Americas. In 1906, after discussing his museum idea with philanthropist Archer Huntington, Heye decided that the time was not right to create an institution that would rival the American Museum of Natural History. Instead, Heye placed his growing North American ethnology and archaeology collections at the University of Pennsylvania Museum in Philadelphia. There his objects were cared for and exhibited in two galleries from 1909 until 1916, when Heye withdrew them to create the MAI—much to the dismay of the University Museum staff, who believed he would ultimately donate his collections to their museum.

In the decade between his first conversations about building a museum and laying the foundation stone 1916, Heye was able to generate support for his vision of a new anthropological institution in New York. In 1922, the Museum of the American Indian finally opened to the public at 155th and Broadway in New York, on a site at Audubon Terrace donated by Archer Huntington.

Thea Heye N02173Thea Heye placing the first specimen in a display case in the Museum of the American Indian–Heye Foundation, 155th and Broadway, New York. NMAI N02173

Heye and MAI staff members continued to collect specimens, sending out archaeological and ethnographic expeditions to the far reaches of the Americas, buying from other collectors, and traveling abroad to purchase Native American items that had found their way into European collections. By 1990, when the MAI became part of the Smithsonian Institution, the collection included more than 800,000 objects, the great majority acquired during George Heye’s lifetime.

If not for the determination of George Heye and the MAI staff who expanded on his vision, the National Museum of the American Indian would not exist in its present form. Certainly, it would not conserve, for study and exhibition, the impressive collections for which it is known. This year we celebrate the founding of the Museum of the American Indian and the many individuals involved in buildings its collections. As part of our centenary celebration, the NMAI Archive Center is adding the newly digitized George Heye records and correspondence to the SOVA (Smithsonian Online Virtual Archives). See an earlier blog for more information about using the SOVA and check back here for more blogs about the museum’s history and the people associated with it.

—Maria Galban, NMAI 

On May 11, the National Museum of the American Indian in New York will host the gala evening Legacies of Learning to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the establishment of George Gustav Heye's extraordinary collection as the Museum of the American Indian and to toast the museum's century of contributions to scholarship and cultural understanding. For more information about the gala and how it supports the museum's educational mission, or to read about the recipients of the 2016 NMAI Awards who will be honored that night, visit Legacies of Learning on the museum’s website.

Maria Galban is a research specialist on the Collections and Research Documentation staff at the National Museum of the American Indian.

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January 22, 2016

One Hundred Years of History: Going Digital

A question I'm often asked as an archivist at the National Museum of the American Indian is, “How do I find what I’m looking for, and once I find it, how do I access it?” The Smithsonian is one of the world’s largest repositories of primary sources, with archival holdings measuring somewhere in the area of 137,000 cubic feet, spread across 14 museums and other research centers within the institution. These amazing resources include letters, journals, scrapbooks, photo albums, and sound and video recordings, with subjects ranging from art and culture to science and technology. The scope can make searching for specific information a daunting task. Luckily, Smithsonian archivists have been hard at work making it easier to find the material you are looking for, and making it increasingly possible to view a digital version of the letter, field notebook, or photograph in question.

In October 2015 the Smithsonian launched the Smithsonian Online Virtual Archives (SOVA). This online interface provides access to archival finding aids—inventory lists that provide context and detail to the many pieces that can make up a collection. Currently the NMAI Archive Center has 101 archival collection records, including photographic, paper, and media collections, available via the SOVA. Of these 101 records, 28 collections have full finding aids.

You can browse the SOVA by Smithsonian unit, making it easier to focus your search on NMAI’s archival holdings specifically.

SOVA homepage


If there is digitized content available within a collection, a symbol will appear in your search results next to the collection name.

Tibbles screen shot


The papers of the journalist Thomas Henry Tibbles (1840–1928)—the husband of Indian rights writer and orator Susette Bright Eyes LaFlesche (Omaha) and a progressive figure in his own right—are one example of a fully digitized collection now available online. You can browse the full collection here.

One of the museum’s largest archival collections is the records of our predecessor institution, the Museum of the American Indian, Heye Foundation (MAI) in New York City. The MAI records include collectors' field notebooks, catalog lists, and expedition records, as well as exhibition and organizational files. (For a more in-depth look into what this massive collection holds, take a peek at the earlier blog post Finding Treasure in the Museum of the American Indian, Heye Foundation Records.)

As many of you may know, in 2016 is the 100th anniversary of the founding of the MAI. As a part of a year-long anniversary celebration, every month the Archive Center is putting new digitized content from the MAI records up on the SOVA. These records will be accompanied by stories from the 100-year history of the MAI. As our first offering the Archive Center has made available the MAI’s annual reports from 1917 to 1989. These annual reports give a keen insight into the activities of the museum from its earliest days up until it became a part of the Smithsonian Institution.

The MAI annual reports offer an great opportunity to learn about conducting research using the SOVA. For instance, say you want to know what expeditions the museum funded in 1924. You can easily find this information by following the digitized content boxes in the MAI finding aid to the Publications Series: 

MAI screen shot


You can then select the annual report folder you're interested in. If you're looking for 1924, you’ll want to click on Folder 2.

MAI screen shot3


You can then browse through the annual reports until you find 1924.

MAI screen shot2


MAI exp 1


The annual reports are just one of the many treasures among the MAI records. Make sure to check back with us every month for new and exciting stories from the archives!

—Rachel Menyuk, archives technician, NMAI Archive Center

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Great article!

April 24, 2014

Meet Native America: Reno Keoni Franklin, Chairman, Kashia Band of Pomo Indians

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, NMAI 

Please introduce yourself with your name and title.

Reno Franklin Profile Photo Credit Clayton Franklin a
Reno Keoni Franklin, chairman, Kashia Band of Pomo Indians, at the California State Capitol, Sacramento. Photo by Clayton Franklin. Courtesy of the Franklin family.

Reno Keoni Franklin, chairman of the Kashia Band of Pomo Indians. I’m also first past chairman of the National Indian Health Board, the National Association of Tribal Historic Preservation Officers, and the California Rural Indian Health Board, and former vice chairman of the Sonoma County Indian Health Project.

Can you give us your Native name and its English translation?

I choose to teach who I am: My name is Reno Keoni Franklin; my family comes from the Kashaya village of Aca sine kawa li. I am the son of Dino Walter Franklin and Pearlann Kuulani Makaiwi, grandson of Adrienne Mae Franklin (Smith), great-grandson of Walter and Sara Smith (Antone), and great-great-grandson of Robert Smith and Minnie Salvador.

Where is your Native nation located?

The Kashia Band of Pomo Indians lives in northwest California, along the coast in Sonoma County. 

Where was the Kashia Band originally from?

We are fortunate to remain in our traditional lands.

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

Our first sustained contact with non-indians was with the Russians in 1812. They landed on the shores of our village Metini and were originally known to us as the “undersea people.” In 1817, the Kashia signed a treaty with the Russians—the Treaty of Hagemeister—and allowed the Russians to build Fort Ross, which quickly became a thriving trade port along the California Coast that brought in natives (and traders) from Hawaii to Alaska. Our relationship was not a perfect one, but it was much better than the experience of our neighboring tribes, who suffered greatly at the hands of the Spanish, Mexicans, and later groups of white settlers.

The Kashaya way of life would never be the same, but because of strong traditional leadership and a deeply rooted foundation in culture and religion, we are still here. Our language is still spoken, our ceremonies are still practiced, and we are still a strong people.

While much is said of the good relationship with the Russians, it is important to note that there were groups of Kashia who didn’t like the Russians' prolonged stay and occasionally burned their fields or killed their non-Kashia workers to remind them of whose land they were on. Still, the Russians would not kill a Kashia, and many of our people who committed crimes were instead shipped to a Russian prison on the Farallon Islands. After the Russians left, our tribal members were set free. In one memorable story, two Russian Soldiers were hung for abusing a Kashia woman.

Our history has its dark times, and I encourage our members not to forget that those dark moments existed, but also not to let them define who we are. 

What responsibilities do you have as a tribal leader?

First and foremost, my responsibility is to serve my people. Second, it is to work as best as I can with our Tribal Council to better the lives of those we serve. This is the part of the responsibilities where the hard work is done. I think this piece is often forgotten: That our tribal councils will not always see eye to eye on issues, but that the chair needs to make sure we are working together despite our differing opinions and views. My tribal members expect that of me. 

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

I spent a lot of time around my elders, even as a little boy. I would sit with my grandmother and her brothers and sisters, listening to their stories and sneaking bites of pie or tup tup bread while they spoke. I am blessed to be from a community that has a roundhouse, and in that place I learned a lot. Our sacred places lay the foundation of the path that is chosen for us. For me, our roundhouse has always been a place of clarity and learning.

As I got older, and made the choice to serve my people, my fire-fighting background and emergency medical technician certification played a big part in my wanting to engage aggressively in bettering the health care of my people. I remembered how frustrated I was that we were losing so many elders to diabetes and other preventable chronic health issues. I would spend hours driving elder relatives down the hill to Santa Rosa for dialysis treatment. It was hard to watch them in pain. Those images of my elders stayed in my head for years and eventually were a major part of my decision to chair the National Indian Health Board.

At the same time, the strong cultural upbringing and influence of our traditional people drove me to do all that I could to protect our Kashaya Ama (tribal lands) and sacred sites from destruction, while always looking for new and creative ways to gain access to sites on private lands. I remembered being a boy and going to a family gathering site for raspberries and a white rancher yelling and cussing at my grandmother and her sisters to leave or he would throw them in jail. Years later, I remember of one of our elders crying when they heard of the destruction of one of our roundhouse pits and the village around it to make room for a vineyard. These events and many like them drove me to do all I could, a path that eventually led me to chair the National Association of Tribal Historic Preservation Officers and serve for four years on the Advisory Council for Historic Preservation.  

Reno Franklin and Secretary of HHS a
Chairman Franklin with Kathleen Sebelius, U.S. Secretary of Health and Human Services (HHS), at the HHS Annual Tribal Consultation. March 2010, Washington, D.C. Photo courtesy of the American Indian Health Board.

Who inspired you as a mentor?

My uncle Loren Smith, my cousin Walter Antone; Amos Tripp, and my grandmothers, Shirley Makaiwi and Adrienne Franklin.

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

This is a tricky question, I don’t want to be disrespectful to the many leaders who have come from my family, lots of whom have been mentioned in history books and traditional stories. So with all due respect to them, one person would be my great-great-grandfather, Robert Smith, who was the first chairman of our tribe.

He is an inspiration to me because he stepped into a role that deeply contrasted his traditional upbringing and the Kashia view of leadership, but he knew it had to be done and wouldn’t say no to his people.

How is your government set up?

We have a constitution and by-laws that govern the day-to-day activities of the tribe. Our Tribal Council consists of seven members who are elected by the community. The Tribal Council is governed by the tribal citizens (the Community Council), who have the ultimate authority over the tribe.

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

There is not one that is in writing. However, our elders have a big say in how we conduct the tribe.

How often are elected leaders chosen?

Every two years. Councilmembers are elected to two-year terms.

How often does your Tribal Council meet?

At least twice a month. We also see each other during committee meetings. 

Approximately how many members are in the Kashia Band?


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

Lineal descendancy.

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

Yes, our language is still spoken. There are around 20 to 30 speakers remaining. We are fortunate to have elders who teach our language in our reservation school and who teach semi-weekly classes for adults. Our elders are amazing. They do so much for our people, it is humbling just to think of it.

What economic enterprises does the Kashia band own?

We have a tribal lending enterprise.

What annual events does your band sponsor?

We do community gatherings and are active participants and organizers in the tribal environmental area.

What attractions are available for visitors on your land?

Visitors to Kashia are usually there for ceremony. It has always been a place for other tribes to come for our ceremonies and to seek refuge. In the 1960s, Wilma Mankiller and Richard Oakes lived on Kashia. Many of the leaders of the political movements of the ’60s and ’70s came to us for protection and to gain perspective.

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

Our tribe stands firm on the foundation of tribal sovereignty. As a tribal council, we are not allowed to sign any document that waives our tribal sovereignty; that can only be done by a vote of our tribal community. We revised our tribal constitution to remove any authority of the BIA or Department of Interior. We are adamant that in issues pertaining to our tribes sovereign rights, only a Kashia can speak for us, we do not use attorneys or lobbyists on those types of issues.

This statement from Otis Parrish, one of our elders and cultural authorities, sums this question up: "No one, no other culture, no federal or state agency, will interpret for the Kashaya, how we should define our sacred."

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

The traditional teachings and rich history of our tribe reside with our elders, but our youth are the heart of it. They are always watching, learning what we teach them and how we teach them; the good and the bad. It is the responsibility of every Kashia man or woman to support our youth, to build them up and prepare them for their life path. I take that very seriously.

For our Kashia youth, I have always heard our elders say this: “I wish I had listened when the old ones spoke.” I used to think this meant the person saying it didn't remember or didn't listen to their elders. But they did, and they knew what to say and how to teach. It was a reminder to always listen and to always respect our Kashia elders.

Respect the rules of being Kashaya, seek out knowledge and remember to give for each thing taken because that is Kashaya way. Ask our elders what you can do for them, bless them with a small gift your time and attention, and you will reap the rewards of their teaching for your entire life.

Is there anything else you would like to add?

I am often asked what I think the legacy of our generation will be. There are many tribal leaders my age—40—who have been in leadership for a number of years, and while we are getting much done, the question remains, what is this generation going to leave behind for the ones that follow? How are we preparing our children to thrive after the effects of an era that has brought massive disenrollments, Supreme Court–sanctioned attacks on tribal sovereignty, the weakening of the very laws that were meant to protect us, and a deepening of the disparities in financial prosperity amongst tribal nations? Are we once again teaching our youth just to survive?

The 1970s gave us the foundation to build stronger tribes, and Indian Country has responded by building stronger and healthier communities. But the work is never over, and we cannot rest or become complacent with what we have built up.

Because if the Baby Veronica story taught us anything, it was this: They will continue to attack who we are and what defines us as an Indian people. We must remain prepared and always at the ready to protect our sovereignty. And only we can determine who we are.

Thank you.

Thank you. 

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

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