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
Bruce Whiteman Jr., legislator for Cheyenne District One and speaker of the Fifth Legislature of the Cheyenne and Arapaho Tribes. Photo courtesy of the District One office; used with permission.
Please introduce yourself with your name and title.
My name is Bruce Whiteman Jr. I'm the Cheyenne District One legislator and speaker of the Fifth Legislature of the Cheyenne and Arapaho Tribes.
Can you share with us your Native name and its English translation?
It's Ainhus, meaning Winter Hawk.
Where is your community located?
Most of us live in Oklahoma. Our tribal headquarters is located in Concho, Oklahoma, fifteen minutes west of Oklahoma City.
Where were your people originally from?
We're originally from what is now the Minnesota area.
What is a significant point in history from your nation that you would like to share?
The Tsistsistas, later called Cheyenne, were forced from their homeland in current-day Minnesota. The Tsistsistas were a horticultural people, but upon arriving on the Plains they were able to adapt to migrating with the season and depending on the buffalo as their main source of life.
How is your nation's government set up?
Currently the Cheyenne and Arapaho government consist of four branches: Tribal Council, Legislature, Executive, and Judicial. We have a governor, a lieutenant governor, and eight legislators—four Cheyenne and four Arapaho.
Is there a functional, traditional entity of leadership in addition to your modern government system?
Our traditional government includes Peace Chief’s societies, Dog Soldiers, Kit Fox, Bow Strings, and Elk Scrapers. These societies are very active in our tribe.
How often are elected leaders chosen?
Currently the governor and lieutenant governor are elected every four years. Of the eight legislators, two Cheyennes and two Arapahos are elected every two years. We currently have three Cheyenne chiefs and one Arapaho chief that sit in the legislature.
How often does your Tribal Council meet?
The Tribal Council—all members of the tribe 18 years old and older—meets once a year, on the first Saturday in October. This is called for by our constitution.
What responsibilities do you have as a tribal leader?
As tribal legislators we work on setting ordinances and laws for the betterment of our people.
How did your life experience prepare you to lead your tribe?
Throughout my life I have always tried to see the good in everyone; to treat people with respect, hear them out, and take their feelings into consideration; and treat everyone equally.
Who inspired you as a mentor?
I was raised by my father, Bruce Whiteman Sr. He was a participant in our Cheyenne Sundance ceremonies, peyote ways, and also the powwow circle. He was my inspiration and a mentor in my life.
Are you a descendant of a historical leader? If so, who?
My family is descended from Black Kettle. Black Kettle was a leader who pushed for peace and promoted nonviolence. Societies refused to follow Black Kettle because of his beliefs, but Chief White Antelope followed him. Black Kettle sacrificed his life in the battle for peace.
Approximately how many members belong to your nation?
The Cheyenne and Arapaho tribe has currently 10,432 tribal members enrolled.
What are the criteria to become a member?
In order to be enrolled you have one-quarter or more degree of Cheyenne or Arapaho blood, or you have to have been an enrolled member as of October 31, 1967.
Is your language still spoken on your homelands?
Yes, ten percent of our tribal members are fluent Cheyenne or Arapaho speakers.
What economic enterprises does your tribe own?
Currently our biggest economic enterprise is gaming casinos.
What annual events do the Cheyenne and Arapaho Tribes sponsor?
Our current government assists with activities throughout our tribe, from our ceremonies and powwows to holiday parties for our tribal members, including elders, grade school children, and college students. The tribe sponsors many other activities in all the tribal communities.
What other attractions are available for visitors on your land?
We have a few attractions for visitors on our land's historical sites, for example, our buffalo herds and the historical agencies established in 1800s.
How does your tribe deal with the United States as a sovereign nation?
We exercise our sovereignty to the full extent.
What message would you like to share with the youth of your community?
For the youth, I want to say that education is very important and so is family. Get educated and also learn your tribal language tradition and its ceremonies. Never forget where you come from. Learn to live in both worlds and never give up.
Is there anything else you would like to add?
I would like to add that I am proud of who I am and who I represent, the Tsistsistas Cheyenne people. And we Tsistsistas Cheyenne are a proud people. Aa hou! (Thank you!)
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.