Meet Native America: Interviews with Indigenous Leaders

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. 

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

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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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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 

 

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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. 

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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. 
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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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June 19, 2014

Meet Native America: Marshall R. Gover, President, Pawnee Business Council

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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Marshall R. Gover, president of the Pawnee Business Council. Photo courtesy of the Pawnee Nation of Oklahoma.

Please introduce yourself with your name and title.

Marshall R. Gover, president, Pawnee Business Council. 

Where is the Pawnee Nation located?

Our headquarters are in Pawnee, Oklahoma.

Where were the Pawnee originally from?

Nebraska.

How is your nation's government set up?

The Pawnee Business Council is the supreme governing body of the Pawnee Nation of Oklahoma. 

There is also a Nasharo Council made up of two members chosen from each of our four bands—the Skiri, Kitkehahki, Chaui, and Pitahawirata. The Nasharo Council reviews acts of the Pawnee Business Council regarding membership and claims or rights growing out of our treaties with the United States.

How often are elected leaders chosen?

The eight members of the Business Council serve terms of four years. Elections are held every two years, so that the seats are alternated. All members of the Pawnee Nation of Oklahoma who are 18 years old or older are eligible to vote.

How often does the Business Council meet?

There are meetings twice a month. The Constitution of the Pawnee Nation calls for four quarterly meetings out of the year.

Approximately how many members are in the Pawnee Nation of Oklahoma?

3,375.

What are the criteria to become a member?

A person must have a Pawnee blood quantum of at least one-eighth. 

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President Gover taking part in an honoring ceremony. Photo courtesy of the Pawnee Nation of Oklahoma.

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

A handful of people are fluent speakers of the Pawnee language.

What economic enterprises does your nation own?

The Pawnee Tribal Development Corporation (PTDC) owns and operates the Stonewolf and Trading Post casinos and retail, restaurant, and travel businesses associated with the casinos.

What annual events does your nation sponsor?

We host the Pawnee Indian Veterans Homecoming, Memorial Day Dance, Veterans Dance, and Christmas Dance through the Pawnee Indian Veterans Organization.

What other attractions are available for visitors on your land?

The buildings of the Pawnee Indian School are still standing. Today they are used by the Pawnee Nation College. 

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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June 05, 2014

Meet Native America: Chief Ken Adams, Upper Mattaponi Indian 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 


Please introduce yourself with your name and title.

Chief Ken Adams, Upper Mattaponi Indian Tribe

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

I do not have a separate Native name.

Where is the Upper Mattaponi Indian Tribe located?

Our community is in upper King William County, Virginia. 

Where was your tribe originally from?

Written documentation dating to shortly after arrival of the British colonialists shows at least nine separate Indian towns on the Mattaponi River and also several other Indian towns nearby on the Pamunkey River. Late-17th-century maps indicate a large concentration of Natives on the Upper Mattaponi River in the vicinity of the present day Upper Mattaponi Tribe. 

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Chief Ken Adams, Upper Mattaponi Indian Tribe, takes part in welcoming Britain's Queen Elizabeth II to Virginia on the 400th anniversary of the establishment of Jamestown. Virginia Governor Tim Caine and First Lady Anne Holton look on. Richmond, Virginia; May 3, 2007. Photo courtesy of the tribe. 

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

Until the late 1800s, almost all of our people had no formal education. However, in 1892 a request was made by the local school superintendent to the Bureau of Indian Education for support of Indians in King William County. A few years later, in 1917, we built our own school—Sharon Indian School—and from that point forward we have consistently improved our conditions. Even as late as the 1960s, most tribal citizens left the Commonwealth of Virginia in order to get a high school education, and even with many obstacles many were able to graduate from high school and college.

How is your tribal government set up? 

Our government consists of a chief, assistant chief, and five councilmen. Our officers are treasurer and secretary. 

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

I would say that in addition to elected leaders within our tribe, we have always had informal leaders, not a specific, designated entity. In the 20th century most of those leaders are connected with our church, Indian View Baptist.

How often are elected leaders chosen?

We have formal elections every four years and appointments by the chief to vacant positions.

How often does the Upper Mattaponi Tribal Council meet?

We have monthly scheduled meetings where all tribal citizens can participate. If necessary, we can also call a special meeting.

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Chief Ken Adams, Upper Mattaponi Indian Tribe. Photo courtesy of the tribe.

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

I grew up next to and attended Sharon Indian School and Indian View Baptist Church. Along with one other Upper Mattaponi citizen, I was the first Upper Mattaponi to graduate from a public high school in King William County, in 1965. After graduation I served for 24 years in the U.S. Air Force in many positions of leadership. I received a bachelor's degree from Southern Illinois University in 1979.

What responsibilities do you have as a tribal leader?

My basic responsibility is to carry out, to the best of my ability, the wishes and desires of the Upper Mattaponi people. I also maintain relationships with other tribal leaders and local, state, and federal government leaders. I am the key spokesperson for our tribe when meeting with those leaders. 

Who inspired you as a mentor?

My inspiration came from my grandparents, parents, and older brothers and sisters. In difficult times they managed to persevere without complaining and worked hard to improve the lives of other Mattaponi citizens.

Are you a descendant of a historical leader?

If there is one true historical leader in the Upper Mattaponi Tribe, he is my grandfather, Jasper L. Adams. 

Approximately how many members are in your tribe?

Approximately 575.

What are the criteria to become a member of the Upper Mattaponi Tribe?

The most important criterion is to represent our tribe well and be willing to work hard to carry out the desires of the tribe.

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

Our language is not spoken.

What economic enterprises does your tribe own?

Within the past few years we have managed to purchase a substantial piece of land and made numerous improvements on it. We have also restored Sharon Indian School, the only surviving public Indian school in Virginia. We are looking into other ways of supporting economic development.

What annual events do the Upper Mattaponi sponsor?

Annually we have three major events: a pow-wow in the spring, our church homecoming in August, and a Christmas gathering in December.

What attractions are available for visitors on your land?

We own the only American Indian public school in Virginia.

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

We are not federally recognized. However, in certain cases we have de facto relationships with the federal government. For instance, in the 1940s we received authorization to attend federal Indian boarding schools, and during the first decade of the 20th century, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers negotiated with us as with federally recognized tribes on a reservoir issue in King William, Virginia.

What message would you like to share with Upper Mattaponi youth?

Stay connected with your tribe and your people and encourage everyone to know and understand their history.

Is there anything else you would like to add?

I could comment a great deal, but nothing more at this time. 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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