Meet Native America: Interviews with Indigenous Leaders

March 02, 2015

Meet Native America: Lisa Johnson-Billy, Oklahoma Representative for District 42

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 
 

Rep. Lisa Johnson-Billy 2015
Oklahoma Representative Lisa Johnson-Billy (Chickasaw and Choctaw). Photo courtesy of the Oklahoma State Capitol.

Please introduce yourself with your name and title.

Lisa Johnson-Billy, Oklahoma representative for district 42.

What tribes are you affiliated with?

Chickasaw and Choctaw. 

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

The year 1832 is the removal for the Choctaw Nation, and it was very significant due to the loss of life along the removal.

For the Chickasaw, people the removal was 1837, and it literally removed our people out of prosperity into poverty. But also significant for the Chickasaw people were contacts with the Spanish conquistadors—the Chickasaw people forced these foreigners off the Chickasaw boundaries. Years later the Chickasaw forced back the French, and eventually the Chickasaw people became allies with the Americans—specifically, with George Washington. The Chickasaw leader Piomingo forged a lasting relationship with Washington. The Chickasaw people joined alongside the Americans fighting against the British to build the United States.

World War I and World War II were also extremely important. Native people were not allowed to speak our languages in our educational institutions during this time. In fact, it was actively discouraged: Tribal children were severely punished for speaking Native languages in schools. But at this same time, our tribal men were joining the U.S. military of their own free will and at a higher rate than any race. And these same men went on to serve in the military and create the tribal code languages that America's enemies were never able to decipher. Members from Oklahoma tribes of the Choctaw, Chickasaw, Comanche, and Seminole helped to create and carry out these secret tribal code languages. 

In 2009, with the support of the Oklahoma Native American Caucus, I was able to bring forth Oklahoma House Resolution 1031 and honor the Choctaw Code Talkers on the House floor. It was a significant event for the descendants! Choctaw Chief Gregory E. Pyle and Assistant Chief Gary Batton were also recognized on the House floor for their leadership in preserving the history of the Code Talkers. My own grandfather was punished for speaking Chickasaw in boarding schools, and yet years later the State of Oklahoma honored our tribal people for their language. 

How is your state government set up?

The government of the State of Oklahoma, established by the Oklahoma Constitution, is a republican democracy modeled after the federal government of the United States. The state government has three branches: the executive, legislative, and judicial. Through a system of separation of powers or "checks and balances," each of these branches has some authority to act on its own, some authority to regulate the other two branches, and has some of its own authority, in turn, regulated by the other branches.

The state government is based in Oklahoma City, and the head of the executive branch is the governor of Oklahoma. The legislative branch is called the legislature and consists of the Oklahoma Senate and the Oklahoma House of Representatives. The Oklahoma Supreme Court and the Oklahoma Court of Criminal Appeals are the state's highest courts.

How are leaders chosen?

They are elected from their districts.

Are Democrats or Republicans more dominant in your state? Do legislators vote along party lines?

Republicans are the majority party, and we work together on most issues. Occasionally, there are votes casts along party lines. 

Are there any other Natives who are elected leaders in your state?

Yes, there are other Native Americans who serve in the legislature. In fact, nearly 10 years ago, Rep. Paul Wesselhoft (Citizen Potawatomi) and I set up the first Oklahoma Native American Caucus. As we began the process of developing the caucus, then-member Shane Jett, a Cherokee citizen, eagerly jumped on board, and together we developed by-laws and elected chairmen. I served as the first co-chairman. We designed the caucus to be bipartisan, in that we always elect one chairman who is a Republican and one who is a Democrat. Our original goals included developing better relationships with our tribal governments and leaders. We also assisted House and Senate members in knowing which tribe or tribes live in their districts. The caucus has accomplished these goals and has passed several pieces of significant legislation, including a tribal law enforcement bill and a tribal language bill. We also created a tribal liaison position with the governor's leadership team. The caucus has about twenty members with most of those holding Certificate of Degree of Indian Blood (CDIB) cards.

How many tribes are in your state? Who are they?

Oklahoma is home to 38 federally recognized tribal nations:

Absentee Shawnee Tribe 
Alabama Quassarte Tribal Town 
Apache Tribe
Caddo Nation 
Cherokee Nation 
Cheyenne and Arapaho Tribes 
Chickasaw Nation 
Choctaw Nation 
Citizen Potawatomi Nation
Comanche Nation  
Delaware Nation 
Delaware Tribe of Indians
Eastern Shawnee Tribe  
Fort Sill Apache Tribe
Iowa Tribe 
Kaw Nation 
Kialegee Tribal Town 
Kickapoo Tribe of Oklahoma
Kiowa Tribe 
Miami Nation 
Modoc Tribe 
Muscogee (Creek) Nation 
Osage Nation 
Otoe–Missouria Tribe 
Ottawa Tribe 
Pawnee Nation 
Peoria Tribe
Ponca Nation 
Quapaw Tribe 
Sac & Fox Nation 
Seminole Nation 
Seneca–Cayuga Tribe 
Shawnee Tribe 
Thlopthlocco Tribal Town 
Tonkawa Tribe 
United Keetoowah Band of Cherokee Indians 
Wichita and Affiliated Tribes 
Wyandotte Nation

Do you ever meet with the Native people of your state?

Yes, as a representative and as a Native, I meet with various tribal leaders and tribal organizations across the State of Oklahoma.

Do the Native people in Oklahoma vote in state elections?

Yes, we do.

How often does the state legislature meet?

Oklahoma session meets for legislative duties every February through May.

What responsibilities do you have as a state representative?

My responsibilities include being available to my constituents and hosting town halls and various meetings across my district. District 42 has nine communities, and I make myself available to the local schools, where I visit annually and lead mock legislative sessions so students better understand the process. I also meet with our local fire fighters and visit the Chambers of Commerce, senior citizen sites, and local youth and community events. I attend as many youth livestock shows and sporting events as I can, which makes it possible for my constituents to share their concerns

I am currently serving as the floor leader in the Oklahoma House of Representatives, so my duties include reviewing all legislation as it comes out of committee and preparing the House agenda. I am also a vice chairman for the Public Safety Appropriation Committee, which means I assist the chairman in reviewing all budget-related items for the Oklahoma Alcoholic Beverage Laws Enforcement Commission (ABLE), Council on Law Enforcement Education and Training (CLEET), Department of Corrections, Office of the Fire Marshal, Office of the Medical Examiner, Bureau of Narcotics, Oklahoma State Bureau of Investigation (OSBI), and Department of Public Safety. And I serve on the leadership team for Speaker Jeff Hickman. 

What is a significant point in the Oklahoma state history that you would like to share?

Oklahoma Statehood, November 16, 1907: At this point the sovereignty for tribes was nearly dissolved. Our tribal communities began to melt into the State of Oklahoma. It has taken a significant amount of time, effort, and work by tribal leaders to restore tribal governments. 

Our tribal leaders still work very hard for tribal members. Chickasaw Nation Governor Bill Anoatubby always reminds me that we are Chickasaw citizens who live in Oklahoma, driving on the same roads and attending the same schools, and that therefore it is important that we work together as a team to move Oklahoma forward. 

The Billy family 2015
Lisa Johnson-Billy and her husband, Phillip Billy, with their children. Photo courtesy of the Billy family.

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

I believe my total life experience has prepared me. I was raised on a small farm where work had to be completed regardless of the weather, or if I was sick or thought I was too busy. My parents taught me the value of hard work and working alongside our neighbors when work had to be done. Growing up in small towns helped me to be accountable and responsible. I attended college at Northeastern State University in Tahlequah and later received my Master of Education degree from the University of Oklahoma. 

I ran for the Chickasaw Nation Legislature while in my twenties and served two terms. I had the privilege to serve alongside my father. This provided me the opportunity to recognize how smart my dad is and to recognize his loyalty to the Chickasaw people. I developed a small business called Peacemakers while I was in college at NSU, and this experience truly assists me now as I make policy decisions for the State of Oklahoma. 

I also think being a mom helped me to be a better legislator for my tribe and now for my state. 

Are you a descendant of a historical leader?

Not that I am aware of.

Who inspired you as a mentor?

I have many mentors, and I am extremely grateful. My parents, Frank and Beverly Johnson, are my first teachers. Helen Cole, Neal McCaleb, Governor Bill Anoatubby, Congressman Tom Cole, to name a few, have had a huge impact on my thinking and believing in new possibilities! I also had an extraordinary professor while at NSU—Dr. Susan Frusher. She lifted the limits of my own dreams. A man named Jake Chanate helped me to believe I could build the Peacemaker youth group and touch lives. Chief Wilma Mankiller also encouraged me to see that, many times, dreams are really made of hard work. I had the opportunity to meet Howard Rainer when I was a freshman in college. Later, my husband and I had the opportunity to work with Howard. His dignity, his character, his morals still guide me today. One of his favorite sayings is, “If you chase your dreams with excellence, nobody can stop you!” Howard Rainer has left a lasting imprint on me, along with Native families everywhere.

Approximately how many constituents are in your district? Approximately how many are Native?

I have about 43,000 constituents in my district. Probably about 20 percent are Native American of various tribes.

How have you used your elected position to help Natives and other minorities?

I have been able to bring various tribal leaders to the table, so to speak, at the Oklahoma State Capitol, whether in meetings with the Speaker of the House, the governor, or the lieutenant governor. Hopefully I have also been a voice for Native issues at the capitol. We now have Cherokee Day, Choctaw Day, and Chickasaw Day at the capitol. These are new events that are making a big impact on policymakers. 

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

I tell young people to dream big and never give up, no matter the obstacles, no matter the opposition. 

Is there anything else you would like to add?

I believe a quote that Margaret Mead said many years ago: “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.” 

Olympic gold medalist Billy Mills also inspired me decades ago when he said “Find your dream. It’s the pursuit of the dream that heals you.”

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 photos used with permission. 

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February 14, 2015

Meet Native America: Darwin John St. Clair Jr., Chairman of the Eastern Shoshone Tribe

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

Chairman St Clair White House conference
Chairman Darwin St. Clair Jr., representing the Eastern Shoshone Tribe at the 5th White House Tribal Nations Conference. Washington, D.C., November 2013.

Please introduce yourself with your name and title. 

Darwin John St. Clair Jr., chairman of the Eastern Shoshone Tribe.

Can you share your Native name with us?

It's Owndabe. It means Stern, but my nickname is Sonny.

Where is your tribal community located? 

The 1868 Fort Bridger Treaty established the Eastern Shoshone Reservation in west central Wyoming for the Shoshone and Shoshone Bannock Tribes. It's now known as the Wind River Indian Reservation, and it covers more than 2.2 million acres. 

Where were the Eastern Shoshone people originally from?

The Shoshone Nation extends from the eastern slope of the Rocky Mountains, with the Eastern Shoshone and Comanche, west to the California coast, and south to Mexico. Thirty-eight tribes speak similar Shoshonean dialects. Each year there is a Shoshonean reunion hosted by the various tribes.

The boundaries of Eastern Shoshone country described by the 1863 Fort Bridger Treaty were for 44 million acres, which includes west-central Wyoming south to northwestern Colorado, northeastern Utah, and eastern Idaho. This area also includes the Grand Tetons and Yellowstone, which became America’s first national park in 1872.

Is there a significant point in Eastern Shoshone history that you would like to share?

In the early 19th century, the Shoshone people were instrumental in the success of the Corps of Discovery by providing them with horses and guidance through the mountains. 

Due to the relationship we had with the U.S. government, during negotiations over the 1868 treaty we were able to pick our own land to reside on. So we choose the Warm Valley area of Wind River, on our traditional homelands, where we have been since time immemorial. 

How is your tribal government set up?

We still practice our traditional form of governance by way of having a General Council. It is made up of the people—all enrolled members over the age of 18 can vote. The leadership is six members who are elected to conduct business on behalf of the people, the Business Council. The chairman is selected from within the Business Council members. 

We are a resolution tribe, and we make law by passing resolutions. The main areas that require General Council approval are changes to the Law and Order Code, hiring of attorneys, changes to the Fish and Game Code, or changes to the Tribal Enrollment Code.

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

Traditionally, leadership was made up of a council of leaders selected by their band or family group and responsible to the people they represented to make decisions on their behalf. Not until we got involved with the U.S. government did we have to appoint only one leader. 

How often are elected leaders chosen? 

Council members are elected to serve a four-year term. Each term is staggered, so there is an election every two years for three council members.

How often does your government meet?

Our Tribal Council meets on a daily basis, Monday through Friday. Eastern Shoshone General Council meetings are held on a quarterly basis throughout the year or through special General Council meetings when needed. 

What responsibilities do you have as a tribal leader?

To protect and preserve our treaty, sovereignty, water, air, wildlife, culture, language, government, and assets. To improve upon the education of all tribal members. To keep traditional knowledge for those tribal members unborn for generations to come and leave the future with something holistic and organic to build on. 

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

Chmn Darwin St Clair
Chairman St. Clair at a Pawnee War Dance in honor of his nephew. The American flag in the background belonged to hi the Code Talker Phillip Gover, Chairman St. Clair's grandfather. Pawnee, Oklahoma, 2013. 

There is nothing that really prepares you for this type of leadership role. However, my family was always involved in the activities of my people, which meant that I was involved, willing or not. My grandfathers Herman and Wallace St. Clair—my grandmother's brothers—served on the council in the earlier years. My father, Darwin St. Clair Sr., served several terms on the council and also as chairman, along with my older sister, Sara Robinson, and a couple of my uncles. All served our people in this manner.

On my mother’s side my uppit (grandfather) Phillip Gover (Skidi Pawnee) was also a chairman and chief for the Pawnee people, along with uncles that served the Pawnee people. In fact, I have an uncle, Marshall Gover, who is currently the president of the Pawnee Nation. We are both leaders for the people, but leading different nations. 

So in my home I grew up understanding the importance of serving your people, growing up with traditional values, and the importance of education. I am greatly honored, privileged, blessed, and humbled to serve my people in this capacity.

Who inspired you as a mentor? 

I had many awesome mentors. Some were family members, coworkers, or colleagues, and some didn’t know they were mentors. They inspired me in different ways. But my first mentor was my grandmother Rose St. Clair, who told me traditional stories about the Shoshone people and how not to be. My uppit Phillip Gover, who sang to me Pawnee songs in his language and translated for me the stories behind why the song came about or was made. My mother, who taught me and showed me the importance of compassion for all people. My father, who taught me and showed me the importance of family, culture, and hard work.

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

My mother, Sandra May Gover St. Clair, was Miss Indian America in 1956. My grandfather Phillip Gover was given a Congressional Gold Medal for his service as a Pawnee Code Talker.

Approximately how many members are in the Eastern Shoshone tribe?

There are 4,274 enrolled members as of a recent count.

What are the criteria to become a member of the Eastern Shoshone Tribe?

To be enrolled, a person must have a total of one-quarter tribal blood quantum and at least one of the parents must be an enrolled member of the Eastern Shoshone Tribe. A person can use blood from another federally recognized tribe to meet the enrollment requirement. 

Is your language still spoken on your homelands?

Yes, our language is spoken, but very few members are fluent speakers.

What economic enterprises does your tribe own?

The Eastern Shoshone Tribe owns the Shoshone Rose Casino; the Shoshone Rose convenience store and gas stationMorning Star Manor, a skilled nursing care facility; a dialysis center; Eastern Shoshone Crusher; and Eastern Shoshone Construction. 


Eastern Shoshone Indian days powwow, 2014
Dancers at the 55th annual Eastern Shoshone Indian Days powwow—one of the largest powwows in Indian Country. Fort Washakie, Wyoming, June 2014.


What annual events does the tribe sponsor?

In late June there is the Eastern Shoshone Indian Days powwow, Eastern Shoshone Sundance is in July, and in the winter months we have traditional dances.

What other attractions are available for visitors on your land?

We have some of the most pristine and beautiful mountain ranges, lakes, and rivers in the west. We have fishing, hiking, and camping. There are also tribal historical sites and the Eastern Shoshone Tribal Cultural Center. 

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

We deal with all tribal, state, and federal governments as a sovereign nation.

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

Education is the key to empowering our indigenous people to continue to maintain, sustain, and improve the lives of all nations. This education cannot only be academic, but must also be holistic and inclusive of our indigenous worlds if we are going to obtain knowledge of our traditional ways and beliefs, and leave it to our future generations so that they have enough to continue on their path. 

Is there anything else you would like to add?

I'd just like to thank my family—my wife, Viola; our children Sunny Rae, Darwin III, Bryan Beaver, Sandra, and Noah Raymond; and our grandchildren, Blaine, Daisy, and Elizabeth—and to tell them how proud I am of them and how important they are to me.

Thank you.

Hou we hou—thank you


Photographs courtesy of the Eastern Shoshone Tribe.
 

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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January 30, 2015

Meet Native America: Brian Cladoosby, Chairman of the Swinomish Indian Tribal Community and President of the National Congress of American 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


Please introduce yourself with your name and title. 

Brian Cladoosby, chairman of the Swinomish Indian Tribal Community and president of the National Congress of American Indians (NCAI).  

Chairman Brian Cladoosby
Brian Cladoosby, chairman of the Swinomish Indian Tribal Community and president of the National Congress of American Indians.

Can you share your Native name with us?

It's Spee-Pots. It means Little Bear in our language. Spots is bear. When I was growing up my nickname was Cub. An elder, the late Vi Hilbert, bestowed that name on me. It is a gift that keeps on giving. 

Where is your tribal community located? 

The Swinomish Reservation is located about one hour north of Seattle and one hour south of the Canadian border. We are about 15 minutes off I-5. We live on an island, Fidalgo Island. We have 7,000 acres of land that is about 70 percent trust, and about 3,000 acres of tidelands. 

Where were your people originally from?

Swinomish is one of the tribes who were not removed from their homelands. We have been living in the same place for generations. We are also descendants of three other bands that were removed from their lands and relocated to Swinomish: We are successors to the Samish, Lower Skagit, and Kikiallus who had to relocate to Swinomish after the signing of the 1855 Point Elliott Treaty.

What are the criteria to become a member of the Swinomish Indian tribal Community?

You have to be one-quarter Swinomish.

What is a significant point in Swinomish history that you would like to share?

There are many—when we signed the Point Elliott Treaty, the fact that we have 70 percent of our reservation back in our ownership, having taxing authority on our own lands, sovereignty, and, of course, the Boldt decision in 1974, when the federal courts affirmed our treaty rights to our historic fishing grounds. All these will have generational impacts on the Swinomish people.

What responsibilities do you have as a tribal leader?

As chairman of the Swinomish Indian Tribal Community, I preside over all Senate meetings and meetings of the General Council—which is made up of all voting-age members of the Swinomish. I am paid full time, so I also supervise all our departmental directors.

As president of NCAI, I preside at all conventions of the organization and all meetings of the Executive Committee, and I am authorized to exercise other duties delegated to me by the Executive Committee.

How is your tribal government set up?

Swinomish has eleven senators who are elected to five-year terms. Two Senate seats are up every year, and three seats are up on the fifth year. I believe we are one of the only tribes in the nation whose government has five-year terms. This was created during the Indian Reorganization Act. We currently have about 170 years of Senate experience at our council table.

How often does your government meet?

The Senate meets the first Tuesday of every month. 

Who inspired you as a mentor? 

I really enjoyed attending grade school and high school. It was a great experience for me. I had some excellent teachers as role models who had a very positive impact in my life. 

Brian Cladoosby fishing
Chairman Brian Cladoosby, fishing.  

I also had the opportunity to listen to some of the best tribal speakers in our community growing up. We are an oral tradition culture, and listening to public speakers was very valuable for me. Landy James was a Swinomish tribal member, and not only my high school teacher, but also my football and baseball coach in high school. This man was all about building up the self-esteem of everyone he interacted with, especially youth. Morris Dan, Dewey Mitchell, Richard Peters, Dave Joe—these were some of the best speakers in our community, and growing up I had the opportunity to listen to them. Robert Joe, Sr., Chet Cayou Sr., Susan Wilbur, Laura Wilbur—these were some of the senators I had the opportunity to learn from when I was elected to our Senate in my 20s.

And of course my father, Mike Cladoosby. He is the best father anyone could ask for. He prepared me for life, from raising me, to teaching me how to fish, to just being an awesome example on how to be a father.

Kel-Kahl-Tsoot, my dad’s great grandfather, put his X on the Point Elliott Treaty for the Swinomish Tribe on January 22, 1855. My father is 81 years old. When you think about it, my dad’s great-grandfather signed our treaty in 1855. My dad is still alive, and he is the great grandfather to my grandchildren. My grandchildren are the seventh generation since the signing of our treaty.

Is your language still spoken on your homelands?

We only have a few tribal members who still have an understanding of our language.

What economic enterprises does your tribal community own?

We have the Swinomish Casino & Lodgea casino, bingo hall, lodge, and convention center—and two convenience stores that sell gas, cigarettes, and alcohol. We own an 18-hole golf course. We have the Swinomish Fish Company, which buys and sells salmon, crab, and other seafood products. We sell canned salmon, and we sell caviar to Europe and Japan. Working cooperatively with Native fisherman throughout the Salish Sea and from Alaska to California, we've started the NativeCatch brand of wild, sustainably harvested seafood. We just started selling salmon jerky to a company named Patagonia. We sell salmon cat and dog food, as well. We also have a number of land leases on our reservation, with four different types of businesses.

What annual events does the Swinomish community sponsor?

We have our annual Swinomish Days in August. The festival includes canoe races, a Fancy Dance contest, and bone games. In 2011 we hosted Paddle to Swinomish, that year's Salish Sea Canoe Journey, and each other year we welcome the canoes when they travel through our waters heading to the tribe that is hosting Canoe Journey.

What other attractions are available for visitors on your land and waters?

There are many attractions within one to two hours of our reservation—the San Juan Islands, the Cascade Mountains, the Skagit River, and many other beautiful places.

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

We have a relationship with the United States that we inherited, one we didn’t ask for. With that being said, we have to communicate continually with all levels of the federal government, from elected officials to administration officials to agencies and their staff. We deal with many agencies—the Environmental Protection Agency, Department of the Interior, Bureau of Indian Affairs, Department of Justice, Health and Human Services—and it is important that we continue to talk with them to make sure we have a great working relationship. Like all relationships, we may not always agree, but we have to agree to disagree and still keep talking in order to work things out.

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

Our youth have so many opportunities in front of them. This is what our elders prayed for. We give full-ride scholarships to the school of your choice if you graduate from high school or get a GED. We believe that the way to defeat poverty and drug and alcohol abuse is through education. Our youth and their parents have to want to make the choice for education.

We have experienced a lot of historical trauma in our history, and it is up to us not to look at ourselves as victims, but survivors. And as survivors we are starting to break the cycle of trauma one generation at a time. The most important message for our youth is choice. At the end of the day, your choices bring one of two things, pain or pleasure.

Is there anything else you would like to add?

I have the greatest job in the world. Our Creator has blessed me beyond measure. He is the reason I am where I am right now. I have an awesome wife, Nina—we will be married 37 years in March—two beautiful daughters, LaVonne and Mary; one son-in-law, Tyler; and two of the greatest gifts God can give you, grandchildren, Bella and Nathanael. 

I have been a member of the Swinomish Senate for 30 years and chairman for 18 years. It has been a great ride. I would not be able to be president of NCAI if we did not have a stable government at home. I work with 11 senators who are in the canoe, paddling in the same direction, with the same goals in mind, to provide the best governmental services for our people.

Thank you.

Thank you for giving me the opportunity to introduce myself to your readers. God bless.


Photographs courtesy of the Swinomish Indian Tribal Community.

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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January 16, 2015

Meet Native America: Gary Pratt, Chairman of the Iowa Tribe of Oklahoma

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.

Gary Pratt, chairman of the Iowa Tribe of Oklahoma

Can you share your Native name with us?

I am extremely honored to have been given my great-grandfather Blaine Kent’s name of Ahu Thaway (Black Wing). I am the great-great grandson of Frank and Emma Kent. 

Where is the Iowa Tribe located? 

The offices of the Iowa Tribe are located three miles south of Perkins, Oklahoma. Our jurisdiction covers four counties—Lincoln, Logan, Oklahoma, and Payne.

Chairman Gary Pratt, Iowa Tribe of Oklahoma
Chairman Gary Pratt, Iowa Tribe of Oklahoma. Photo courtesy of the Iowa Tribe of Oklahoma.

Where was the Iowa Tribe originally from? 

History of the tribe dates us back to the 1600s when we were present in the Red Pipestone Quarry region in Minnesota. The Iowa people lived the majority of our recorded history in what is now the northern region of Iowa. The state of Iowa takes its name from the Iowa Tribe.

How is your tribal community set up?

We are organized under the Oklahoma Indian Welfare Act with a constitution last amended in 2008.  We are a self-governance operating under Public Law 638, which enables us to carry on a positive relationship with the federal government. We have a Business Committee that is made up of five elected positions—chairman, vice-chairman, treasurer, secretary, and council person.  All serve two-year terms. We meet twice a month as a committee. 

Approximately how many members are in your tribe?

We are small tribe with a current enrollment of 815 citizens. To become a citizen, you must have a parent on the roll and possess a minimum of 1/16 Ioway blood quantum.  

Is your language still spoken in your homelands?

One of the disadvantages of being a small tribe is that we are running out of members who are fluent in the Iowa language. We are currently working to preserve what we have and make it available to our youth and all others.

I believe tribes everywhere are beginning to understand what an amazing generation we just lost and continue to lose, and the impact they had on our survival as a tribe today. For example, last year at the Presidential Summit in Washington, D.C., I shook the hands of five Code Talkers. This year there were only two in attendance. 

What economic enterprises does your tribal community own?

We currently operate two casinos—Cimarron and Ioway—and just recently opened a new travel plaza. We also operate a medical/dental clinic that provides healthcare services to Native Americans as well as the general public. Other operations include a gallery, smoke shop, and RV park. With casinos and tribal operations, we employ over 300 people and are making a positive economic impact in the area. 

What attractions are available on your homeland?

Golden eagles
Bah Kho-Je Xla Chi provides rehabilitation for injured golden eagles (above) and bald eagles, and a sanctuary for eagles that cannot be returned to the wild. It also conducts education and conservation programs. Photo courtesy of the Grey Snow Eagle House Facebook page

I believe the one program that sets the Iowa Tribe apart from other tribes is our eagle aviary, Bah Kho-Je Xla Chi (Grey Snow Eagle House). We have developed an eagle rehabilitation program in order to protect injured eagles and increase community awareness of wildlife and Native American culture.  We have successfully released thirteen eagles back into the wild. The facility opened in January 2006 and currently houses 47 eagles.

Victor Roubidoux, the founder and director of our program and an Iowa tribal elder, is one of the leading experts in the world on the subject of eagle research. We are working with Oklahoma State University to develop a nationwide genetic research program. Our goal is one day to be able to find an eagle and have the ability to determine where that particular eagle came from—for example, from Alaska, Wisconsin, New York, or whether the bird is local. We understand our responsibility to this magnificent creature and take this responsibility seriously. We are very excited about the possibilities and direction this program is going.

Another wonderful thing to take part in here is the Iowa Tribal Powwow. The Iowa Tribe of Oklahoma will host the 30th Annual Iowa Tribal Powwow on June 19, 20, and 21, 2015. The public is invited to attend the full weekend of events. The Iowa Tribal Powwow is held at the Bah-Kho-Je Powwow Grounds in Perkins, Oklahoma, which offers facilities for traditional camping. All dance competition categories are represented at the powwow, and there are daily Gourd Dance sessions in the afternoon, as well. Arts and crafts and food vendors are encouraged to contact the Powwow Committee for more information. 

What responsibilities do you have as a tribal leader?

My role as chairman of the Iowa Tribe is to uphold the Constitution of the Iowa Tribe of Oklahoma, to seek out opportunities that lie ahead, and to understand the options when dealing with the federal and state government on the issues of sovereignty, healthcare, and gaming. The decisions are always made in the best interest of the people. 

Who inspired you as a mentor?

My inspiration and mentors have always been the elders—their stories of survival, their preservation of customs and ways, song, prayer. Family values have always been an inspiration for me to do my best and help those around me. Taking the time to talk to an elder, recognizing a veteran, or shaking hands with a Code Talker gives me my energy. It doesn’t get any better than that.

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

Listen to your elders, pray for your elders as they have been praying for you since you came in to this world. The day will come when you will play a critical role in the existence of your tribe. Use education as your weapon of choice. Every day seek out the opportunity to make a difference. Prepare yourself for that moment.

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 photos used with permission.

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January 08, 2015

Meet Native America: Cristina Danforth, Chairwoman of the Oneida Tribe of Indians of Wisconsin

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.

Cristina Danforth, Chairwoman, Oneida Tribe of Indians of Wisconsin.

Chairwoman Danforth
Chairwoman Cristina Danforth, Oneida Tribe of Indians of Wisconsin.

Can you share with us your Native name?

My Oneida name is Kwahlak^ni. It means influential, or she is able to respond, respect her. I received my name in Oneida, Canada, at the Longhouse during Midwinter Ceremony when I was 14 years old. I am Wolf Clan. 

Where is the Oneida Tribe located?

Our tribe is located in northeast Wisconsin and is adjacent to the city of Green Bay. Our original reservation boundaries of 1838 make up 65,400 acres that are home to five municipal governments and two county governments. 

Where was your tribe originally from?

The process of settlement into what is now known as the state of Wisconsin (statehood, 1848) began with the United States Treaty with the Menominee of 1831, in which the federal government ceded land to the New York Indians. The treaty was agreed to by the Menominee Indian people and the U.S. president, with assistance from the Indian agent of Green Bay. The 1831 Menominee Treaty was furthered by the U.S Treaty with the Oneida in 1838. That treaty, also known as the Buffalo Creek Treaty, acknowledges the Oneida Indians and our ancestral ties to New York state.

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

The point in time for our tribe I want to share is the period of 2002 to 2005. I was serving my third term on council and my first term as tribal chairwoman. I had just finished my term as vice chairwoman, and our gaming compact was up for renewal with the state of Wisconsin; the compact was set to expire in 2003. In September of 2002 my first grandson, Calvyn, was born, and he was my motivation to get things done and move the tribe forward. We were also in the midst of mediation with the state of New York over our Oneida Land Claim Settlement. Both agreements were top priority and kept me traveling on an almost weekly basis.

The Agreement of Settlement and Compromise to Resolve the Oneida Indian Land Claims in the State of New York was established and acknowledged during my first term as Oneida chairwoman. This agreement discusses the rights retained and exercised by the Oneidas of Wisconsin and the terms of settlement and conditions that must exist in order to resolve the claim. This agreement was signed and acknowledged by a Proclamation from Governor George Pataki and Chairwoman Cristina Danforth on December 7, 2004. 

The gaming compacts were being discussed collectively by the United Tribes of Wisconsin. This delegation was formed in June 2002; I was designated as their spokesperson. In November 2002 Governor Jim Doyle was elected, and in January 2003 he was inaugurated. His first task was to meet with the eleven tribes in Wisconsin. He invited the tribes to Madison and made a commitment to the tribal leadership. He convened the meeting with the tribal leaders and then introduced his Cabinet of State Administration and secretaries. He told the tribal leaders that meeting with his staff was equivalent to meeting with him, as they were authorized to renegotiate the compacts on his behalf and with his direction. Under Governor Doyle’s leadership, the Oneida Gaming Compact was concluded in April 2003. 

The Oneida compact renewal was historic and significant: We had been operating on a five-year renewal, and the newly negotiated compact became a perpetual-term compact. It is the only compact in the country to be perpetual. The compact also now has a 4 percent regulatory fee, which is the lowest in the state. It was significant for us in Oneida so that we could fund community infrastructure development projects and secure long-term loans utilizing revenues from our gaming operations. The 2003 Gaming Compact allows Oneida to continue long-standing programming, education, and community services. 

How is your tribal government set up?

Our tribal government consists of nine elected Business Committee members who govern the tribe when the General Tribal Council (GTC)—the body composed of our tribal membership—is not in session. The Business Committee includes four officers—chair, vice chair, treasurer, and secretary. The remaining five members are at-large council members.

How often are elected leaders chosen?

A general election occurs every three years. Candidates must be at least 21 years of age and must be enrolled tribal members living within the boundaries of the reservation or in Brown and Outagamie counties. 

How often does your council meet?

Our council meets every second and fourth Wednesday of the month to conduct official business. The council also meets every Tuesday before the regular meeting to discuss items in executive session, which is closed to the public. Actions on those items must be done in open session at our regular Wednesday meeting. The council also meets with state, federal, and tribal officials on a consistent basis and is required to attend GTC meetings—the annual meeting in January, semiannual meeting in July, budget meeting, and special meetings.

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

My leadership development came from mentors and life experiences from my family. When I was growing up, I was the middle of nine children. My family moved around a lot, and I went to several schools. Changing schools meant new friends and new teachers. This led to my experience of being adaptable. My mom raised us nine kids by herself while still attending college. So on days when I felt stressed, I would think of my mom and all her struggles as a single parent. She also expressed the need to go to college and the benefits of being educated. Her family values were passed on to us and our kids. 

Chairwoman Danforth
Chairwoman Danforth teaching tribal youth Oneida raised beadwork techniques.

The family goes beyond the immediate family and encompasses extended family as a resource for support and encouragement. Everything we do is to benefit the family, which extends to the community and the nation. Making sacrifices is necessary to promote a work ethic and setting goals. Having a vision and a purpose while realizing that all we do is for the children, the family, and our elders. 

When my mother died I was 13 years old. I told myself it was up to me to take care of myself and to do what is necessary to get by. It was the realization that I am an independent person and whether I would succeed or not was up to me. Maybe the reason I was compelled to survive as best as I could was the fact that I felt so alone that April day in 1975. It took me until I was in my twenties to realize that it is OK to ask for help. 

What responsibilities do you have as a tribal leader?

On any given day I can be asked to address concerns from the community, corporate decisions, financial directives, or policy questions. That requires being flexible, having a vision for the people, and respecting the cultural differences that can clash with commercial aspects of our tribe—recognizing that they are to be handled with care and the balance of creation.

Who inspired you as a mentor?

When I wanted to quit college, I was inspired to continue by my husband, Paul. When I wanted to run for public office, I was inspired by my aunt Shirley Hill. When I wanted to give up on my life purpose, my spiritual helper, Ernie St. Germaine, encouraged me to seek the wisdom of the Creator. Now I am inspired by the gift of my grandchildren: Taneal, Lenna, Avary, Karmyn, Keeshon, Seanae, and Calvyn. They lighten my load with love and laughter when the responsibility of leadership demands my full engagement. 

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

My maternal grandfather was Levi Parker Webster. His Oneida name was Lahstohsles, meaning Chief Tall Feather. My grandfather was a vegetarian and an extraordinary athlete and professional runner. He attended Carlisle Indian School and excelled there as well. On his 50th birthday he ran 50 miles from Green Bay to Oshkosh, Wisconsin. He also did a non-stop promotional run from Milwaukee to Chicago in 23 hours. I guess that’s where I get my stamina. 

Approximately how many members are in your tribe?

Our tribal membership is just over 17,000. 

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

In order to be an enrolled member, you must be at least one-quarter Oneida Tribe of Indians of Wisconsin blood degree by proving ancestry to a family member on the 1935 Oneida base rolls.

Is your language still spoken on your homelands?

Yes, the Oneida language is still spoken in the community, and several of our departments have been working on finding new ways of making the language more accessible. The Oneida Language and Speak Oneida apps were recently launched and are available for download. Language classes are also offered year round in the community. Having said that, there is still a need to create awareness for our people to begin learning and speaking the language more. Many of our fluent elder speakers have passed away in recent years, and because of that the community is going through a generational language disconnect. Lack of Internet access has also prevented many of our community members from utilizing available resources. 

What economic enterprises does your tribe own?

Oneida owns a number of enterprises that contribute to the local and state economy. Our gaming operations consist of six facilities including a new $24-million expansion and renovation of our Main Casino. Our bingo hall and three of our Oneida One-Stop convenience stores also offer gaming.

Our tribal-owned Bay Bank was founded in 1995 and provides financial services specific to assisting tribal members obtain mortgages and start entrepreneurial ventures. It is the only bank in the city of Green Bay with a HUD Section 184 Indian Housing Loan Guarantee Program, which offers any Native American who is part of a federally recognized tribe an opportunity to own a home. 

Oneida Total Integrated Enterprises (OTIE) is an SBA-certified 8(a) business that provides a number of services including environmental services, restoration and remediation, construction, engineering, and recovery to government agencies as well as commercial customers around the world. OTIE provides a training and recruitment opportunity for young Native people in the fields of engineering and construction. 

Some other enterprises include Thornberry Creek at Oneida Golf Course, Oneida Community Integrated Food Systems, and our Radisson Hotel & Conference Center, established in 1986.

What annual events does your tribe sponsor?

Oneida sponsors multiple powwows including the annual Fourth of July Powwow. We also sponsor the Big Apple Fest every September at our Apple Orchard.

What other attractions are available for visitors on your land?

I would encourage guests to visit the Oneida Nation Museum, Thornberry Creek at Oneida Golf Course, the Oneida Buffalo Farms and Observatory, and the Oneida Nation Gate at Lambeau Field, just to name a few. Our Tourism Department also provides personal and bus tours of the reservation. 

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

As a tribal government we continue to lobby Congress regarding policies that affect Indian Country. Oneida governance demands a presence in Washington, D.C., to solicit each presidential administration for our land claims in New York and for environmental, health, economic development, education, and intergovernmental affairs. 

White House roundtable
Native American leaders at a roundtable discussion with President Barak Obama in advance of the 2014 White House Tribal Nations Conference. From left to right: U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan (partially obscured); Chairwoman Danforth; Chairman Darrin Old Coyote, Crow Nation; Speaker of the Navajo Nation Senate Lorenzo Bates; and President Obama. Not shown: Chairman W. "Ron" Allen, Jamestown S’Klallam Tribe; Chief Phyliss Anderson, Mississippi Choctaw; Chairman Thomas Beauty, Yavapai Apache Nation; Governor Joseph M. Chavarria, Santa Clara Pueblo; Chairman Jeff Grubbe, Agua Caliente Band of Cahuilla Indians; Co-Chair Jerry Isaac, Alaska Federation of Natives, Tanacross Native Village; Chairwoman Myra Pearson, Spirit Lake Nation; and Principal Chief Geoffrey Standing Bear, Osage Nation. 
Washington, D.C., December 2, 2014.


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

Be proactive and stay involved in your local community, because issues affecting Indian Country will continue to be part of our efforts going forward. We will need educated leaders eager to learn about the laws and policies affecting our land, beliefs, economic development, governance, and the health of our people. Involvement with social media has proven to be an effective way of sharing our voices and being creative in our approach to express community values. 

Thank you.

Thank you for the opportunity to share a glimpse of the Oneida Tribe, and may the New Year bring you many blessings. Hoyan! 


All photos are courtesy of Chairwoman Danforth. 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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