Meet Native America: Interviews with Indigenous Leaders

November 21, 2014

Meet Native America: Ponka-We Victors, Kansas State Representative

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.

Ponka-We Victors, Kansas State representative, District 103

What tribes are you affiliated with?

The Tohono O’odham Nation of Arizona and the Ponca Tribe of Oklahoma

Ponkawe3
Kansas State Representative Ponka-We Victors (member of the Ponca Tribe of Oklahoma and the Tohono O'odham Nation of Arizona).

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

In 1879, Chief Standing Bear of the Ponca Tribe successfully argued in a U.S. District Court that Native Americans are “persons within the meaning of the law.” Not only did he see justice in a U.S. court, but he paved the way for others to fight for Native American rights.

How is your state government set up?

The Kansas government is comprised of
and divided into executive, legislative, and 
judicial branches. The state legislature is composed of 125 representatives and 40 senators.

How are leaders chosen? 

Representatives are elected for a two-year term, and senators are elected for a four-year term. There are no term limits.

Are Democrats or Republicans more dominant in your state?

Republicans have the majority in Kansas.

Do legislators vote along party lines?

There are times where we can all come together on certain issues, and then there are times where we have to agree to disagree. 

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

I’m sure there are by descent, but not very many. I hope to see this change someday and that Native Americans have representation on every level of government.

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

There are four tribes in Kansas. They are the Prairie Band Potawatomi Nation, Kickapoo Tribe of Kansas, Sac and Fox Nation of Missouri in Kansas and Nebraska, and the Iowa Tribe of Kansas and Nebraska

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

Yes, it’s important to keep an open line of communication with the four tribes of Kansas and to keep them updated on what’s going on in our state. I also encourage them to visit the Capitol frequently and to sit in on various hearings or testify on an issue.

Do the Native people in Kansas vote in state elections?

Yes. It’s been a slow process, but I know participation will increase as the Native American population becomes more aware of state issues and how the debate might include them and their loved ones.

How often does your state congress meet?

The Kansas State Legislature meets on the second Monday of every January and adjourns in May or when our business at the Capitol is completed.

What responsibilities do you have as a state representative?

I create and vote on legislation that could become law in Kansas. Also, I am assigned to committees that deal with various state issues, including the state budget and oversight of state agencies.

Ponkawe1a
Representative Ponka-We Victors.

What is a significant point in the history of Kansas that you would like to share?

Charles Curtis was the first Native American to hold national office in the United States when he became vice president in 1929. Curtis was born in Topeka, Kansas, and came from the Kansa, Osage, and Potawatomi tribes. He also served in the U.S. House of Representatives and U.S. Senate. I believe he influenced Native Americans and set an example for us to step up and not be afraid to take the lead.

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

Growing up I was always aware of the conditions that our Native people had to live with dealing with health care, education, land issues, etc. I always questioned why we had the worst health care available, and I wanted to see a change at a young age. For example, sometimes I had to wait in the emergency room for three hours or so at the Indian Health Service hospital to be seen by a doctor. When I graduated from college, I decided to intern in Washington, D.C., through a Morris K. Udall Native American Congressional Internship. I witnessed firsthand how our budgets and issues were discussed and sometimes Native American funding was cut. I didn’t see a lot of Native American representation on the federal level, and Congress and the administration were making decisions for us. I decided that I would run for office when the time was right so we could have a voice.

Who inspired you as a mentor? 

Former Kansas State Representative Geraldine Flaharty of Wichita. She was my mentor the first year that I was elected to the Kansas House of Representatives in 2010. Rep. Flaharty is always available to listen to my concerns and give me advice on certain issues. 

Are you a descendant of a historical leader? 

I am a direct descendant of two chiefs from my Ponca heritage—Chief Big Snake and Chief Standing Bear of the Ponca Tribe. They inspire me to be a strong leader and to stand up for others. I am proud to be a descendant of these great leaders.

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

There are approximately 7,117 constituents in District 103. Less than 1 percent are Native.

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

For so long we didn’t have a voice at the capitol. Now I am proud that not only do we have a voice in the Kansas Statehouse, but I can be at the table and be a part of the process to make sure the four tribes and other minorities are included and not forgotten when key issues are being discussed and voted on.

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

Dare to dream and don’t be afraid of change. I wouldn’t be where I am if I was scared of change or if I didn’t take every opportunity that crossed my path. Find something that you are passionate about and find a mentor in that specific area to lead you in the right direction.

Is there anything else you would like to add?

I would like to encourage more Native Americans to run for office whether it is at a municipal, state, or federal level. We need more representation and a voice on all levels of government. 

Thank you.


Photographs © Paula D. Moore, 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/Ponca Tribe of Oklahoma) 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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November 07, 2014

Meet Native America: Kevin P. Brown, Chairman of the Mohegan 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 Brown and Matagha
Chairman Kevin P. Brown, Mohegan Tribe, standing beside a bronze statue of his
great-grandfather, Chief Matagha (Burrill Fielding). Mohegan Reservation,
Uncasville, Connecticut, 2013.


Please introduce yourself with your name and title. 

Kevin P. Brown, chairman, Mohegan Tribe.

Can you share your name in your language and what it means? 

Wompsuhq Masqaq (Whomp-suk Mas-kwak)—it means Red Eagle. Mother was Red Feather, Grandmother was Red Bird, Father was Irish. I retired as a colonel from the U.S. Army after 25 years of service, including a few years fighting against an insurgency. What is the relevance of that to my name? The symbol for the rank of colonel is an eagle. There is also a famous half-Indian figure in history—William Weatherford, but—whose Creek name translates to Red Feather; he fought in the Creek War of 1813–14 against the United States.

Where is your tribe located?

The Mohegan Reservation is 544 acres astride the Thames River near Uncasville, Connecticut. Uncasville is named for the famous Mohegan Sachem Uncas (ca. 1588–1683).

Where was your tribe originally from?

We trace our ancestry back to the times of Uncas here on this same piece of land where our reservation sits today, with ties to Upstate New York before migration to Connecticut.

What is a significant point in history from the Mohegan Tribe that you would like to share?

Given that this month is Native American Heritage Month and the month in which we celebrate Veterans Day, coupled with my own service as a veteran, I’d like to share the story of Mohegan tribal member Samuel Ashbow, who was born around 1746. When the American Revolution broke out against the Crown, Mohegan men joined on the side of the rebels. Tribal historians have found 51 of our young men on the muster rolls, log books, and payrolls of the fledgling force, with eight of our men having fought at the Battle of Bunker Hill. Of particular note, the first Native American to give his life in the defense of this land we call America was Mohegan tribal member Samuel Ashbow, who died fighting at the famous “rail fence” at Bunker Hill in 1775.

Mohegan veterans 2014
Chairman Brown (left) with Mohegan veterans and artist John Herz (standing, fourth from left). Herz's drawing shows the Mohegan volunteer Samuel Ashbow fighting alongside a Massachusetts militiaman at the Battle of Bunker Hill. Mohegan Reservation, Uncasville, Connecticut, August 2014. 


How is your tribal government set up?

By our constitution, the tribe is governed by the Mohegan people, represented by a nine-member Tribal Council and seven-member Council of Elders

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

In addition to the governing bodies described above, the tribe has elected a ceremonial lifetime chief in 2010. She is Lynn Malerba "Many Hearts," is a great-grandchild of former tribal Chief Burrill Fielding (as am I).

How often are elected leaders chosen?

Councilors are elected by the adult tribal membership for four-year staggered terms. This is true for both the Tribal Council and the Council of Elders. 

How often does your Tribal Council meet?

The council meets in open session every week and meets with the tribal membership quarterly, a meeting that also includes the Council of Elders and the chief.

What responsibilities do you have as tribal chairman?

I have dual responsibilities: As chairman, I am the chief executive officer of the tribe and the head of the executive branch of government. Additionally, I serve as the chairman of the board for the Mohegan Tribal Gaming Authority, which oversees all of our Mohegan Sun gaming ventures. 

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

Twenty-five years of active duty service in the U.S. Army provided me a career of leadership opportunities from the platoon level, 38 soldiers, to the garrison command level, where I was responsible for the training, military readiness, support, budgeting, and overall health and welfare of 18,000 soldiers and their family members—essentially the role of mayor and city manager for a 55,000-person community.

Who inspired you as a mentor?

My grandmother Loretta Fielding (Red Bird) and my mother, Pauline Fielding Shultz Brown (Red Feather), were tribal nonners, a title given by the Mohegan Tribe to women held in great respect. They inspired me to be proud of my Mohegan heritage from a young age. 

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

Yes, Chief Burrill Fielding "Matagha," who served the tribe in that position from 1937 to the time of his death in 1952.

How many members are in the Mohegan Tribe?

Approximately 2,020.

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

There are no remaining fluent speakers, but we do maintain a language class where we teach tribal members conversational Mohegan on a sustained basis.

What economic enterprises does your tribe own?

The Mohegan Tribal Gaming Authority (MGTA) owns and operates Mohegan Sun, a casino–resort in Uncasville, Connecticut. It is the largest casino in the Western Hemisphere and grosses nearly $1 billion in gaming revenue. The MTGA also owns and operates Mohegan Sun at Pocono Downs in Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania. We are now following a diversified business approach that includes restaurant franchise agreements with Arooga’s and Smashburger restaurants, a wood-pellet business (ThermaGlo), and an office machine joint venture with LDI (Leslie Digital Imaging) for office technology solutions. That venture is called KOTA (a Mohegan word meaning "in close association"). 

What annual events does your tribe sponsor?

Our Mohegan powwow is traditionally known as Wigwam and has also been known as the Green Corn Festival. It is an annual event held in mid-August. During that same week, we host a tribal homecoming and several cultural and heritage activities sponsored by our Cultural and Community Programs Department. The latter events are private to the tribe, but the Wigwam is open to the public and includes dancers and drum groups from all across the country.

What other attractions are available for visitors on your land?

In addition to Mohegan Sun, which is located on reservation land, we have Fort Shantok on the banks of the Thames River. Fort Shantok is a place of tremendous historical significance for the Mohegan Tribe, hearkening back to the times of Chief Uncas in the 1600s. It is open to the public except during times of private tribal events. The land now includes recreational activity and outdoor gathering space, along with our tribal burial ground and a ceremonial sacred fire pit.

The Tantaquidgeon Museum is open to the public and located in Uncasville, near Mohegan Sun and our current tribal headquarters. It holds art and artifacts from the Mohegan Tribe and other Native Americans. It was established in 1931 by the Tantaquidgeon family.  

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

That's a complex question, but a simple answer is that we work together on a nation-to-nation footing, including participation in all tribal consultations with the federal government, much as all other federally recognized tribes do.

Cultural with Chief and Chairman
Chief Lynn Malerba (third from left) and Chairman Brown (sixth from left) with members of the Mohegan Cultural and Community Programs Department during a Connecticut state celebration of Native American heritage. Connecticut State Capitol, Hartford, Connecticut, 2013. 


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

I'd like to stress the importance for tribal youth to be involved in understanding the concept of sovereignty, the importance of effective self-governance, and the importance of sustaining our tribal culture. The value of these things cannot be overstated if we are to ensure the survival of our tribal identities. 

Thank you. 


All photographs are courtesy of the Mohegan Tribe, 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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October 31, 2014

Meet Native America: William H. Daisey, chief, Nanticoke 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, 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. 

I'm William H. Daisey, and my title is chief of the Nanticoke Indian Tribe

Can you share your name in your language, or tell us what it means? 

It's Thunder Eagle. 

Chief William H. Daisey
Chief William H. Daisey, Nanticoke Indian Tribe. Photo courtesy of the Nanticoke Indian Tribe. 

Where is your tribe located? 

Our community is centered in Millsboro, Delaware, where the Indian River widens into Indian River Bay.

Where was your Native nation originally from? 

We're from the Eastern Shore of Chesapeake Bay in what is now Maryland. 

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

In 1881 the Nanticoke community was recognized by the state of Delaware. The Nanticoke Indian Association received a charter of incorporation from Delaware in 1922.

How is your tribal government set up? 

We have a chief, assistant chief, and five councilpersons

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

No. 

How often are elected leaders chosen?

We hold elections every two years.

How often does your Tribal Council meet?

We meet once a month and hold special council meetings as needed.

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

I was taught to love and respect the Creator, the land, and my fellow man. I attended many gathering and ceremonies with my elders, which gave me the opportunity to have a greater understanding of our tribe's heritage, culture and the hardships people endured. I am a journeyman in over eight different trades and have over 35 years of supervisory experience acquired in private industry and the public school system. I served on the council for several years and as assistant chief before I was elected as chief.

Nanticoke Powwow 2014
Chief Daisey at the 37th annual Nanticoke Indian Powwow in September 2014. Photo by Barbara Walls, courtesy of the Nanticoke Indian Tribe.

What responsibilities do you have as a tribal leader?

I have the responsibility to be a leader and move our tribe forward, to work with people in mutual respect toward obtaining some of the goals we want to reach. To maintain, protect, and preserve our culture and heritage. To maintain a good relationship with our sister tribes.

Who inspired you as a mentor?

My father, mother, uncle, and the many Native Americans leaders who struggled and sometimes died for us.

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

Yes, Dixon Coursey and John Coursey. Both were tribal leaders of the Nanticoke Tribe in Maryland before the migration to Delaware and the dispersal to the rest of the nation. 

Approximately how many members are in your tribe?

Approximately 3000.

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

You have to be no further removed from a Nanticoke member than father/mother, grandfather/grandmother, brother/sister, son/daughter or uncle/aunt who is a brother or sister to the applicant's father or mother, or great uncle/great aunt who is a brother or sister to the applicant's grandfather or grandmother.

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

The last person to speak the Nanticoke language fluently was Lydia Clark, who died in 1856. 

What annual events does the Nanticoke Tribe sponsor?

We have a powwow around Labor Day; a five-kilometer Unity Run, which is open to walkers, too; and a National Native American Heritage Day Celebration, which this year will be on Saturday, November 8.

Nanticoke Indian Museum
The Nanticoke Indian Museum in Millsboro, Delaware. A National Historic Landmark, the building originally housed the Harmon School for Nanticoke Children, founded in 1921. Photo reprinted under Creative Commons copyright.

What attractions are available for visitors on your land?  

We have the Nanticoke Indian Museum, which is housed in a former Nanticoke schoolhouse. This is the only Native American museum in Delaware, and it is listed by the federal government as a National Historic Landmark. Visitors can get a real taste of village life as they view the artifacts, some dating back to 8,000 B.C. There is also a stage with animals and skins that were indigenous to this area.

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

We are a state-recognized tribe, so we don't have the same sovereignty as federally recognized tribes. 

What message would you like to share with the youth of the Nanticoke Indian Tribe?

It is important to spend time learning and embracing our culture, history, traditions, and heritage. If you fail to assume that responsibility, you will be unable to protect and preserve our heritage, and it will be lost in the sands of time. 

Is there anything else you would like to add?

Thanks for the opportunity! 

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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October 24, 2014

Meet Native America: Daniel S. Collins Sr., Chairman, Shinnecock Indian Nation Council of Trustees

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. 

Akwe, my name is Daniel S. Collins Sr., and I am the chairman of the Shinnecock Indian Nation Council of Trustees.  

Chairman Collins
Daniel S. Collins Sr., chairman of the Shinnecock Indian Nation Council of Trustees. Photo by Beverly Jensen, courtesy of the Shinnecock Indian Nation.

Can you share with us your Shinnecock name? 

My mother gave me the name Eagle Feather after birth. 

Where is your community located?

The Shinnecock Indian Reservation is adjacent to the town of Southampton, on Long Island in New York. 

Where are the Shinnecock people originally from? 

The Shinnecock are referred to as the People of the Stony Shores. I believe that the air, land, and sea represent all that our bodies are made of. The air gives life, the land is a solid and forms the body, and water is the cycling process that sustains the body. All of these elements come together along the shore.

In a vision I had back sometime, I saw the waves rolling in onto the stony shores of Shinnecock. Each time the waves would break and begin to roll back out, a man and woman would evolve from the waves onto the shore. When the waves stopped, the shores were outlined as far as the eye could see east to west with beautiful brown-skinned human beings, known today as the Shinnecock, the People of the Stony Shores. Our people were put here by the Creator and have lived and survived here since time immemorial. 

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

First contact with early settlers sailing in to Conscious Point in 1640. The loss of ten Shinnecock men in the shipwreck of the Circassian in 1876. Most recently, I would have to say, our receiving federal recognition as the 565th Indian Nation, on October 1, 2010. These are just a few historical points, which outline how we have been here and our current-day status. 

How is your tribal government set up? 

Prior to December 2013, the government structure of the Shinnecock Nation consisted of a three-man Board of Trustees. The chairman was decided based upon who received the most votes. In December of 2013, we enacted the ratified Constitution of the Nation and a new Council of Trustees was elected consisting of a seven council members: chairman, vice chairman, treasurer, council secretary, General Council secretary, sachem (male elder), and sunksqua (female elder). The new Council of Trustees afforded the Shinnecock Nation the opportunity to elect two female councilors to serve for the first time in Shinnecock history. 


Shinnecock Nation Council of Trustees 2014
The Shinnecock Indian Nation Council of Trustees, 2014. Left to right, back row: D. Taobi Silva, treasurer; Eugene Cuffee II, sachem; Bradden Smith Sr., vice chairman; Daniel S. Collins Sr., chairman, and Bryan Polite, Council of Trustees secretary. Front row: Nichol Dennis-Banks, General Council secretary; and Lucille Bosley, sunksqua. Photo by Beverly Jensen, courtesy of the Shinnecock Indian Nation.


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

The sachem and sunksqua are members of the Council of Elders and provide spiritual guidance and act as peacekeepers. 

How often are elected leaders chosen? 

The last election was held in December. Until then, since 1792 the Shinnecock Nation held trustees elections every April on the first Tuesday. We are currently proposing staggered terms to ensure forward progress of the nation’s business endeavors with the newly elected and remaining trustees each year. 

How often does your tribal council meet? 

The Council of Trustees meets weekly. There is also a monthly meeting between the Council of Trustees and the General Council, which consist of all the enrolled community members. This is done to ensure community involvement and transparency. 

What responsibilities do you have as a Shinnecock leader? 

As a tribal leader, my role is to care for, defend, and protect the well being and safety of all tribal members, as well as all tribal property and assets. I'm also charged with maintaining current programs and resources while seeking additional resources that would improve upon the current process of working towards tribal self-sufficiency with no negative impact to our sovereignty. Public safety and cultural awareness are my major interests. 

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

First and foremost, the pride of being Shinnecock has always been the strength that guided me through all I have endured growing up until the present. Having the opportunity to move around the world in my younger days allowed for me to become very diverse and open-minded. My career in the military and in both municipal and tribal law enforcement exposed me to many situations involving people from many different backgrounds, cultures, and beliefs. Having held multiple leadership roles and positions throughout my entire career has grounded and prepared me well for the position to which I have been elected. 

Who inspired you as a mentor? 

I have been afforded the opportunity to work with many great leaders and mentor figures. My grandfather, Chief Thunderbird, was a great man. He loved his people and culture. He instilled the pride of Shinnecock in all of his family and tribal members. He was a forgiving man and a great educator. He maintained and expressed his passion and pride of Shinnecock through his role as ceremonial chief each year of his adult life at our annual powwow. He is my inspirational and honorable mentor. 

Are you a descendant of a historical leader? 

How do you define a historic leader—one that makes the history books? The fact that the Shinnecock people have been here on our traditional lands since time immemorial speaks to our all being descendants of great leaders. I will take this opportunity to honor my father, Avery Dennis Sr., Chief Eagle Eye, for his twenty years of service as a former tribal trustee, and to honor all who served and stood for our great nation. 

Approximately how many members are in your community? 

Total membership of the Shinnecock Indian Nation is approximately 1,600 enrolled members. 

What are the criteria to become a member? 

Criteria for enrollment are outlined in our nation’s Enrollment Ordinance adopted by the General Council, which is in line with the federal recognition process. 

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

Our people, the Shinnecock, lost the use of our language in the early days. It was deemed inappropriate by the settlers, and our ancestors actually were punished for using our language. After thirty years of research, today we are bringing our language back through language classes, and many of our adults and children who participate are able to speak in complete sentences. It is really inspiring and represents a true testament that we are not going away. We are regaining our strength and place here in our home, the woodlands and stony shores of eastern Long Island—Shinnecock USA. 

What economic enterprises does your nation own? 

The Shinnecock Nation recently initiated the pursuit of cigarette distribution, which would benefit the community by enhancing our education and health programs. We are pursuing several other potential economic endeavors, pending General Council input and approval.  

What annual events does your community sponsor? 

Our nation holds several events annually. For most of them, we extend invitations to our relative tribal nations and local guests. Annually we celebrate a fall Thanksgiving Nunnowa Feast (on the Thursday before national Thanksgiving Day) and a spring tribal gathering referred to as June Meeting (the first Sunday of June). Our main sponsored event is our powwow. For the past 68 years, we have gathered in celebration of the life and pride of Native America. This celebration brings together representatives from over five hundred tribal nations. It takes place on Labor Day weekend on our historic Powwow Grounds. We love our powwow! 

Shinnecock Nation Powwow a
The 67th Annual Shinnecock Powwow, 2013: Members of the Board of Trustees lead the Grand Entry. From left to right: Taobi Silva, Daniel S. Collins Sr., and Eugene Cuffee II. Photo by Beverly Jensen, courtesy of the Shinnecock Indian Nation.


What other attractions are available for visitors on your land?

The Shinnecock Indian Nation is home to the Shinnecock Nation Cultural Center and Museum. The museum recently opened Wikun Village—an outdoor, traditional Shinnecock village—to offer physical education and the experience of the way we lived historically. The museum is open year round and is a must-see if you ever have a chance to visit. 

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

We understand that the Shinnecock Indian Nation needs to be a neighbor in good faith with the surrounding communities and states, whose friendship we embrace. The U.S. government has a trust responsibility to all Native nations, and we hold them to that. Shinnecock has always been a sovereign nation. As the 565th federally recognized tribe, we honor the government-to-government relationship that has been established with the United States. We trust that the United States will provide the resources and protections as stated in all applicable federal laws, codes, and regulations. We honor all of our Native veterans and especially those who paid the ultimate price for our freedom under the U.S. flag. 

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

To our youth I say: Be proud of who you are, no matter where you are. Teach others about who you are and your culture and tradition. Have a dream and hold on to it; know that everything is possible and achievable. Respect yourself and your elders; learn from positive mentors and role models in your community and abroad. Always give back to your community by doing your part to develop the generations that follow. Always remember that you are loved and that you matter! 

Is there anything else you would like to add? 

I would like to thank you for affording me this honorable opportunity to share with you! Tabutne (thank you). 

Thank you.

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October 10, 2014

Meet Native America: James Roger Madalena (Jemez Pueblo), New Mexico State Representative

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 

James Roger Madalena 1
New Mexico State Representative James Roger Madalena, New Mexico Legislature. Photo courtesy of the New Mexico Legislature.

Please introduce yourself with your name and title. 

James Roger Madalena, State Representative, New Mexico Legislature.

What is your Native community?

I'm from Jemez Pueblo. It's tribal name is Walatowa, which means Place of Peace.

Where is your community located? 

In central New Mexico, 50 miles northwest of Albuquerque.

Where was your community originally from? 

We were from northwest New Mexico, in the Mesa Verde Area and Chaco Canyon Area.

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

It's the loss of our aboriginal acreage. Under both the Spanish and American governments, our lands of more than 200,000 acres of mountains, meadows, streams were reduced to a mere 98,000 acres of dry, rolling hills of sand, sagebrush, and cedar.

How is your Native community government set up? Is there a functional, traditional entity of leadership in addition to your modern government system?

We have two branches: One is the Secular Branch, where the governor, lieutenant governor(s), tribal sheriff, and their five aides deal with day-to-day outside issues. We also have the Traditional Branch, where our war captain, lieutenant war captain, and their five aides deal with traditional activities and functions. Our fiscale, lieutenant fiscale, and their five aides deal with Christian church issues, deaths and burials, and some other traditional issues.

How are leaders chosen? 

We are a non-constitutional tribe—our leaders are appointed annually by our highest traditional leaders. All the positions mentioned above are appointed.

How often does your Tribal Council meet? 

Our Tribal Council meets at least once a month; our Traditional Branch Council meets once a year at year-end to make appointments for leadership. 

What responsibilities do you have as a state representative? 

I represent the interest of seven pueblos in Sandoval County; two Navajo Nation chapters in Sandoval County as well; the Jicarilla Nation in Rio Arriba County; and two Navajo chapters in San Juan County. Sixty-eight to 70 percent of my constituents are Native; the remaining 30 percent are a mixture of Anglo, Hispanic, and other.

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

Having good, responsible parents is first. I had a personal interest in education and opted out of trade school to get a college degree in sociology and political Science.

Who inspired you as a mentor? 

My only mentors were my grandpa Joe Madalena and my dad, Frank Madalena. The rest of my motivation was my interest in the fields of politics and sociology.

Are you a descendant of a historical leader? 

No, I am not.

Approximately how many members are in the Pueblo of Jemez? 

Enrolled membership is over 3,000 people. Half of those citizens reside within the pueblo; the other half are scattered. 

What are the criteria to become a member of your Native community? 

A person must have one-quarter Towa Indian blood.

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

I'm proud to say that the Towa language is strong, and our youth are being taught the language at an early age within their homes as well as in Head Start

Walatowa Visitor Center
The Walatowa Visitor Center and Museum of History and Culture offers information on Towa life and traditions, tours of the Jemez Red Rocks, and works by contemporary Jemez artists. Photo courtesy of the Walatowa Visitor Center.

What economic enterprises does your Native community own? 

Location being location, Jemez Pueblo only has a small convenience store and gas station. There is also the Walatowa Visitors Center, and tourists do stop by to see our small museum and handicrafts.

What annual events does your Native community sponsor? 

During warm months, the pueblo will sponsor the Jemez Red Rocks Arts and Crafts Fair; and there is a Veterans Social on Veterans Day.

What attractions are available for visitors on your land? 

New Mexico State Road 4, which passes through the pueblo, is a recognized National Scenic Byway heading north to our traditional mountains where there is fishing, camping, hiking, hunting, and picnicking in campgrounds. Our most traditional site is Redondo Peak and the Valles Caldera, and visitors can enjoy seeing hundreds and thousands of elk and deer as they come down from higher elevations to feed by the stream in the evenings.

Along NM Rt 4
Cottonwoods turn yellow in October along New Mexico State Road 4, a National Scenic Byway that leads to the mountains north of Jemez Pueblo. Photo courtesy of the Walatowa Visitor Center.


How does your Native community deal with the U.S. as a sovereign nation? 

Jemez Pueblo has a government-to-government relationship contracting most programs under PL 93-638. The Pueblo knows its needs better than someone up the bureaucratic level.

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

As Natives, partake of community dances and ceremonials. Practice and strengthen your minds and bodies from your surroundings. 

As Native youth, you also need to involve yourselves in civic and political functions. Once you are in the process, study and learn your colleagues' behaviors on issues, how people react and how they handle themselves through trial and stress. Learn how people handle themselves in forums, gatherings, and formal settings. Learn from them by being calm and collected and patient. Such is growth and success in the long run.

Is there anything else you would like to add? 

Just a few words of thanks and appreciation for an opportunity convey my 40 years in the field of politics. New Mexico is one of only two or three states governed by a citizens’ legislature. We are not salaried, and my whole life has been dedicated to public service. Seeing the light at the end of the tunnel, I am proud to have been of service to the most neglected and needy—our Native American population—and to have done so without being an insurgent and or radical. 

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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As Natives, partake of community dances and ceremonials. Practice and strengthen your minds and bodies from your surroundings.

nice post