January 08, 2016

Meet Native America: Francis Gray, Tribal Chairman of the Piscataway Conoy 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  

Sen. Campbell and Chariman Gray, NCAI 2015
Sen. Ben Nighthorse Campbell (Northern Cheyenne) and Piscataway Conoy Tribal Chairman Francis Gray at the Tribal Leader Reception during the White House Tribal Nations Conference. 

Please introduce yourself with your name and title.

My name is Francis Gray (Bear Clan), the eldest son of Charles and Regina Gray. I am currently the Tribal Chairman of the Piscataway Conoy Tribe.

Can you share your Native name and its English translation, or your nickname? 

I have yet to receive a Piscataway name. When I do, it will be determined by how I exhibit my character within our tribal community. 

Where is your tribal community located? 

Currently our main core is located within the southern region of Maryland in Charles, Prince Georges, St. Mary’s, and Calvert counties.

Where is your tribe originally from? 

We are the people from where the waters blend. This encompasses all of the area on the western shore of the Chesapeake Bay from our northern boundary of the Patapsco River watershed (just south of Baltimore) extending south and west to the Potomac River watershed (to include the Virginia, District of Columbia, and Maryland tributary creeks) and west to the foothills of the Appalachian Mountains.

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

January 9, 2012, the date of the official re-establishment of the Piscataway Conoy people with the State of Maryland. Some people like to refer it as recognition. However, we have always been here, so that day actually reflects when our people and the State of Maryland reinvigorated a relationship that began over 300 years ago. This historic relationship is well documented in Maryland's rich history. 

We, the Piscataway Conoy Tribe, formally revived our official, duly elected Tribal Council as our governing body and reinstituted a government-to-government relationship with Maryland. Today the Piscataway Conoy people continue to embrace our culture and traditional values. 

How is your tribal government set up? 

We have a Tribal Council made up of a seven members elected by our people based upon a democratic process. 

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

Yes, we have traditional Clan Mothers and an Elders Council, as well. 

How often does your Tribal Council meet? 

The Tribal Council meets on a monthly basis. 

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

As a young man, I was instilled with strong principles while growing up in our community—knowing who you are and where you came from and making those important connections of culture and relationships that define the Piscataway Conoy people. While traveling up and down the East Coast with my family, I interacted with other tribal nations and took part in the Trail of Self-Determination and the Longest Walk during the 1970s, to name a few important events.

I also witnessed the removal of a cinderblock structure that was built over one of our ancestral ossuaries located on National Park land. Inside this cinderblock structure, visitors could look through windows and view the bones of my ancestors which lay upon the ground. Schoolchildren and tourists would come and view these remains. In 1976, our tribal leadership requested that the National Park Service tear down this structure, and our demand was granted. The National Park Service demolished the blockhouse in the summer of 1976, and my elders reinterred the remains back into the ossuary.

These life experiences bring me here today.

What responsibilities do you have as tribal chairman? 

I am responsible for bringing about positive change and moving the tribe forward while at the same time preserving our history. It is my focus to ensure the betterment of the tribe by making certain that the development of cultural awareness is a priority and to sustain a strong governing structure for our tribe’s present and future. 

Who inspired you as a mentor? 

Wow, naming just a few would not be justified as there are so many who have played important roles throughout different phases of my life. I can say my elders are my mentors, as well as other tribal leaders throughout Indian Country; I am honored and humbled by their being here with me. There is a constant theme as we progress through life that we must stand up and carry on what the elders have provided. We must protect it so that their efforts were and are not in vain.

Approximately how many members are in your tribe? 

There are approximately 3,000 enrolled tribal members today. 

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

The criteria to become a tribal member are based upon genealogy. The Elders Council has a stringent process that determines one's eligibility. 

What economic enterprises does your tribe own? 

We currently do not have any economic enterprises, but we are working towards such endeavors. There are many Piscataway Conoy people who own successful businesses in almost every industry. 

What annual events does your tribe sponsor? 

We host several internal, cultural ceremonies, including the a Seed Gathering in early spring, a Feast from the Waters in early summer, and a Green Corn Festival in late summer, and we finish off our year paying tribute and celebrating our elders (Elders Dinner). When we are contacted, we also host many tribal nations coming to the Washington area from as far away as Hawaii. 


 

Francis Gray, 125th Anniversary of Indian HeadChairman Gray holding a ceramic bowl made by his ancestors and dating to between 2500 and 3000 BC. Archaeological surveys show that Native peoples have lived in the area for more than 10,000 years. Celebration marking the 125th anniversary of the establishment of the Naval Support Facility at Indian Head, September 2015, Charles County, Maryland. 

What attractions are available for visitors on your land? 

There are a few attractions all within an hour-and-a half drive south of Washington. Jefferson Patterson Park on the south end of the Patuxent River in Calvert County, Maryland, displays a Piscataway Conoy villageHistoric St. Mary’s City, in St. Mary's County, also has a Piscataway Conoy village. Piscataway Park in Accokeek, Maryland, is only a half hour south of Washington in Prince Georges County. These are a few of the attractions that are rich in our culture. 

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

Our interaction with the federal government has always been somewhat schizophrenic. At times our tribe received federal funding for instituting Indian education programs in the local county school systems. In the past we have received job placement grants to help reduce the unemployment rate in our community and to teach our members marketable employment skills. And we received grants to help address other needs within our tribal community. Our individual tribal members have been eligible to receive federal funding for college scholarships based upon both need and merit. Then, administrations changed and the eligibility criteria in federal programs became more restrictive, creating a situation in which we have less direct interface than at other times during our recent history. 

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

I would want to ensure that our youth truly understand all of the efforts that generations of our ancestors expended to retain our identity and culture as Native people. When I was growing up in our historical homeland in southern Maryland, like many generations of Piscataway Conoy before me, we were a third race in a two-race society. Prior to the Civil Rights movement of the 1960s, we had little opportunity to tell our story. As a tribe we were not included in official state demographics. But our ancestors persevered in the face of this onslaught upon our identity. 

I want our youth to know that following the traditional ways for over 13,000 years has sustained our tribe over the last 400 years of European, Colonial, and American control. I want our youth to know that learning, practicing, and embracing the traditional ways will be our path to a brighter future. 

Is there anything else you would like to add? 

As tribal hosts to indigenous nations who visit our historical homeland (which includes Washington and the Smithsonian's National Museum of the American Indian), the Piscataway Conoy people are proud to see Native people from the Western Hemisphere come to this area and experience the beauty of the natural world here. My ancestors enjoyed and preserved this part of the world for so many thousands of years. As tribal people, we no longer have physical control over our historic homelands, but we retain the stories, the legends, and the relationships with the lands and waters that make us who we are today, "The People from Where Waters Blend." 

Thank you. 

Thank you. 


Photos courtesy of the Piscataway Conoy Tribe, 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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I love the interview Mr. Francis Gray gave. I came to know a lot about his tribe from his interview.

December 27, 2015

Wounded Knee: Healing the Wounds of the Past

Tuesday, December 29, 2015, marks the 125th anniversary of the Massacre at Wounded Knee, a "sad and horrible event" Native and non-Native Americans still struggle to comprehend. This article, by historian Mark Hirsch, was first published in American Indian, the membership magazine of the Smithsonian’s National Museum of the American Indian. 

 

Man's shirt 120001

Man's shirt, probably Hunkpapa Lakota, ca. 1875. North Dakota. Deerhide, wool cloth, porcupine quills, human hair, pigments, dyes; 105 x 151 x 6 cm. Said to have been owned by a member of Sitting Bull's band; collected from the owner ca. 1890 by General William Passmore Carlin (1829–1903), commander at Fort Yates, North Dakota. NMAI 12/1. Photo by Katherine Fogden (Mohawk), NMAI 


The winter wind blows cold along Wounded Knee Creek, which threads the badlands and prairies of southwestern South Dakota. This is hallowed ground for the Sioux Nation—a powerful place of sorrow, remembrance, and healing. Here, on December 29, 1890, some 300 of their ancestors—men, women, and children—were killed by soldiers of the Seventh Cavalry. 

Memories of the Massacre at Wounded Knee have always run deep in Lakota Country. For survivors and their families, the event was a slaughter of innocents. For others, Wounded Knee was a battle—“the last major armed encounter between Indians and whites in North America,” according to historian Robert Utley.

Dee Brown demolished that notion in 1970, when he published Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee. The book, which sold five million copies, describes the opening of the American West from the perspective of Native people. Brown’s narrative struck a chord with readers, and reminded the world that indigenous people paid dearly for the fulfillment of America’s “Manifest Destiny.” 

SIcangu Lakota woman's dress 210969

Sicangu Lakota (Brulé SIoux) woman's dress, ca. 1880. South Dakota. Wool cloth, glass beads, dentalium shells, ribbon, sequins, thread; 128 x 135 cm. NMAI 21/969. Photo by Ernest Amoroso, NMAI 

Most accounts of the massacre end on the killing fields, but there is another, living history of Wounded Knee. That story is about the survivors’ and their descendants’ struggles to memorialize the dead, seek reparations for lost loved ones, and heal the wounds of the past. Theirs is a story about reclaiming history and, in so doing, turning darkness into light.

Lakotas were ready for a message of hope in the late 1800s. The buffalo were gone, and treaties with the United States reduced the Lakotas’ homelands. The Fort Laramie Treaty of 1868 created the Great Sioux Reservation, 26 million acres encompassing all of what would later become the state of South Dakota west of the Missouri River. In 1877, the U.S. confiscated the gold-rich Black Hills, 7.3 million acres located within the Great Sioux Reservation. Eight years later, the Great Sioux Reservation was carved into several smaller reservations, and the remaining lands, some nine million acres, were opened to white settlement. The seven Lakota bands—the Brule (or Sicangu), Oglala, Minneconjou, Two Kettle, Hunkpapa, Sans Arc, and Blackfeet—were confined to the Pine Ridge, Rosebud, Cheyenne River, Standing Rock, Crow Creek, and Lower Brule reservations, where life was hard and food scarce.

Turtle 67931
Lakota umbilical charm in the form of a turtle, ca. 1880. Standing Rock Reservation. Hide, glass beads, metal cones, feathers; 15 x 16 x 4 cm. NMAI 6/7931 

Hope came from a Paiute holy man from Nevada. Wovoka envisioned a beautiful world in which the living would be reunited with the dead. The buffalo would return, and life would return to what it was before the arrival of the Europeans. Wovoka’s message generated a new religious movement, the Ghost Dance, which spread throughout Sioux Country. Many Lakotas left their homes and converged on the Stronghold, an isolated plateau in the badlands of southwest South Dakota. Wearing special shirts, which some believed would deflect bullets, they danced to hasten the coming of the new world. 

The Ghost Dance unsettled local officials, alarmed at the sight of the Sioux uniting once again. At Pine Ridge, the Indian agent responsible for managing day-to-day reservation affairs wired Washington for protection. In response, more than half the U.S. Army was sent, including the Seventh Cavalry—Lt. Col. George Armstrong Custer’s unit, which had been obliterated at the Battle of the Little BigHorn, 14 years before. 

The presence of troops worried Chief Big Foot, leader of the Minneconjou Lakota. Big Foot had ridden in battle with Sitting Bull, and his people’s acceptance of the Ghost Dance stoked fears that his band was ready for war. Fearing for his people’s safety, Big Foot and his band left their camp on the Cheyenne River in central South Dakota and trekked southward over 200 miles off rigid prairie toward the Pine Ridge Reservation, where Chief Red Cloud had invited them to seek refuge. They were intercepted by—and surrendered to—army troops, who escorted them to Wounded Knee Creek, some 45 miles south of the Stronghold. That night, Big Foot’s band of 106 warriors and roughly 250 women and children made camp, surrounded by 470 soldiers. Four Hotchkiss cannons, capable of firing 50 two-pound explosive shells per minute, were installed on a hillside overlooking the camp. 

Girl's dress 162323
Sicangu  Lakota (Brulé SIoux) girl's dress, ca. 1890. South Dakota. Hide, glass beads, metal cones, sinew; 58 x 64 x 6 cm. NMAI 16/2323

The next day, Seventh Cavalry Commander James Forsyth ordered Big Foot’s people to surrender their weapons. Suddenly a gun was fired and the soldiers began shooting. Half the men were killed in the first five minutes. Women and children were riddled with shrapnel. People ran, but the soldiers pursued them. Bodies were later discovered three miles from camp. When the smoke cleared, 146 men, women, and children lay dead. Others perished from their wounds or froze to death in the hills. Some 31 soldiers died, many from friendly fire. 

Looters quickly stripped the bodies of Ghost Dance shirts and other possessions, which were sold to collectors and museums. Photographers canvassed the corpse-ridden fields, and sold their photos as postcards. Advertisements said they were “just the thing to send to your friends back east.” On January 1, the bodies were buried in a mass grave. Later, 27 leaders of the Ghost Dance were imprisoned at Fort Sheridan, Illinois, and then released into the custody of Buffalo Bill Cody, who featured them in his Wild West show. By agreeing to go on tour, the Ghost Dancers were spared lengthy prison terms. From 1891 to 1895, the U.S. awarded 18 Medals of Honor to soldiers who served at the “Battle of Wounded Knee.”

Baby's cap 122254
Lakota baby's cap, ca. 1900. Standing Rock Reservation. Hide, cotton cloth, porcupine quills, aniline dyes, satin ribbon, sinew, cotton thread; 22 x 15 x 5 cm. NMAI 12/2254

After the massacre, survivors vowed to honor the memory of the dead. In 1901, they founded the Wounded Knee Survivors Association, which continues today. Original members included Dewey Beard (Minneconjou Lakota)—the last survivor of the Battle of the Little Big Horn—and Joseph Horn Cloud (Minneconjou Lakota), whose father, Chief Horn Cloud (Minneconjou Lakota), died at Wounded Knee. The two raised money for a monument that was erected near the mass grave in 1905. The association also pushed for Congressional hearings to compensate members of Big Foot’s Band, who, as “hostiles,” were disqualified from receiving monies under the Sioux Depredations Act of 1891. Hearings were held in 1939, 1975, 1990, and 1991, but no compensation was made. 

In 1986, members of the Oglala Sioux Tribe began to make an arduous, 13-day pilgrimage on horseback to commemorate the massacre. The annual Big Foot Memorial Ride, begun in 1986, retraces the route taken by Chief Big Foot and his people on their fateful journey to Pine Ridge in 1890. 

Alex White Plume (Oglala Lakota), former president of the Oglala Sioux Tribe and one of the original organizers of the Big Foot Memorial Ride, told a Congressional committee that the purpose of the ride in 1990 was to “mark the end of 100 years of mourning,” and to release the spirits of Chief Big Foot and his people “in accordance with sacred Lakota principles.” In recent years, the memorial ride has become a means for renewal—a way of teaching younger generations about their history and their cultural responsibilities. 

In a hearing before the Senate Select Committee on Indian Affairs, White Plume declared: “The United States needs to admit that its soldiers were wrong at Wounded Knee when they killed and wounded unarmed men, women, and children.” He urged the government to “make a meaningful apology for the 1890 Massacre and establish a national monument and memorial at the mass grave site.” 

Dyani White Hawk 269334Dyani White Hawk (Sicangu Lakota), Untitled, 2014. St. Paul, Minnesota. Acrylic, oil, size 15 beads, thread on canvas; 35.6 x 35.6 cm. NMAI 26/9334

Finally, on the 100th anniversary of the massacre, the U.S. Congress expressed “deep regret to the Sioux people and in particular to the descendants of the victims and survivors of this terrible tragedy. . . .” Although Congress defined the event as a massacre, the absence of the word “apology” and unwillingness to fund a memorial to the victims have miffed many. Interest in the creation of a national monument and for the rescission of the soldiers’ Medals of Honor continues. 

The Wounded Knee Survivors Association has also successfully advocated for the repatriation of objects pilfered from their ancestors’ bodies. Mario Gonzalez (Oglala Lakota), former attorney for the survivors’ association, brokered a deal to repatriate objects held by a library in Barre, Massachusetts. The collection, which included locks of hair believed to belong to Chief Big Foot, was replaced with replicas crafted by traditional Lakota artists. 

The survivors’ association also asked the Kelvingrove Art Gallery and Museum in Glasgow, Scotland, to repatriate a Ghost Dance shirt acquired in 1892 from a member of Buffalo Bill’s Wild West show. In 1999, the shirt was returned at a special ceremony at Pine Ridge. “The spirit of the man that wore that shirt is smiling down,” survivors’ association member Orville Sully (Oglala Lakota) told BBC News. Marcella LeBeau (Two Kettle Band/Cheyenne River Sioux) agreed: “This will bring about a sense of closure to a sad and horrible event. Now healing can begin.” 

—Mark Hirsch

Mark Hirsch is a historian in the Scholarship Group of the Smithsonian's National Museum of the American Indian in Washington, D.C.

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December 18, 2015

Meet Native America: Jeromy Sullivan, Chairman, Port Gamble S'Klallam 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 Jeromy Sullivan
Chairman Jeromy Sullivan, Port Gamble S'Klallam Tribe.

Please introduce yourself with your name and title.

Jeromy Sullivan. I'm chairman of the Port Gamble S'Klallam Tribe.

Can you share your Native name and its English translation, or your nickname? 

I don’t have a Native name. It isn’t something my family has done. Only a few Port Gamble S'Klallam families on the reservation have gone through the ceremony. This is an issue of lost culture: It’s almost impossible to practice your culture when you aren’t allowed to have any, as was the case during the periods of forced assimilation. 

Where is your tribal community located?

The Port Gamble S'Klallam Reservation is located on the northern tip of the Kitsap Peninsula in Washington state. Our reservation was established in 1938.

Where is your tribe originally from?

The Port Gamble S'Klallam were originally known as the Nux Sklai Yem or Strong People. We are the descendants of the Salish people who have been well established in the Puget Sound basin and surrounding areas since 2400 B.C.

Before explorers and settlers arrived to the Pacific Northwest, there were S'Klallam villages scattered throughout the Olympic Peninsula. Our oral history tells us that one of our most important settlements was located on the shores of Port Gamble Bay, which, in the S'Klallam language, is known as Noo-Kayet. Today the site of that ancestral village, called Teekalet, is located across the bay from our reservation in the town of Port Gamble.

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

In 1853 the Port Gamble Mill was established by the Puget Mill Company at the S'Klallam village of Teekalet. For a time my ancestors lived on the spit adjacent to Port Gamble Bay, but soon they were moved across the water to an area we know today as Point Julia. Oral history tells us that my tribal ancestors agreed to move away from their established village in exchange for enough lumber for each family to build a home and jobs as long as the mill remained operational.

This agreement would shape the lives of the Port Gamble S'Klallam people forever. Many Port Gamble S'Klallam families can trace back several generations who worked full time at the mill. Tribal historians estimate that, conservatively, in the mill’s 142 years of operation, Port Gamble S'Klallam members worked the equivalent of 500 years. While the mill displaced the S'Klallam people from a key settlement, it also strangely kept us together. While other tribes scattered with the industrialization of America, the Port Gamble S'Klallam stayed relatively intact because, in part, of the employment opportunities available through the mill.

After 142 years of operation, the mill shut its doors in 1995. It remains the longest operating sawmill in U.S. history—in no small part due to the work of my tribe!

Unfortunately, during the mill’s tenure, it also deposited untold levels of woody debris and toxic sentiments into Port Gamble Bay, which is an irreplaceable fishing and shellfish harvesting area for the Port Gamble S'Klallams.

Twenty years after the mill’s closing, the Department of Ecology has negotiated with Pope Resources, the company liable for the mill’s actions, to clean up Port Gamble Bay. Work began this fall and signifies a huge milestone for my tribe. While our ancestral villages can never be restored, this cleanup will ensure that our tribal members will be able to practice their treaty rights for generations to come.

How is your tribal government set up?

In 1992, the Port Gamble S'Klallam Tribe became one of the first self-governing tribes in the United States and has since assumed control of its Bureau of Indian Affairs and Indian Health Service programs. By being in control of these programs, we have been able to expand and improve services to our tribal members. For example, we were the first tribe in Washington state to introduce a program of Temporary Assistance to Needy Families (TANF), and we were also the first tribe in the nation to be able to offer independent foster care, adoption, and guardianship services.

Our tribal government is divided into two branches: Tribal Government Administration and Tribal Government Services. A six-member Tribal Council, which includes my position as chairman, governs the tribe.

HHS secretary meeting at Port Gamble House of Knowledge

U.S. Secretary of Health and Human Services (HHS) Sylvia Mathews Burwell meets with tribal leaders. August 2014, Port Gamble S'Klallam Reservation, Washington. From left to right: Brian Cladoosby, chairman of the Swinomish Indian Tribal Community and president of the National Congress of American Indians; Dr. Yvette Roubideaux (Rosebud Sioux), director of the Indian Health Service (IHS) from 2009 to 2015; Andy Joseph Jr., councilman, Confederated Tribes of the Colville Reservation; Secretary Burwell; Chairman Sullivan; Susan Johnson, HHS regional director; Liz Mueller, vice chair, Jamestown S'Klallam Tribe; Leonard Forsman, chairman, Suquamish Tribe; Frances G. Charles, chairwoman, Lower Elwha Klallam Tribe; JooYeun Chang, associate commissioner of the HHS Children's Bureau from 2013 to 2015. Secretary Burwell used the occasion, her first tribal visit as head of HHS, to learn about the Port Gamble S'Klallam Tribe’s foster care program and health initiatives, as well. 

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

While we don’t have an official, sanctioned traditional leadership entity, like a chief, there are certainly hierarchies of people within the community we trust to counsel on issues of culture or tradition. In some cases when people within our own community have lacked the knowledge of traditional ceremonies, we have turned to other tribes for this information. This has included the re-introduction of lost songs, which have had to be re-gifted to my tribe. This ties back in to the loss of culture that was forced upon Native tribes during periods of assimilation.

How often are elected leaders chosen?

Tribal Council and chair positions are open for election every two years. An election is held every year for three council positions. These positions alternate with the other three annually.

How often does your Tribal Council meet?

Our Tribal Council meets every other Monday for day-long sessions. Special sessions are called as necessary.

What responsibilities do you have as tribal leader?

I take seriously my role as a tribal leader, which includes being an ambassador for the tribe to the outside world. Storytelling is a key aspect of our culture, and a part of my job is to tell the story of the Port Gamble S'Klallam. I also have a responsibility from those who came before me, including past leaders and our elders. It is my job to take their counsel to make sure I’m making the best decisions for my tribe.

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

My previous job experience played a big role in how I lead today. I worked for nine years at the Bingo Hall. This job was very social and helped me come out of my shell. I was very shy and didn’t talk much before starting at the Bingo Hall, where I was forced to work with the public and learn how to communicate.

After that job, I started working in Information Technology for my tribe. That was an eye-opening experience, as I worked with every single department and got to hear about all the various issues. That gave me a much more detailed understanding of everything my tribe is responsible for when it comes to taking care of its community.

Of course, I would also hear from my friends, family, and neighbors about their frustrations, and I encourage that kind of feedback today. Transparency is very important to this community, and that’s why I ran for Tribal Council 11 years ago—I felt like I could do a good job at that.

Who inspired you as a mentor?

My mentors have evolved throughout different phases of my life. My mom taught me about tribal issues. My dad is a good family leader. There have also been many members of my extended family who have taught me important life lessons.

Jake Jones and Ron Charles are former council members who have always been willing to give me their counsel when needed. Within the community, there are those who are spiritual leaders and people that are just all-around good people whose advice I seek.

Are you a descendant of a historical leader? 

No, I am not the descendant of a historical leader.

Approximately how many members are in your tribe?

The Port Gamble S'Klallam have approximately 1200 members.

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

Enrollment into the Port Gamble S'Klallam is open to all persons of Indian blood who are descended from a member of the base roll and are of one-eighth degree or more Port Gamble S'Klallam Indian Blood.

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

The Klallam language was almost lost due, in large part, to more than a generation of our people being removed from their homes and placed into boarding schools.  

The situation grew so dire that by 1990 there were only eight people who could speak the Klallam language. In 1992 our sister tribe, the Lower Elwha Klallams, began transcribing tapes dating back to 1953 that included conversations with native speakers. This was the first step in revitalizing the language, and Lower Elwha has made huge strides since then with Klallam being taught at their local high school. Over 200 students have taken advantage of these classes since 1999.

As we had no elders left who were fluent in the language, Lower Elwha shared their knowledge and curriculum with us so we could set up a certification system that has allowed members of our tribe to learn the language and begin teaching others. Today we begin teaching Klallam words and phrases to our children during their earliest on-reservation educational experiences.

What economic enterprises does your tribe own?

The Noo-Kayet Development Corporation is an agency of the Port Gamble S'Klallam Tribe and is responsible for economic development and managing established enterprises. These include:

  • The Point Casino, which we remodeled in 2012 and which now features three restaurants, a cigar bar, and an events center;
  • Gliding Eagle Marketplace, a convenience store, deli, and gas station complex located on the reservation that does business with people from all over the area; and
  • Heronswood, a renowned botanical garden in Kingston, Washington.

The tribe purchased Heronswood in 2012 and set about trying to restore it to its original state after more than a decade of neglect. Currently the Port Gamble S'Klallam Foundation, our tribe’s nonprofit entity, is in charge of the garden’s management. While the money it earns right now goes back to support restoration and maintenance activities related to the garden, we may eventually offer Heronswood as a wedding venue, or host classes and other special events.

We also just broke ground on a new hotel, which will be built adjacent to our casino. The new complex will be called The Point Casino and Hotel. The hotel will be four stories and will include 94 rooms, meeting space, an outdoor courtyard with a kitchen and fire pit, and a restaurant called The Point Julia Café.

It took several years of planning to come up with a final hotel design that would meet our needs, satisfy those from all the communities we serve and work with, and be reflective of our tribe’s culture and values. This project does just that. We’re especially excited about the art elements throughout, including an outdoor, four-story “paddles up” welcoming statue, totem poles throughout the courtyard, and elements that represent tribal life and the natural world in each of the guest rooms.

PGST Point Hotel groundbreaking

Chairman Sullivan (fourth from left, wearing a red shirt) with colleagues on the Port Gamble S'Klallam Tribal Council and members of the economic development team at the groundbreaking for The Point Hotel. September 2015, Kingston, Washington. 

What community events does your tribe sponsor?

We sponsor several community events, including the Strong Families Fair, which provides an opportunity for our tribal departments to interact with community members.

We also host an annual S'Klallam gathering to recognize new youth royalty and, in 2012, after more than a generation, we began to host an annual Return of the Salmon ceremony, which integrates the old traditions with some new ones, like a fishing derby.

Throughout the year, we also host a number of clambakes, informational meetings, celebrations, and other events.

What attractions are available for visitors on your land?

Our tribe is one of the favorite stops on the Canoe Journey. We’re known as great hosts, and everyone is invited—those on the journey, their family and friends, and whoever else might like to attend, tribal and non-tribal alike. We’re very proud to have people come visit our lands.

While we don’t have a lot of tourist activities on the reservation, we welcome visitors who want to come to our campus to take a look at our Longhouse, where we also host a number of events.

Our tribally run entities, The Point Casino and Heronswood, are also very popular with visitors.

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

We see the federal government as our partners and we collaborate well together. Of course we do have times when we disagree, and there are some issues we work better together on than others. For example, they have always been encouraging of our efforts surrounding supporting our tribal families. We may hit potholes in coming up with solutions, but they aren’t insurmountable.

A part of the reason our relationship is so strong is because we have learned to be clear with what’s important to our tribe. For example our strong voice on treaty rights has helped the federal government understand the importance of this issue to our tribe and that we will not back down from protecting these rights.

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

Participate and learn about your community. Listen to your elders and the people with experience. You may not agree with what they say or even follow their advice, but you need to listen because they have the wisdom of experience.

Our kids also need to remember that hard work is key to getting what you want and need, not just for yourself, but also for your community.

Thank you. 

Thank you. 


Photos courtesy of the Port Gamble S'Klallam 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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December 17, 2015

The Indian Arts and Crafts Board: The Seeganna Family

Ninety-five miles west of Nome, Alaska, in the Bering Sea is King Island, home to a group of Inupiat known as Ugiuvangmiut or King Islanders.[1] In the 1900s economic opportunities on the mainland drew many island residents to Nome. Ugiuvangmiut would winter on the island to hunt walrus and seal and leave for the mainland in the summertime to fish and sell arts and crafts to tourists. In 1959 the Bureau of Indian Affairs closed the only school on King Island for fear of a rock slide.[2] Afterwards more Ugiuvangmiut moved to Nome but maintained seasonal residences on the island. Today King Island is considered uninhabited, but the community is recognized as a distinct Alaska Native village corporation with 206 shareholders.[3]

256097 Standing Walrus
Louis Seeganna (Ugiuvangmiut Inupiaq, 1916–74), Standing Walrus. 1968. Driftwood, baleen, ivory; 35 x 10 cm. Acquired by Indian Arts and Crafts Board representatives when the artist was employed as an IACB arts and crafts assistant at Sitka, Alaska. Indian Arts and Crafts Board Collection, Department of the Interior, at the National Museum of the American Indian, Smithsonian Institution. NMAI 25/6097

The Indian Arts and Crafts Board (IACB) Headquarters Collection features 63 artworks by members of the Seeganna family, who are Ugiuvangmiut. Although known primarily as carvers, members of the Seeganna family have worked in a variety of media, including woodcut prints, jewelry, and metalwork, as well as ivory and wood sculpture. Some of the Seeganna family worked for the IACB in Alaska, and others participated in regional Native artist cooperatives. The Headquarters Collection includes works by Louis Seeganna (1916–74) and his sons—Bellarmine, Peter, Richard, and Stanley.

Louis Seeganna and his wife Margaret (1914–99), an Inupiaq originally from Big Diomede, in the Bering Strait, raised eight children on King Island and in Nome.[4] Along with hunting and fishing, Louis created carvings in ivory and wood. In 1969 the IACB purchased Standing Walrus [25/6097] by Louis. Carved of driftwood with inlaid baleen and attached ivory tusks, the figurine stands nearly 14 inches on a circular base. The IACB received Standing Walrus from a lot of artworks made at the Sitka Demonstration Workshop.[5] The IACB had established a demonstration workshop at Sitka, Alaska, in 1962; in 1965, the workshop was moved to a more permanent facility as part of the National Park Service Visitor Center at the Sitka National Monument.[6] The workshop employed artists to conduct demonstrations for visitors and to train other Native artists. The facility made its carving, metalwork, and block printing equipment available to Native artists, including those not employed by the IACB.

As a teenager, the youngest son, Bellarmine Seeganna (1953–2002), created a woodcut print entitled Walrus during a printmaking workshop at the Native artist cooperative Sunarit Associates, Inc., in Nome in October 1969. Walrus depicts a walrus with its head above the water staring at another walrus on a nearby ice floe. Stanley Seeganna (b. 1950) also created a woodcut print at Sunarit during the same workshop. In black and brown inks, Amgnak features a woman’s face surrounded by a ring of fur from her parka.

259512 Amgnak 259547 Walrus

Above: Bellarmine Seeganna (Ugiuvangmiut Inupiaq,1953–2002), Walrus. Nome, 1969. Paper, ink; 28.3 x 62 cm. Purchased by Indian Arts and Crafts Board representatives from Sunarit Associates, Inc., Nome, Alaska. Indian Arts and Crafts Board Collection, Department of the Interior, at the National Museum of the American Indian, Smithsonian Institution. NMAI 25/9547. Right: Stanley Seeganna (Ugiuvangmiut Inupiaq, b. 1950), Amgnak. Paper, ink; 53.7 x 36.4 cm. Purchased by Indian Arts and Crafts Board representatives from Sunarit Associates, Inc., Nome, Alaska. Indian Arts and Crafts Board Collection, Department of the Interior, at the National Museum of the American Indian, Smithsonian Institution. NMAI 25/9512
 

255874 Land Claims Dance
Richard Seeganna (Ugiuvangmiut Inupiaq, b. 1949), Land Claims Dance. Fairbanks, 1973. Teak, mahogany; 25.2 x 18.5 x 40.5 cm. Purchased by Indian Arts and Crafts Board representatives from the Anchorage Museum of History and Art museum shop. Indian Arts and Crafts Board Collection, Department of the Interior, at the National Museum of the American Indian, Smithsonian Institution. NMAI 25/5874

In 1973 Richard Seeganna (b. 1949) carved the sculpture Land Claims Dance of teak wood on a mahogany base at the Extension Center for Arts and Crafts at the University of Alaska, a partnership between the IACB and the university offering training and resources to advanced Native artists. Land Claims Dance portrays an upright dancer with one foot and arm raised in celebration of the Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act (ANCSA) of 1971. ANCSA is a monumental piece of legislation whereby the members of Congress and President Richard Nixon agreed to compensate Native Alaskans for unsettled land claims.[7] Native Alaskans received title to more than 44 million acres of land and financial compensation to be divided amongst 220 Native villages and 12 regional corporations in exchange for relinquishing title to other land.[8] When the United States purchased Alaska from Russia in 1867, the indigenous people never relinquished claim to the land. Although the act has been both criticized and venerated, the sculpture exhibits a moment of joy for Alaska Natives upon reaching a settlement after many years of civil protests, legal debates, and congressional hearings.

The largest number of Seeganna family artworks in the IACB Headquarters Collection—55—are by the eldest son, Peter John Seeganna (1938–74). Born in Nome, Peter was raised on King Island and would return throughout his lifetime. He was an expert ice hunter, knowledgeable about Inupiat ways of life and fluent in Iñupiaq. At the age of 23, Peter left Alaska for Oakland, California, and worked as a laborer.[9] In 1964 he moved to Sitka to begin work as an arts and crafts assistant at the demonstration workshop. The following year he married Rebecca Mezenna (?–1983), and the couple had four children—Eugene (b. 1966), Anthony (b. 1968), Frederick (b. 1970), and Mark (b. 1971).

256804 starfish pin
Peter John Seeganna (Ugiuvangmiut Inupiaq, 1938–74), starfish pin. Sitka, ca. 1964. Jade , metal jewelry findings; 4.8 x 1 cm. Purchased in 1964 from the artist by Indian Arts and Crafts Board representatives while he was employed during IACB arts and crafts demonstration at Sitka. Indian Arts and Crafts Board Collection, Department of the Interior, at the National Museum of the American Indian, Smithsonian Institution. NMAI 25/6804

Peter was a prolific artist who became adept at working with a variety of materials and in different styles. He had no formal artistic training except for his father’s instruction in carving.[10] In February 1964 George Fedoroff, the IACB supervisor for arts and crafts in Alaska, wrote to Paul Tiulana (1921–94), King Island artist and culture bearer, that Peter had made great progress in Sitka: “He is learning quite rapidly, and already mastered the use of all the power tools. . . . In March Peter will enter some of his work in the annual Alaskan Arts and Crafts Exhibition in Juneau.”[11] Fedoroff mailed Peter’s first jade carving, an exquisite starfish pin in dark jade to the IACB.

Two months later Myles Libhart, the IACB supervisory staff curator, wrote to Fedoroff about a sculpture by Peter depicting King Island drummers and dancers in ivory on a stone base. Libhart remarked that, “this is such a stunning piece that we may keep both [versions] if we may, so that if one dance group is out on loan we will have an example in the Central Office.”[12] Fedoroff indicated that Peter received no assistance, and the IACB headquarters office purchased both sculptures. 

Raven and men 259853 Raven and men 259855

Peter John Seeganna (Ugiuvangmiut Inupiaq, 1938–74), King Island dancers and drummer (two interpretations). Sitka, ca. 1964. Ivory, paint, stone; 15.2 x 14.2 x 8.2 cm and 18.7 x 14 x 7.7 cm. Purchased in 1964 from the artist by Indian Arts and Crafts Board representatives while he was employed during IACB arts and crafts demonstration at Sitka. Indian Arts and Crafts Board Collection, Department of the Interior, at the National Museum of the American Indian, Smithsonian Institution. NMAI 25/9853 and 25/9855 

256970 Polar bear
Peter John Seeganna (Ugiuvangmiut Inupiaq, 1938–74), polar bear. Sitka, 1964–66. Alder, 18.7 x 7.5 x 12 cm. Acquired by Indian Arts and Crafts Board representatives between 1964 and 1966 when the artist was employed as an IACB arts and crafts assistant at Sitka. Indian Arts and Crafts Board Collection, Department of the Interior, at the National Museum of the American Indian, Smithsonian Institution. NMAI 25/6970

In September 1965 the IACB purchased 18 items of silver, jade, and wood by Peter created during his Sitka employment. By November, Peter had 12 more items for the IACB including jewelry and carvings. In 1969, the Sitka workshop submitted 28 items to the Headquarters Collection, including a gracefully abstracted polar bear carved of alder wood.

In 1968 Peter moved back to King Island and Nome and continued to work as an IACB arts and crafts assistant. He was elected president of the King Island Village Council and served on the Nome School Board as well.[13] Peter relocated to Anchorage in 1973; he continued his employment with the IACB and worked as the special assistant to the director of the Visual Arts Center of Alaska.

Along with creating art, Peter was vocal about issues in Native art. Carl Heinmiller, founder of Alaska Indian Arts, Inc. in Port Chilkoot, wrote to the Native Alaskan newspaper Tundra Times in 1967 about his perception of the priorities of the IACB.[14] Heinmiller felt that the IACB had shifted its attention to contemporary art, thereby eschewing traditional art forms; the IACB should establish two separate divisions, “fine arts and primitive arts,” or he remarked, “the fine Native craftsman will become a thing of the past.”[15] Peter, along with fellow artist Joseph Senungetuk (Inupiaq, b. 1940), responded, “Many of our contemporary ideas stem from the traditional forms. We are not inclined to be mere copyists, but favor individual creativity.”[16] They continued, “We intend to broaden our experiences and perhaps develop new forms which may or may not identify us with a specific ethnic group—it is our choice and not Mr. Heinmiller’s or others’ who seem to want to keep us as ‘display pieces’ under the guise of ‘economic development.’”[17] Their views were not unique; Seeganna and Senungetuk voiced opinions felt by many Native artists. Tourists regularly traveled to Alaska and boosted the economy through purchases of Native art. Sometimes artists were instructed to create works directly for the tourist market.

259275 last sculpture
Peter John Seeganna (Ugiuvangmiut Inupiaq, 1938–74), sculpture. Anchorage, 1973–74. Teak, 18.2 x 15.9 x 30 cm. Made while the artist worked at the Visual Arts Center of Alaska; formerly in the collection of George Fedoroff (1906–2001), an IACB sculpture instructor; purchased from Mr. Fedoroff in 1976 by Indian Arts and Crafts Board representatives. Indian Arts and Crafts Board Collection, Department of the Interior, at the National Museum of the American Indian, Smithsonian Institution. NMAI 25/9275

Peter passed away suddenly at the age of 35 during a spring hunting trip to Nome. Due to a childhood disease, Peter had a weakened heart, but he would not allow himself to forfeit Inupiat hunting and fishing activities. In the catalog for his retrospective exhibition at the Anchorage Historical and Fine Arts Museum in 1975, Senungetuk remembered, “I went on many hunting and fishing trips with him where he refused to acknowledge his weak heart if it meant denying himself his love of the outdoors.”[18] Senungetuk also commented on Peter’s tireless desire to help his people politically, socially, and culturally. The IACB purchased Peter's last sculpture, an abstracted form in teak wood, in 1976. In his request letter to Fedoroff, Libhart remarked that it was an innovative work and “a critical piece in presenting Peter’s development as a sculptor.”[19]

The 63 artworks by the Seeganna family in the Headquarters Collection illustrate artistic movements in Alaska after the Second World War. Federal agencies, independent businesses, and artist cooperatives bloomed throughout Alaska and offered training and resources in multiple art forms, including lapidary work and printmaking. The Seeganna family possessed an expertise in ivory and wood carving, but also ventured into woodcut prints and metalwork. In their work, they conveyed their love of the Alaskan people and environment in every possible medium.

—Anya Montiel

Anya Montiel (Tohono O'odham/Mexican) is a PhD candidate at Yale University and a curatorial research fellow at the National Museum of the American Indian. This post is part of a series Anya is writing on the Indian Arts and Crafts Board Headquarters Collection at the museum. 


[1] Inupiaq refers to one person, and Inupiat is the plural form referring to people. For more information, see https://www.uaf.edu/anlc/languages/i/.

[2] Alice Rogoff, “King Island: Living Community and Mystical Place,” Alaska Daily Dispatch, 1 November 2011, web, accessed 10 December 2015, http://www.adn.com/article/king-island-living-community-and-mystical-place.

[3] “Communities of the Bering Strait,” Kawerak, Inc., 2012, web, accessed 5 December 2015, http://www.kawerak.org/communities/kingisland.html.

[4] Louis and Margaret Seeganna's four daughters are Theresa (1944–2002), Stella (1952–2013), Rosemary (1956–2014), and Gertrude.

[5] When a shipment of art arrived, the IACB would select some pieces for its collection and have others sold at the Indian Craft Shop.

[6] United States Department of the Interior Indian Arts and Crafts Board, “Sitka Demonstration-Workshop,” Smoke Signals: Alaska, no. 50–51 (Fall–Winter 1966): 6.

[7] For more information about the Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act, see http://nana.com/regional/about-us/our-history/ansca/.

[8] John F. Walsh, “Settling the Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act,” Stanford Law Review 38, no. 1 (November 1985): 227.

[9] “Peter J. Seeganna,” Peter J. Seeganna: An Artist, Anchorage AK: Anchorage Historical and Fine Arts Museum, 1975.

[10] George Fedoroff, IACB supervisor for arts and crafts of Alaska, “Temporary Catalogue Information for Indian Arts and Crafts Board Collection,” IACB accession file for NMAI 25/7102, National Museum of the American Indian, Washington DC.

[11] George Fedoroff, IACB supervisor for arts and crafts of Alaska, to Paul Tiulana, letter, 29 February 1964, IACB accession file for NMAI 25/6724 and 26/0633, National Museum of the American Indian, Washington DC.

[12] Myles Libhart, IACB supervisory staff curator, to George Fedoroff, IACB supervisor of arts and crafts of Alaska, letter, 24 April 1964, IACB documentation for accession file for NMAI 25/9855, National Museum of the American Indian, Washington DC.

[13] "Peter J. Seeganna," in Peter J. Seeganna: An Artist, Anchorage AK: Anchorage Historical and Fine Arts Museum, 1975.

[14] Heinmiller was a non-Native person from Cleveland, Ohio, who moved to Alaska after the Second World War. He founded and operated Alaska Indian Arts, Inc., which featured the arts and dances of the North Pacific Coast. For more information about Heinmiller, see Daniel Henry’s “Chilkoot Beachhead: Carl Heinmiller and the Northern Tlingit Arts Revival” at  http://www.sheldonmuseum.org/Daniel_Henry/dh_chilkoot_beachhead_and_notes_DRAFT_12_2013.pdf

[15] Carl W. Heinmiller, “Letters to the Editor,” Tundra Times 4, no. 54 (13 January 1967).

[16] Joseph E. Senungetuk and Peter J. Seeganna, “Letters to the Editor,” Tundra Times 4, no. 55 (20 January 1967).

[17] Ibid.

[18] Joseph E. Senungetuk, “His Life,” in Peter J. Seeganna: An Artist, Anchorage AK: Anchorage Historical and Fine Arts Museum, 1975.

[19] Myles Libhart, IACB director of museums, exhibitions, and publications, to George Fedoroff, letter, 1 July 1976, IACB accession file for NMAI 25/9275, National Museum of the American Indian, Washington DC.

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December 11, 2015

Meet Native America: Hon. Eric Robinson, Deputy Premier of Manitoba and Minister of Aboriginal and Northern Affairs

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 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


Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs

Hon. Eric Robinson (right) and Chief Derek Nepinak (center), Grand Chief of the Manitoba Assembly of Chiefs, taking part in a rally to support the families of missing and murdered Indigenous women. Winnipeg, 2015. Deputy Premier Robinson played a key role in the Aboriginal Justice Inquiry of Manitoba and the creation of the Aboriginal Justice Implementation Commission.


Please introduce yourself with your name and title.

My name is Eric Robinson (Ka-Kee-Nee Konee Pewonee Okimow). My full title is the Honorable Eric Robinson, Deputy Premier of Manitoba and Minister of Aboriginal and Northern Affairs. I am the minister responsible for Manitoba HydroAboriginal Education, the Communities Economic Development Fund, and the East Side Road Authority. I also represent the constituency of Kewatinook in the Legislative Assembly of Manitoba. 

What First Nation are you affiliated with?

I am a member of the Cross Lake First Nation, also known as Pimicikamak Okimawin. 

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

The 1875 Treaty Five agreement with Canada and several First Nations, including Cross Lake. 

How is your provincial government set up?  

The leader of the political party who wins the most seats in provincial elections becomes premier and forms the government. 

How are ministers chosen?

Ministers are chosen by the premier. 

Is there one political party that is more dominant than the others in your province? Do elected officials vote along party lines? 

The New Democratic Party is the dominant party in Manitoba and is currently in its fourth term of government since 1999. On most issues voting is on party lines. 

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

Amanda Lathlin, member for The Pas, is the first treaty woman elected to the Manitoba legislature. She is a member of the Opaskwayak Cree Nation. Ministers Kevin Chief and Greg Dewar are Metis members of the legislature. 

How many bands are in Manitoba? Do you meet with the Native people of your province? 

There are 63 First Nations in the province:

Barren Lands First Nation, in Brochet, Manitoba
Berens River First Nation, Berens River 
Birdtail Sioux First Nation, Beulah 
Black River First Nation, O’hanley 
Bloodvein First Nation, Bloodvein 
Brokenhead Ojibway Nation, Scanterbury 
Buffalo Point First Nation, Buffalo Point 
Bunibonibee Cree Nation, Oxford House 
Canupawakpa Dakota First Nation, Pipestone 
Chemawawin Cree Nation, Easterville 
Cross Lake First Nation (Pimicikamak Cree Nation), Cross Lake 
Dakota Plains First Nation, Portage La Prairie 
Dakota Tipi First Nation, Dakota Tipi 
Dauphin River First Nation, Gypsumville 
Ebb and Flow First Nation, Ebb and Flow 
Fisher River Cree Nation, Koostatak 
Fort Alexander First Nation (Sagkeeng First Nation), Fort Alexander 
Fox Lake Cree Nation, Gillam 
Gamblers First Nation, Binscarth 
Garden Hill First Nation, Garden Hill 
God’s Lake First Nation, God’s Lake Narrows 
Hollow Water First Nation, Wanipigow 
Keeseekoowenin First Nation, Elphinstone 
Kinonjeoshtegon First Nation, Dallas 
Lake Manitoba First Nation, Lake Manitoba 
Lake St. Martin First Nation, Gypsumville 
Little Grand Rapids, Little Grand Rapids 
Little Saskatchewan First Nation, Gypsumville 
Long Plain First Nation, Portage la Prairie 
Manto Sipi Cree Nation, God’s River 
Marcel Colomb First Nation, Lynn Lake 
Mathias Colomb First Nation, Pukatawagan 
Misipawistik Cree Nation, Grand Rapids 
Mosakahiken Cree Nation, Moose Lake 
Nisichawayasihk Cree Nation, Nelson House 
Northlands First Nation, Lac Brochet
Norway House Cree Nation, Norway House 
O-Chi-Chak-Ko-Sipi First Nation, Crane River
Opaskwayak Cree Nation, Opaskwayak 
O-Pipon-Na-Piwin Cree Nation, South Indian Lake 
Pauingassi First Nation, Pauingassi 
Peguis First Nation, Peguis Reserve 
Pinaymootang First Nation, Fairford 
Pine Creek First Nation, Camperville 
Poplar River First Nation, Negginan 
Red Sucker Lake First Nation, Red Sucker Lake 
Rolling River First Nation, Erickson 
Roseau River Anishinabe First Nation, Ginew 
Sandy Bay First Nation, Marius 
Sapotaweyak Cree Nation, Pelican Rapids 
Sayisi Dene First Nation, Tadoule Lake 
Shamattawa First Nation, Shamattawa 
Sioux Valley Dakota, Griswold 
Skownan First Nation, Skownan 
St. Theresa Point First Nation, St. Theresa Point
Swan Lake First Nation, Swan Lake 
Tataskweyak Cree Nation, Split Lake
Tootinaowaziibeeng Treaty Reserve, Tootinaowaziibeeng
War Lake First Nation, Ilford
Wasagamack First Nation, Wasagamack
Waywayseecappo First Nation Treaty Four, Waywayseecappo
Wuskwi Sipihk First Nation, Birch River
York Factory First Nation, York Landing 

Manitoba is also the home of an important Metis population. As minister and as member for Kewatinook, I meet with Indigenous people virtually every day. 

Do the Native people in Manitoba vote in provincial elections? 

Native people got the right to vote in 1960. 

How often does your ministry meet? 

I meet with senior staff of the Ministry of Aboriginal and Northern Affairs, along with staff of the Communities Economic Development Fund and East Side Road Authority, on a regular basis. 

What responsibilities do you have as a provincial minister? 

As mentioned previously, I am responsible for the Department of Aboriginal and Northern Affairs, which works to improve the opportunities and quality of life for Aboriginal and northern Manitobans. The department is also responsible for 50 off-reserve Indigenous communities, most of which are adjacent to First Nations. The Communities Economic Development Fund provides commercial and fisher loans for northern residents and businesspeople on and off reserve. The East Side Road Authority is building two road networks in partnership with 13 remote First Nations on the East Side of Lake Winnipeg, none of which had all-weather roads before this initiative. 

Deputy Premier Robinson, Manito Ahbee
Deputy Premier Robinson at the Aboriginal Peoples Choice Music Awards. Manito Ahbee, Winnipeg, 2013.

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

In 1999 two First Nation Crees were appointed to the provincial cabinet—the late Oscar Lathlin and myself. In the same year, George Hickes was elected Speaker of the Assembly, becoming the first Inuit to hold that post. In 2009 I became the first treaty Indian appointed as deputy premier.

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

I am a survivor of a residential school system designed to assimilate Indian people into the mainstream of Canadian society. The fire in my belly is to fight for respect for our people. 

Who inspired you as a mentor? 

Two people in particular have been my mentors: George Manuel, an early leader of the National Indian Brotherhood, and Ken Robinson, my father. 

Are you a descendant of a historical leader? 

No. 

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

Over 85 percent of the people in Kewatinook are First Nations. The constituency represents roughly 27,000 people in a province of approximately 1.2 million. Province-wide, the Aboriginal population is more than 150,000. 

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

As minister I have been active in developing and promoting a number of initiatives to recognize treaty rights, promote reconciliation for Indigenous people, and see the culture and history of Aboriginal people in Manitoba recognized, from the creation of Manito Ahbee—now the largest Indigenous arts, culture, and music festival in Canada—to the devolution of child welfare to First Nations, Metis, and non-Aboriginal communities, to building partnerships in hydro development. 

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

Leadership is inbred in all of us. 

Is there anything else you would like to add? 

The hurt of one is the hurt of all. The honor of one is the honor of all. 

Thank you. 

Thank you. 


Photos courtesy of the Office of the Minister of Aboriginal and Northern Affairs, Legislative Assembly of Manitoba. 

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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