June 30, 2014

This Day in the Maya Calendar: July 2014

Cholq'ij, the Maya sacred ceremonial calendar of 260 days—a cycle of 20 Day deities and 13 numbers—is the basis of the Maya spirituality that survives to this time, practiced daily among millions of Maya people, in thousands of communities. The interpretation of the days can vary from one Maya people to another. The interpretations given here are based on sustained conversations and participation over three decades with Maya Q'eqchi calendar priest Roderico Teni and daykeeping families in the area of Cobán, Alta Verapaz, Guatemala, by Jose Barreiro (Taíno), head of NMAI’s Office of Latin America, and his wife, Katsi Cook (Mohawk). Glyphs representing the Day lords appear throughout Maya Country; these were painted by Esteban Pop Caal (Q'eqchi Maya) of Cobán.

For more background to this series, please see Jose's introduction, "Living in the Practice." For further insight into the role of the Day lords in everyday life, please see the Maya Journal. For the complete year so far, please see the Maya calendar archive.

Illustrations: Esteban Pop Caal (Q'eqchi Maya), calendar glyphs. Cobán, Alta Verapaz, Guatemala; 2003. Paint on wood. Purchased from the artist. 26/2685. Photos by Ernest Amoroso, NMAI 

5 Kame  |  Wednesday, July 30, 2014 

262685_KameCorresponding with this day in the Gregorian calendar is 5 Kame. Kame is the Owl and the recognition of death; 5 is one hand. A day that recalls the night, tranquility, and silence, Kame is a good day to ask for the ancient and recent ancestors who have gone on, to thank them, and to remember them with purpose. This is an appropriate day to extend reconciliation, to feel and give forgiveness, to develop patience, to invoke against mortal illnesses, to access superior knowledge. Without fear, it is a good day to approach the spiritual dimension, "the enchantment." —Jose Barreiro 

4 Kan  |  Tuesday, July 29, 2014 

262685_KanCorresponding with this day in the Gregorian calendar is 4 Kan. Kan is the Snake; 4 is a balance. Kan is the ancient origin—Gucumatz, the Plumed Serpent. This is a day of strict and impartial justice, a day of definition and maturity, and a good day to offer respect and to thank the corn. On Kan, matters of justice, judges, and courts can be cleared up. This is a good day to pray that truth and justice are manifest in the Heart of Sky, Heart of Earth; a good day to put aside jealousies and request equilibrium in life and in the family. It is a day to ask for physical strength and patience, to contemplate our spiritual evolution, and to rekindle the internal fire. —J. B. 

3 Kat  |  Monday, July 28, 2014

262685_KatCorresponding with this day in the Gregorian calendar is 3 Kat. Kat is Spider, also Web and Fire; 3 is a rotor. On Kat the unity of the people is paramount, and knowledge is deepened. Kat is the network of the sacred heart, the family hearth. Today is a good day to pray for your family fireplace, the spirit of the fire that belongs in the home, the one that calls other spirits to ceremony and speaks for them. Kat is the net that hauls in the fish and the net that holds the ears of corn, a day that can bring the fruition of things and the untangling of complications. This is a good day to help free prisoners from captivity, to request vigor and power for the weak. —J. B. 

2 Aqbal  |  Sunday, July 27, 2014

262685_AqbalCorresponding with this day in the Gregorian calendar is 2 Aqbal. Aqbal is the Dawn, also Bat; 2 is duality. Aqbal is clarity, the separation of darkness and light as the Sun disperses the fog and obscurity of night. This is a good day to ask for a peaceful and happy daybreak, a day to find hidden and lost things, a day to wash away tears of sadness. On Aqbal, the sacred fire is recognized and appreciated. Aqbal is a good day to clean the ashes (renew the heart) of a fireplace and to present a new baby to el Mundo. A potential bride or groom can be revealed on this day. Harvesting of corn can begin on this day. People born on Aqbal relate in the present and are a special link between past and future. They are early risers, good workers, tranquil and kind, strong before an enemy, good researchers and finders of hidden things, often called "the candle of the home." —J. B. 

1 Iq  |  Saturday, July 26, 2014

262685_IqCorresponding with this day in the Gregorian calendar is 1 Iq. Iq is Wind, also Moon; 1 is the beginning. Wind is powerful, violent, driven of itself, identity. A day of strong emotion, Iq is also a healing day. Good wind is nutritional for human minds; it is the mystic breath and vital inspiration of nature. On Iq, a breeze or wind that splits against your face is a blessing and a cleansing to purge your head and body of illness. Respiratory ills are prayed over on this day. This is a good day to appreciate all of Creation. The Day lord Iq is one of the four Yearbearers, or mams, a creator who helped finish the world and put breath (essence) in human beings. People born on Iq are inclined toward spiritual ways and can impulsively tap into cosmic sources. —Jose Barreiro 

13 Imox  |  Friday,  July 25, 2014

262685_ImoxCorresponding with this day in the Gregorian calendar is 13 Imox. Imox is Lizard; 13 is the highest turbulence. Imox is the very force of gravity and a good day to pray for creativity and for rain. Imox can open el Mundo to receive cosmic messages. Known as a "crazy" day, Imox requires much concentration and control. A day of high male intelligence, also impatience and agitation, Imox can be difficult. Grounded on its left side, left arm, this day is easily unbalanced and in need of clasping by left and right hands. Imox can be good if held in the balance of the Heart of Sky and Heart of Earth; unattended, Imox can manifest imbalance, mental nervousness, and even death. People born on Imox are open and sincere, but indecisive—in need of ceremony to set the positive to override the negative. —J. B. 

12 Ajpu  |  Thursday, July 24, 2014

262685_AjpuCorresponding with this day in the Gregorian calendar is 12 Ajpu. Ajpu is Caracol, Spiral Shell; 12 is the highest balance. Ajpu is the Sun, captain of time, a day of personal strength and for good to triumph over evil. Ajpu, who cares for boys and guides men, begins the men's cycle. This is a day to connect with the ancestors, who can reward and punish. Death is reachable and amenable; spirits can ask permission to enter el Mundo, the living world. Day of the warrior and blowgun hunter (cerbatanero), Ajpu is the strong blow of the dart that hits its target, a good day to pray for stealth or for a break in enemy lines. Ajpu is also a good day to start building on a house, a good day to make prayers for women and for success in lactation. —J. B. 

11 Kawoq  |  Wednesday,  July 23, 2014 

262685_Kawoq

Corresponding with this day in the Gregorian calendar is 11 Kawoq. Kawoq is Turtle, also Sky Serpent; 11 is high turbulence. Kawoq is a high woman day—a day of duality in all of nature and a guardian of contentment. It is the day of woman and man, lightning and thunder, fecundity and imagination; a day of midwives; a day of prayer for unity within the home, strength within the family, renewed strength for convalescents, and the smoothing of all irritation. This is a good day to turn bad medicine back on itself. Kawoq attends to young women in pregnancy, labor, and delivery, and to full realization for all women; it is a day of their sash. Kawoq is also a good day to commemorate the Staff of Authority, a good day for the men of a family and community to pray for the coffers (good fortune) of the women and for the protection of the home. Good midwives, writers, and architects are born on this day. —J. B. 

10 Tijax  |  Tuesday, July 22, 2014

262685_TijaxCorresponding with this day in the Gregorian calendar is 10 Tijax. Tijax is Fish, also Obsidian; 10 is a high balance. Tijax is a day of doctors, good to pray for surgeons and all medical practitioners; a day of sacrifice and liberation from suffering; a day of sharp, cutting objects, of knives and scalpels and scissors. Tijax is a safeguard for domestic animals against predators, a good day to pray for all animals that are sacrificed, both in ceremony and in everyday life. Tijax is a good day to use metal (a machete, scissors) to "open the sky"—to solicit rain, solicit life, split black clouds. Gossip, calumny, and sorcery, on money and sexual matters, can be overcome on this day; on a high-number day, disputes can turn public and become debilitating. Tijax is a good day for seasoned masters to fortify daykeeping trainees against ridicule by envious countrymen or evangelicos. It is not a good day to plant. —J. B. 

9 Noj  |  Monday, July 21, 2014

262685_NojCorresponding with this day in the Gregorian calendar is 9 Noj. Noj is Woodpecker; 9 is  a triple rotor. Noj is a woman's highest intelligence. Maya knowledge and wisdom live in this day—good science to support positive deeds, good projects, good business, a good home. On Noj good ideas are available through the intelligence connected to the movement of the earth. Boys born on this day have important female qualities and can be attentive to the knowledge of nature, which rules all. Girls born on this day can be clear leaders. This is a good day to hear advice and make decisions, a good day to feed the mind, recognize curiosity, and strengthen memory. Noj is one of the four Yearbearers. —J. B. 

8 Ajmac  |  Sunday, July 20, 2014

262685_AjmacCorresponding with this day in the Gregorian calendar is 8 Ajmac. Ajmac is Bee, also Vulture; 8 is  a double balance. On Ajmac ancestor spirits can detect and smooth the thread of time in our lives. Prudence, intelligence, ancient wisdom are in this day. This is a day to plead forgiveness for serious faults and to be judged. It is a day that demands moral rectitude, respect, and sincere analysis. On this day our faults (stains) must be faced and paid for; humble request for pity is encouraged. Ajmac is a propitious day for the women of a household to make peace with one another after conflict, to apologize for sharp words; it is a good day to pray for smooth relationships and the renewal of agreements among women. Hard luck can face those born on Ajmac. —J. B. 

7 Tz'ikin  |  Saturday, July 19, 2014

262685_Tz'ikinCorresponding with this day in the Gregorian calendar is 7 Tz'ikin. Tz'ikin is Bird, best represented by the Hummingbird, also the Quetzal and Eagle; 7 is a pivotal number. Tz'ikin carries messages between the Heart of Earth and Heart of Sky. Cold, heat, light, air, cloud are its elements. Love, intuition, precognition are strong in those born on this day. Tz'ikin is a good day for humans to follow birds to the corn—to find good material luck. This is a good day to ask for revelation and intelligence, for vision, and for abundance; a good day to ask for collaboration in projects or for personal freedom. On this day, women have the privilege to ask for their husbands and sons to triple the family money. —J. B. 

6 I'x  |  Friday, July 18, 2014 

262685_I'x

Corresponding with this day in the Gregorian calendar is 6 I'x. I'x is Jaguar; 6 is a middle, even number. I'x is woman's energy day. This is a day to connect with your own land and to pray for its original owners; to pray for and appreciate your house; to pray for the finances to buy and sustain land; to ask for fertility in humans and animals; to request vigor and strength for reproductive organs, particularly female. I'x is a good day to pray to the mountains in favor of the land. It is a good day for a woman to request strength in her husband's commitment to matrimonial stability. People born on I'x have a close relationship to el Mundo and receive good access to precious metals. I'x is a good day for solitude and meditation. —J. B. 

5 Aj  |  Thursday, July 17, 2014 

262685_AjCorresponding with this day in the Gregorian calendar is 5 Aj. Aj is Cane Reed; 5 is one hand. Aj begins the women's cycle, sentiments of family and home, the spinal cord. Aj is life and receives life. This is a day of resurgence and renewal, as in the reed and the corn; a day for the triumph of good over evil, life over death; a day of happiness, renewal of food, money, the heart of life. People born on this day renew their communities; they are sickly as children and sturdy as adults; they are especially lucky; they are good awakeners of their families and communities; they make good midwives. Aj is a good day to ask for clarity of destiny, a good day to pray for the protection of your life and of the newborn, a good day to pray for twins, a good day to pray for humanity. —J. B. 

4 Eh  |  Wednesday, July 16, 2014

262685_Eh

Corresponding with this day in the Gregorian calendar is 4 Eh. Eh is Bobcat, also the Path and the Tooth; 4 is a balance. Eh can orient individuals, groups, or communities to their destiny. Eh is the day to ask for protection from dangers and obstructions during travels—specifically, that on your road the attention of thieves or highway police or border inspectors will be deviated from your trajectory. Solitude is in Eh, light rain, kindness, alignment. People born on this day can be good counselors, spiritual guides with the gift of prayer to Ajaw (Creator) on the destiny of things. Also, good dentists are born on this day. Eh is one of the four pillars of the 20 days, a Yearbearer—a strong, especially sacred day. A prayer started in Batz can be carried by Eh through the full cycle of 20 days. —J. B. 

3 Batz  |  Tuesday, July 15, 2014

262685_BatzCorresponding with this day in the Gregorian calendar is 3 Batz. Batz is Monkey; 3 is a \rotor. Monkey braid, monkey fingers, monkey tail, Batz is the grasp of the monkey's hand so tight and braided the fist will not let go, even in death. Batz is a good day for beginnings, and for some Maya daykeepers, Batz begins the 20-day calendar. Batz is unity, a good day to tie things together, a good day for a marriage or to start a construction, a good day for initiation into the ways. Batz is the thread of time that rolls out from under the earth, weaving life until cut, weaving time into history. People born on Batz are calm and self-confident; they make good spiritual guides and leaders, and goodhearted architects. —J. B. 

2 Tzi  |  Monday, July 14, 2014

6a01156f5f4ba1970b019b04c65ab2970d-200wiCorresponding with this day in the Gregorian calendar is 2 Tzi. Tzi is the Canine, the guardian; 2 is duality. Dog, Wolf, Coyote, Tzi can be snarly, terrifying the unprepared with his bark and his bite. Tzi people are zealous to guard the sacredness of ceremony, to identify and punish "intruders," those not disciplined to participate. Benevolent to friends and fierce to enemies, Tzi is steady to reward or punish. Tzi will punish those who disrespect the Days and the spirit of the family. This is a good day to ask for mystic insight for leaders so that they can seek and discover hidden things, so that they can be just. Tzi has strong sexual energy, hard to restrain. When this energy is defined, people born on Tzi make loyal friends, husbands, and wives. —J. B. 

1 Toj  |  Sunday,  July 13, 2014

262685_TojCorresponding with this day in the Gregorian calendar is 1 Toj. Toj is the mystic Fish—the tear of jade and drops of rain, water falling; 1 is the beginning. Toj is a day of making even, a good day to pay spiritual and financial debts and to collect what you are owed. This is a day of evenness for a family, a good day for parents to pay the family's debt to el Mundo, good for the oldest son to appreciate the father and the father to appreciate the mountain. Illness can be deviated from the family by making a ceremonial offering on this day. —J. B. 

13 Anil  |  Saturday, July 12, 2014

262685_AnilCorresponding with this day in the Gregorian calendar is 13 Anil. Anil is the fertility in the seed, Anil is Rabbit; 13 is the highest turbulence. Anil is red, white, yellow, black—the four colors of corn, the seed of life that is the unity of the world. Anil is renewal after death, regeneration of the earth. Anil people are four-directions people and can be good travelers. This is a day of coming back, a day to generate and appreciate abundance, a day of declaring love to create a new relationship, a day to announce the wish to do business, a day of finding lost things, a day to ask for help in overcoming shyness. —J. B. 

12 Kiej  |  Friday, July 11, 2014 

262685_KiejCorresponding with this day in the Gregorian calendar is 12 Kiej. Kiej is the Deer; 12 is the highest balance. Kiej is the four directions, four hoofs striking the earth at once, the quaternity of the cosmos linked to prayer, highest aviso to el Mundo—the living world. Kiej is the staff of authority, keen energy of a chief to detect danger, perception of the leader buck, his horns. Kiej is a good day to pray for mental and physical agility, a day of agile travelers and good communicators. It is a day also to ask for clarity before gossip and ill intentions. A major gift of nature, Kiej holds indefatigable energy. He is one of the four main carriers of time. —J. B. 

11 Kame  |  Thursday, July 10, 2014 

262685_KameCorresponding with this day in the Gregorian calendar is 11 Kame. Kame is the Owl and the recognition of death; 11 is high turbulence. A day that recalls the night, tranquility, and silence, Kame is a good day to ask for the ancient and recent ancestors who have gone on, to thank them, and to remember them with purpose. This is an appropriate day to extend reconciliation, to feel and give forgiveness, to develop patience, to invoke against mortal illnesses, to access superior knowledge. Without fear, it is a good day to approach the spiritual dimension, "the enchantment." —J. B. 

10 Kan  |  Wednesday, July 9, 2014 

262685_KanCorresponding with this day in the Gregorian calendar is 10 Kan. Kan is the Snake; 10 is a high balance. Kan is the ancient origin—Gucumatz, the Plumed Serpent. This is a day of strict and impartial justice, a day of definition and maturity, and a good day to offer respect and to thank the corn. On Kan, matters of justice, judges, and courts can be cleared up. This is a good day to pray that truth and justice are manifest in the Heart of Sky, Heart of Earth; a good day to put aside jealousies and request equilibrium in life and in the family. It is a day to ask for physical strength and patience, to contemplate our spiritual evolution, and to rekindle the internal fire. —J. B. 

9 Kat  |  Tuesday, July 8, 2014

262685_KatCorresponding with this day in the Gregorian calendar is 9 Kat. Kat is Spider, also Web and Fire; 9 is a triple rotor. On Kat the unity of the people is paramount, and knowledge is deepened. Kat is the network of the sacred heart, the family hearth. Today is a good day to pray for your family fireplace, the spirit of the fire that belongs in the home, the one that calls other spirits to ceremony and speaks for them. Kat is the net that hauls in the fish and the net that holds the ears of corn, a day that can bring the fruition of things and the untangling of complications. This is a good day to help free prisoners from captivity, to request vigor and power for the weak. —J. B. 

8 Aqbal  |  Monday, July 7, 2014

262685_AqbalCorresponding with this day in the Gregorian calendar is 8 Aqbal. Aqbal is the Dawn, also Bat; 8 is a double balance. Aqbal is clarity, the separation of darkness and light as the Sun disperses the fog and obscurity of night. This is a good day to ask for a peaceful and happy daybreak, a day to find hidden and lost things, a day to wash away tears of sadness. On Aqbal, the sacred fire is recognized and appreciated. Aqbal is a good day to clean the ashes (renew the heart) of a fireplace and to present a new baby to el Mundo. A potential bride or groom can be revealed on this day. Harvesting of corn can begin on this day. People born on Aqbal relate in the present and are a special link between past and future. They are early risers, good workers, tranquil and kind, strong before an enemy, good researchers and finders of hidden things, often called "the candle of the home." —J. B. 

7 Iq  |  Sunday, July 6, 2014

262685_IqCorresponding with this day in the Gregorian calendar is 7 Iq. Iq is Wind, also Moon; 7 is a pivotal number. Wind is powerful, violent, driven of itself, identity. A day of strong emotion, Iq is also a healing day. Good wind is nutritional for human minds; it is the mystic breath and vital inspiration of nature. On Iq, a breeze or wind that splits against your face is a blessing and a cleansing to purge your head and body of illness. Respiratory ills are prayed over on this day. This is a good day to appreciate all of Creation. The Day lord Iq is one of the four Yearbearers, or mams, a creator who helped finish the world and put breath (essence) in human beings. People born on Iq are inclined toward spiritual ways and can impulsively tap into cosmic sources. —J. B.   

6 Imox  |  Saturday,  July 5, 2014

262685_ImoxCorresponding with this day in the Gregorian calendar is 6 Imox. Imox is Lizard; 6 is a middle, even number. Imox is the very force of gravity and a good day to pray for creativity and for rain. Imox can open el Mundo to receive cosmic messages. Known as a "crazy" day, Imox requires much concentration and control. A day of high male intelligence, also impatience and agitation, Imox can be difficult. Grounded on its left side, left arm, this day is easily unbalanced and in need of clasping by left and right hands. Imox can be good if held in the balance of the Heart of Sky and Heart of Earth; unattended, Imox can manifest imbalance, mental nervousness, and even death. People born on Imox are open and sincere, but indecisive—in need of ceremony to set the positive to override the negative. —J. B. 

5 Ajpu  |  Friday, July 4, 2014

262685_AjpuCorresponding with this day in the Gregorian calendar is 5 Ajpu. Ajpu is Caracol, Spiral Shell; 5 is one hand. Ajpu is the Sun, captain of time, a day of personal strength and for good to triumph over evil. Ajpu, who cares for boys and guides men, begins the men's cycle. This is a day to connect with the ancestors, who can reward and punish. Death is reachable and amenable; spirits can ask permission to enter el Mundo, the living world. Day of the warrior and blowgun hunter (cerbatanero), Ajpu is the strong blow of the dart that hits its target, a good day to pray for stealth or for a break in enemy lines. Ajpu is also a good day to start building on a house, a good day to make prayers for women and for success in lactation. —J. B.  

4 Kawoq  |  Thursday,  July 3, 2014 

262685_Kawoq

Corresponding with this day in the Gregorian calendar is 4 Kawoq. Kawoq is Turtle, also Sky Serpent; 4 is a balance. Kawoq is a high woman day—a day of duality in all of nature and a guardian of contentment. It is the day of woman and man, lightning and thunder, fecundity and imagination; a day of midwives; a day of prayer for unity within the home, strength within the family, renewed strength for convalescents, and the smoothing of all irritation. This is a good day to turn bad medicine back on itself. Kawoq attends to young women in pregnancy, labor, and delivery, and to full realization for all women; it is a day of their sash. Kawoq is also a good day to commemorate the Staff of Authority, a good day for the men of a family and community to pray for the coffers (good fortune) of the women and for the protection of the home. Good midwives, writers, and architects are born on this day. —J. B. 

3 Tijax  |  Wednesday, July 2, 2014

262685_TijaxCorresponding with this day in the Gregorian calendar is 3 Tijax. Tijax is Fish, also Obsidian; 3 is a rotor. Tijax is a day of doctors, good to pray for surgeons and all medical practitioners; a day of sacrifice and liberation from suffering; a day of sharp, cutting objects, of knives and scalpels and scissors. Tijax is a safeguard for domestic animals against predators, a good day to pray for all animals that are sacrificed, both in ceremony and in everyday life. Tijax is a good day to use metal (a machete, scissors) to "open the sky"—to solicit rain, solicit life, split black clouds. Gossip, calumny, and sorcery, on money and sexual matters, can be overcome on this day; on a high-number day, disputes can turn public and become debilitating. Tijax is a good day for seasoned masters to fortify daykeeping trainees against ridicule by envious countrymen or evangelicos. It is not a good day to plant. —J. B.

2 Noj  |  Tuesday, July 1, 2014

262685_NojCorresponding with this day in the Gregorian calendar is 2 Noj. Noj is Woodpecker; 2 is duality. Noj is a woman's highest intelligence. Maya knowledge and wisdom live in this day—good science to support positive deeds, good projects, good business, a good home. On Noj good ideas are available through the intelligence connected to the movement of the earth. Boys born on this day have important female qualities and can be attentive to the knowledge of nature, which rules all. Girls born on this day can be clear leaders. This is a good day to hear advice and make decisions, a good day to feed the mind, recognize curiosity, and strengthen memory. Noj is one of the four Yearbearers. —J. B. 

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June 26, 2014

Meet Native America: Robert Wayne Flying Hawk, Chairman, Ihanktonwan Nation (Yankton Sioux Tribe)

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

 

RFH 2014 a
Robert Wayne Flying Hawk, chairman, Ihanktonwan Nation (Yankton Sioux Tribe). Photo courtesy of the Yankton Sioux Tribe. 

Please introduce yourself with your name and title.

Robert Wayne Flying Hawk, chairman, Ihanktonwan Nation (Yankton Sioux Tribe).

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

Mato ki Nanji, Standing Bear.

Where is your nation located? 

The Ihanktonwan (Yankton) once roamed over 11 million acres in what is now southeast South Dakota and northwest Iowa. Currently we are located in southeastern South Dakota along the Missouri River. 

Our boundaries established by the 1858 treaty defined 487,000 acres. As of today, we have a checkerboard of about 55,000 acres within our boundaries.

Where were your people originally from? 

The peoples of the Great Sioux Nation—which included the Lakota, Nakota, and Dakota—were from the forested area now known as Wisconsin and Minnesota. The Ihanktonwan Nation is one of the seven council fires of the Great Sioux Nation. The Ihanktonwan are a Nakota band.

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

The name Ihanktonwan translates to “Land of the Friendly People.” We tried to keep peace during the Minnesota uprising of 1862, and we met with Lewis and Clark and warned them that some of the other tribes were not so friendly.

Struck by the Ree (1804–1888), a Yankton chief, was wrapped in an American flag by Meriwether Lewis. Lewis and Clark were in the area exploring Louisiana Purchase lands. As a leader, Chief Struck by the Ree managed to befriend the whites, yet remain dedicated and loyal to his people. He died at Greenwood in southern Dakota Territory.

How is your government set up? How often are elected leaders chosen?

The elected leaders make up the Business and Claims Committee (B&CC) and are chosen every two years. The entire Business and Claims Committee, comprised of four officers and five members, is elected during the same year. The current administration was elected in October 2013, and the next election will be held in 2015.

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

Yes. The Ihanktonwan Nation is ultimately governed by a General Council, which is the most democratic form of governance. The General Council is comprised of all citizens 18 years of age and older. The Business and Claims Committee conducts the day-to-day business. 

BC&C a
The Yankton Sioux Tribe Business and Claims Committee, meeting with Senator Tim Johnson (South Dakota). Standing, from left to right: Justin Song Hawk; Everdale Song Hawk; Robert Flying Hawk, chairman; Jason Cooke; Glenford "Sam" Sully, secretary; Mona Wright; Leo O'Connor, treasurer; Quentin "JB" Bruguier Jr. (Not shown: Jean Archambeau, vice-chairwoman.) Seated: Senator Johnson. Photo courtesy of the Yankton Sioux Tribe. 

How often do the Business and Claims Committee and the General Council meet?

The B&CC meets frequently to deal with day-to-day activities of the tribe, and to resolve issues facing the Ihanktonwan Nation and consider other nation-building issues. The B&CC meets twice a week, more often if needed. General Council meetings are called as needed. I would estimate the General Council meets eight to twelve times a year.

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

My strong belief in my Native culture along with mainstream religion provided me with the foundation for my life.

What responsibilities do you have as a chairman?

My responsibilities as an elected leader are many. Here are just a few: I must be a fair leader to all. I set a good example for all, practice and participate in my Native culture and ceremonies, practice my faith or religion in my everyday life. And I communicate to the people about the activities and actions of the B&CC and why we chose to make those decisions.

Who inspired you as a mentor?

My elders inspire me. They have survived and provided a way of life for our people to exist. Our elders have passed the language and cultural ways on to the next generation. Our elders did not give up or quit. Today I am starting to realize the adverse conditions that our elders had to face in order to make the right choices for the next generation.

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

Yes, Chief White Swan, Maga ska. 

Approximately how many members are in your nation?

There are 8,799 citizens of the Ihanktonwan Nation. Of those, 3,400 reside on or near the reservation.

What are the criteria to become a member? 

Ihanktonwan enrollment standards are one-quarter total Indian blood; one-eighth must be Ihanktonwan blood and the other eighth another federally recognized tribal blood, no adoptions.

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

As with most Native American languages, the number of fluent speakers is low. As a nation we are proactive in preserving our language. The Marty Indian School language program has developed an app called Dakota One that teaches through images and sound files. You can read an article about it and see photos of people using it to get a good idea of how it works. It's available through iTunes, with funds going back to the school, which is owned and administered by the tribe.

What economic enterprises does your nation own?

We own the Fort Randall Casino & Hotel, Fort Randall Travel Plaza, and YST Propane.

What annual events does your community sponsor?

We host the Fort Randall Casino Anniversary Powwow every year in late June. Comin up are the Greenwood Powwow, July 4, 5, and 6, and the Lake Andes Powwow, a traditional powwow celebrating its 57th anniversary this year, the first weekend in August.

What attractions are available for visitors on your land?

In addition to having powwows and the casino, we attract a lot of hunters—for deer, pheasant, and turkey. The Missouri River is a big attraction for water recreation and fishing. The Yankton Sioux Tribe also owns a small herd of buffalo, and we sell hunting permits to members and nonmembers to hunt buffalo.

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

The Ihanktonwan Nation was very proud to be part of the historic visit from President Obama and Mrs. Obama’s to the Standing Rock Sioux Reservation this year.

President Obama has shown an in-depth awareness of the issues facing Native Americans and has exhibited a willingness to do more than make a speech! There is much more to be done for Native Americans, and this is a start on the right path.

The Ihanktonwan Nation participates in government-to-government relations on a county, state, and federal basis. At times it can be frustrating and overwhelming, but for the preservation of our culture and people we persevere. 

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

I would like share the message of faith, hope and courage. I encourage all youth to have faith in themselves, to embrace their Native culture, and to participate in their community or tribal and local government. I pray for our youth to learn to have respect for themselves and one another, to always show compassion and understanding. The Ihanktonwan Nation, as with any nation, always encourages youth to continue with their education—it is never to late to return to school.  

Thank you. 

Thank you.


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

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June 19, 2014

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

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

Chief Gover 1c
Marshall R. Gover, president of the Pawnee Business Council. Photo courtesy of the Pawnee Nation of Oklahoma.

Please introduce yourself with your name and title.

Marshall R. Gover, president, Pawnee Business Council. 

Where is the Pawnee Nation located?

Our headquarters are in Pawnee, Oklahoma.

Where were the Pawnee originally from?

Nebraska.

How is your nation's government set up?

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

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

How often are elected leaders chosen?

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

How often does the Business Council meet?

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

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

3,375.

What are the criteria to become a member?

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

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

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

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

What economic enterprises does your nation own?

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

What annual events does your nation sponsor?

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

What other attractions are available for visitors on your land?

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

Thank you.

Thank you.

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

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June 18, 2014

Life Lessons Learned from True Icon Robert Davidson

By Paul Niemi 

True icons transcend time, history, and their contemporaries to achieve a mystique that is inexplicable. Their stature is also made stronger if they've been positive role models for others. Nelson Mandela, John F. Kennedy, and Mother Theresa come to mind. When I was 14, my idol was Jimmy Stewart, the quintessential nice guy actor of It's a Wonderful Life fame. The role of George Bailey was iconic, and people still enjoy the film today as if 1946 were just yesterday.

At age 24, while most of my peers were spending their money partying and going to rock concerts, I was contemplating buying art. Of course, I couldn't afford his work, but my idol, became (and remains) Haida master carver, painter, metalsmith, printmaker, and cultural leader Robert Davidson.

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Tlii.aa #1, 2008, Robert Davidson (Haida, Masset, Eagle Clan), b. 1946. Acrylic on red cedar, 48 (diam.) x 3 in. Private Collection. © Robert Davidson. Photo by Kenji Nagai.

Davidson is well known among those in the art world, but he is still not a household name. I suspect more people will view him as an icon after they have had the chance to see Robert Davidson: Abstract Impulse, on view at the National Museum of the American Indian in New York. Organized by the Seattle Art Museum in collaboration with the National Museum of the American Indian, the exhibition in Lower Manhattan is the first major showing of Davidson's work since 2004. Curated by Barbara Brotherton of the Seattle Art Museum, Abstract Impulse demonstrates what Davidson would call his "understanding of the Haida vocabulary to date." With work steeped in both Haida formline and his own distinct symbolism, the exhibition also features older works that lend context and reveal Davidson's love for and gradual move towards the more abstract side of Modernism. Undoubtedly, the show will undermine any remaining perception that Native art is "primitive" and will further cement the place of Haida art among the great traditions of the world.

How did Robert Davidson become my idol? It was the early 1990s, and I had just arrived in the Pacific Northwest. Galleries in Seattle, Portland, and Vancouver prominently displayed the work of Northwest Coast artists such as brothers Robert and Reg Davidson (Haida, b. 1954); Richard Hunt (Kwakwaka'wakw, b. 1951); George Hunt Jr. (Kwakwaka'wakw, b. 1958), Jr.; Beau Dick (Kwakwaka'wakw, b. 1955); and Dempsey Bob (Tahltan–Tlingit, b. 1948). There was an obvious grandeur and depth to the art, and I had never seen anything like it before. I began amassing catalogues, reference books, and postcards with historical and contemporary Northwest Coast art images. Their illustrations hung on my walls like posters of rock bands above a dormitory bed. Hours would pass as I regularly lost myself thumbing through pages of the books. 

In 1994, my father surprised me at Christmas with an inscribed signed copy of Davidson's newly released book Eagle Transforming. Its vivid photography by Ulli Steltzer gave me my first glimpse into what Davidson's masks looked like on actual human beings. I was amazed by their size, and the images helped me make a mental connection between the works and the ceremonial context in which they belonged. The drama and life lessons cleverly embedded in his subject matter ignited my love for indigenous art. And while my life led elsewhere for more than a decade, my appreciation for Davidson's style, and Haida art in general, has never wavered. 

It was thrilling to fulfill my dream of meeting Davidson at a Vancouver art opening last spring. Serendipitously, a year later I'm volunteering at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of the American Indian, helping to promote the show via social media. It was wonderful to have the opportunity to interview Davidson via telephone from his studio in White Rock, British Columbia, and to connect with him again at the New York opening of Abstract Impulse. While the opening was perhaps quite more subdued than a sold-out rock concert, in my head there were rotating stage lights, the collective roar of the crowd, and mental cigarette lighters swaying in the spirit of shared love for the work of a man who had a hand in reclaiming Haida art and culture and moving it forward. 

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Robert Davidson (left) and Paul Niemi during the opening of Abstract Impulse at the National Museum of the American Indian in New York. 


My experiences with the museum come on the heels of a three-year detour in New Mexico that revived my passion for indigenous art. At a time that was economically difficult for artists, I had the opportunity to use my experience in public relations to help to find new means to promote Native art. In a short time I managed to absorb large quantities of historical and cultural knowledge and, most important, build scores of precious new relationships with Native artists. It's a beautiful life lesson in how things often come full circle and place people at the right moment in the time continuum.

When I was asked to write about Robert Davidson, however, I was skeptical that I could reveal anything new about the man who, in his own words is "pretty much an open book." In fact, when I posed the question, "What is something that most people don't know about you that you would want them to know?" it garnered a quiet, entertained chuckle as Davidson searched for something compelling to say. Nothing came to mind, which made my job even more difficult. But it was an education in Davidson's extreme humility. And while humble, Davidson has a clear sense of his achievements and place in the world.

The forward movement the Haida have made since the 1960s is an inspiring reminder to all of us just how quickly things can change, especially if we are fortunate and courageous enough, like Robert Davidson, to recognize the need for advancement.

That kind of courage is a transformation, a concept about which Davidson and I spoke at length.  It happens as if a string is being pulled taut to open us to our conscience. Davidson describes it as "becoming who you were born to be."

Recalling a pre-missionary rite of passage for Haida boys, Davidson explained that the young men would venture off into the forest where "knowledgeable persons" would look after them and help them find their spirit. Afterwards, they would return to the village and be presented through song and dance. "The spirit that he is defined with will be his guide throughout his life," he told me. Davidson's spirit guide has been very good to him. "It seems like all the experiences that I've had and all the desires or dreams that I've had . . . they've all been part of the continuum of reconnecting with our history, our ceremonies." That reconnection was necessary to save traditions, to move his culture to a new place and position it for the future.

Davidson says that early Haida art was very sophisticated. Its vocabulary demonstrated a natural, fluid progression over time. Haida formline—a unique and purposeful system of ovoids, U forms, and S forms found in Northwest Coast art and carving—flourished until the mid-1880s. In our conversation, the term vocabulary came up a lot. It is integral to understanding Davidson’s work, the history of Haida art, and the exhibition Abstract Impulse. Davidson contends that his generation "came into being in the nick of time," to recognize its vocabulary and discover the means to propel its movement ahead.

Davidson_There_is_Light_in_Darkness_2010
There is Light in Darkness, 2010, Robert Davidson (Haida, Masset, Eagle Clan), b. 1946. Acrylic on canvas, 60 x 30 in. Kim and Tony Allard. © Robert Davidson. Photo by Kenji Nagai.

Haida history is difficult, but it is what brings the culture and Davidson to where they are today. In 1884, the Canadian government revised the Indian Act, discouraging First Nations arts and forbidding the practice of ceremonies, particularly the potlatch, a feast in which wealth in the form of dances, masks, and other privileges and objects was transferred between peoples to mark alliances or show prestige. On Haida Gwaii, an archipelago of islands 60 miles off the northern coast of British Columbia, traditions went dark for nearly a century. Children were sent to boarding schools, villages were ransacked, and precious cultural objects were destroyed or taken and sold to museums and collectors. Between 1884 and 1951, when the Indian Act was loosened, this disruption of families and communities and suppression of Haida culture made the creation of ceremonial items a largely futile task.

Robert Davidson was born in Hydaburg, Alaska, in 1946 (incidentally, the year It's a Wonderful Life arrived in movie theaters). As a child growing up in the village of Old Masset on Haida Gwaii, he remembers a few weavers and a handful of carvers who made argillite curios for tourists. It was a time when very little information about Haida and First Nations culture existed in school textbooks. So while Davidson knew he was Haida, he lacked the historical context within which to place himself. In a recent ArtTalk at the museum in New York, Davidson recounted playing cowboys and Indians as a child. He mused over the fact that he always wanted to be the cowboy for fear of being on the losing side. His uncle Reggie would remind him, "Robert, you know you're an Indian, right?" 

Luckily for Davidson, he and his peers found themselves on the historical timeline living among grandparents, like Florence Davidson and Robert Davidson, Sr., who still knew the Haida language and some of the songs. The laws of Canada had so muted things that people were reticent to speak of the past. There existed repressed pain and sentiments about openly acknowledging the old ways. Traces of the past were found in weddings, memorials, and other events. Davidson recalled a family story about the time a totem fell in the village in 1905. The other clan made fun of it. In order to not lose face, the chief—Davidson's grandmother's uncle—invited the other clan to a “picnic.” It was actually a potlatch in disguise.  

His grandfather, Robert Sr., and father, Claude, taught Davidson carving skills. After leaving home for the first time in 1965 to finish school in Vancouver, he spent time at the Vancouver City Museum, where he saw numerous pieces created by his ancestors and worked with Bill Reid (1920–1998), an artist of Haida background. It was the first time Davidson discovered what "quality" was in Haida art, and it became obvious to him just how much more he had to learn about his people's ceremonies.

Up to then, he and the carvers of the day had learned by studying pictures of totems they saw in the three books on Haida ethnology by Marius Barbeau (1883–1969). After experiencing boxes and totems from the past, Davidson wanted to learn about the meaning and traditions behind them. "I was absolutely blown away," he says. "That prompted me to knock on every door in the village of Masset to see if they had anything of the old pieces." Disappointingly, he found only one storage box.

As if in response, in 1969 Davidson carved the now legendary Bear Mother totem with his brother Reg (interestingly, the year of Barbeau's death). He initiated a ceremony to raise the pole at Masset, because he finally understood the knowledge his grandparents' generations had carried with them. He wanted to give the elders the chance to celebrate openly, as he says, "in the only way they knew how." It was the first pole-raising on Haida Gwaii in 90 years and would mark the beginning of the end of the community’s generations-long cultural dislocation. The pole-raising taught the self-described "smart aleck" kid, who thought he knew what art was, to connect with his people in a new and meaningful way, though he had no idea of its future ramifications. While it was initially scary for the elders to celebrate, Davidson says the response was very positive afterwards. It laid the foundation for him to learn to sing the songs that survived in Masset.

Davidson_Fast_Bird_2011
Fast Bird, 2011, Robert Davidson (Haida, Masset, Eagle Clan), b. 1946. Silkscreen print, 39 x 30 in. Private Collection. © Robert Davidson. Photo by Kenji Nagai.

Nineteen sixty-nine was a year of cultural awakenings and tremendous change. In preparing for my interview with Davidson, I decided to ask him if he felt the pole-raising was as groundbreaking for humanity as the moon landing that same year. I was unsure where the question would take the conversation, but Davidson replied, "When the eagle lands, the Natives will rise again." Those words are from an ancient eastern Canadian tribal prophecy that Davidson said he was "amazed" to hear a few years after raising Bear Mother. "I feel that we’re in tune with each other, and there are certain events that transpire, and those events make their mark in incredible change." It was an affirmation that, perhaps, he had fallen exactly where he needed to be in the historical timeline. As I held the phone to my ear, goose bumps filled my arms, and I was grateful I had chosen that question.

For the next 12 years Davidson would go back and forth between Haida Gwaii and Vancouver, where he was living. Historically, Haida names had always been given publicly to children and grandchildren. On a regular basis Davidson says he would hear the elders complain that no one was being given their Haida names anymore. In 1981 he decided to host a potlatch and naming ceremony, to celebrate Haida traditions openly once again.

Davidson also opened up to me about his artistic process. In spite of the fact that he has taken traditional Haida art and redacted it into his own recognizable style, there appears to be no ego in its creation. When he works, he is not expressing his Haida nature, nor is he "expanding" Haida art. His work is about "expanding on his knowledge" of the vocabulary that he has learned up to this point. Being confident and comfortable with who he is and where he comes from makes ego no longer "part of my vocabulary," he explains.

From young man, to cultural leader, to contemporary fine artist who is always growing, Davidson says he'll die the moment he is satisfied with what he has done—and he notes that he wishes to live considerably longer. There has been a fluidity to his life. It comes as a result of hard work, open eyes, and courage. We live now in a time of great shifts with many uncertainties. While some of us might only dream of falling perfectly into history, Davidson's path can inspire each of us to build on a new vocabulary in order to bring meaning to our lives. He sets the standard for trusting our instincts, removing ego from the creative process, and positioning ourselves in the world as bridge-builders.

Davidson asserts there is still so much more "homework" to be done to bring the Haida vocabulary to the place it was prior to the mid-1800s. His words serve to teach all, especially younger generations, about the pitfalls of "leapfrogging"—of circumventing the building blocks required to achieve crucial aesthetics. He says, "It's important to understand the standard that was established and that is the foundation for growth."

Robert Davidson is proud that his work with the fundamentals has allowed him to pass the torch to his son Ben, a successful artist and gallery owner, and his daughter Sara, a teacher pursuing a Masters degree in literacy. We can only speculate what Davidson will come up with next in his continuing quest to express his understanding of the Haida vocabulary.

For visitors to Abstract Impulse, knowledge of the historical background that shaped the work offers a more meaningful experience, though it's not necessary. Davidson's work has a universal appeal that speaks to everyone in a different way.

In her essay in the exhibition catalogue, curator Barbara Brotherton asserts that early Haida art pieces possessed formline abstractions and reductions that could be seen as ambiguous and open to interpretation to suit appropriation amongst various clans. The ambiguities in Davidson's work will, no doubt, serve to connect people of all clans. And while his work is contemporary, he is emphatic that he will never stop using certain traditional elements, such as the ovoid, which took him 30 years to learn.  He focuses on Haida art because he continues to see its potential, but he refuses to "imitate an old vocabulary."

Twenty minutes into a hike, Robert Davidson’s father once told his young son “You have to look back once in a while to see where we came from, so we can always find our way back." “Relearning” their history is essential for the Haida, Davidson insists. The symbolism of looking back at times "will mark our trail forward." Wise words from a man who is an undisputed icon. 

Robert Davidson: Abstract Impulse is on view at the National Museum of the American Indian in New York through September 14, 2014.

Paul Niemi is an arts and culture writer and blogger as well as a Museum Ambassador for NMAI–NY. The quotations in this article are from a phone interview Paul conducted with Robert Davidson in early April 2014. 

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June 05, 2014

Meet Native America: Chief Ken Adams, Upper Mattaponi Indian Tribe

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


Please introduce yourself with your name and title.

Chief Ken Adams, Upper Mattaponi Indian Tribe

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

I do not have a separate Native name.

Where is the Upper Mattaponi Indian Tribe located?

Our community is in upper King William County, Virginia. 

Where was your tribe originally from?

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

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

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

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

How is your tribal government set up? 

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

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

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

How often are elected leaders chosen?

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

How often does the Upper Mattaponi Tribal Council meet?

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

IMG_4279 K Adams a
Chief Ken Adams, Upper Mattaponi Indian Tribe. Photo courtesy of the tribe.

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

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

What responsibilities do you have as a tribal leader?

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

Who inspired you as a mentor?

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

Are you a descendant of a historical leader?

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

Approximately how many members are in your tribe?

Approximately 575.

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

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

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

Our language is not spoken.

What economic enterprises does your tribe own?

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

What annual events do the Upper Mattaponi sponsor?

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

What attractions are available for visitors on your land?

We own the only American Indian public school in Virginia.

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

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

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

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

Is there anything else you would like to add?

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

Thank you. 


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

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