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July 31, 2012

Julia Keefe Shines

5. Julia_keefe_red

Nez Perce jazz vocalist Julia Keefe. Photo courtesy of the artist.

By Tim Johnson

When the exhibit Up Where We Belong: Native Musicians In Popular Culture was conceptualized there were two main messages we wanted to convey. The first is that American Indians have been and remain significant participants in the development of contemporary music, shaping and scoring (in some cases literally) the soundtracks of our lives. From Mildred Rinker Bailey, the Coeur d’Alene vocalist who reigned during the golden age of radio in the 1930s and ’40s; to Link Wray, the Shawnee innovator of the power chord, distortion, and the hardcore instrumental Rumble; to Taboo, the Shoshone and Mexican Grammy award-winning, platinum-selling member of the Black Eyed Peas, Native musicians have not only made an impact, but have become important figures in American music history.

The second key message of the exhibit, supported by the museum’s associated contemporary music programming, is that the American Indian music scene is broad, diverse, and growing. It includes phenomenal blues and rock bands, folk singers, hip hop artists, country music stars, and several remarkable rising talents worthy of recognition, like Nez Perce jazz vocalist Julia Keefe.

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Julia Keefe returns to the National Museum of the American Indian—this time in New York for our Native Sounds Downtown concert series Thursday, August 2,
at 4 PM. Photo courtesy of the artist.

Julia first came to my attention when my programs staff scheduled her to perform at our museum on the National Mall in Washington, D.C., in 2009 during Jazz Appreciation Month. Accompanied by an eight-member ensemble from Harvard University led by Jerrol Pennerman, Julia regaled the audience with classic jazz numbers, including some of Mildred Bailey’s hit songs. I was struck by this emerging Native artist’s respectful acknowledgement and tribute to Mildred Bailey. By honoring the past and highlighting the achievements of a Native woman who navigated around and broke through racial barriers in the epic ragtime and jazz decades, Julia also brought respect and esteem upon herself. In the selection of her preferred genre through her pursuit of higher education, there is maturity and sophistication in Julia’s approach to her music, her career, and her life.  

Beyond paying tribute to Mildred Bailey by performing her songs, Julia has also embarked upon a campaign to gain formal recognition of Bailey’s achievements and contributions. In an eloquent, well-researched, and compelling letter to Wynton Marsalis and fellow members of the Selection Committee earlier this year, Julia urges that Mildred Bailey be considered for induction into the Nesuhi Ertegun Jazz Hall of Fame at Lincoln Center “in recognition of her groundbreaking role in jazz history.”

For the 1994 commemorative stamp set Jazz Singers, Legends of American Music, the U.S. Postal Service chose Mildred Bailey (above), Bessie Smith, Billie Holiday, and Jimmy Rushing. Illustration by Howard Koslow, courtesy of the USPS.

The letter draws attention to many of Bailey’s accomplishments, including her role in Bing Crosby’s career; her emergence as the first female big band singer in America; her influence upon her contemporaries including Billie Holiday, Helen Ward, and Ella Fitzgerald; and the importance of joining her story of success to the stories of other prominent Native women who “rose above the challenges they faced and helped to change history.” Julia writes, “Recognition of Mildred Bailey in the Jazz Hall of Fame would, I believe, open a door to a largely neglected and ignored chapter in the history of this all-American art form known as jazz: the involvement of First Americans.” 

As a conceptual author of the exhibit Up Where We Belong: Native Musicians In Popular Culture, I couldn’t agree more. Mildred Bailey and all of the artists featured in the show, some well known and others not so well known, deserve the nation’s recognition and respect. In ways both fitting and unintentional, but born out of intelligence, right-mindedness, and I suspect exceptional parenting, Julia has also, in my perspective, earned our attention and admiration. In addition to her well-arranged and finely crafted performances honed in collaboration with other exceptional musicians, Julia has skillfully blended her culture and community-based life experience from her years spent in the town of Kamiah on the Nez Perce Reservation with her formal education at the University of Miami’s prestigious Frost School of Music. Julia has already signaled that she intends to live a life of purpose that combines meaningful pursuits with the joy her music brings both to her and to others.

It is therefore fitting that Julia Keefe will be kicking off our Native Sounds Downtown concert series celebrating the opening of Up Where We Belong: Native Musicians In Popular Culture at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of the American Indian in New York. Her performance begins at 4 PM on Thursday August 2 in front of the main steps of NMAI–NY at the historic Alexander Hamilton U.S. Custom House, located between Bowling Green Park and Battery Park in lower Manhattan. Should it rain the concert will be held inside the museum. I encourage everyone in the area to attend the concert. For those who live too far to travel, view the concert’s live stream on our museum’s website. Julia will be followed by Grammy-winning musician Bill Miller (Mohican) and singer, songwriter, and human-rights activist Martha Redbone (of Choctaw/Cherokee heritage).

Tim Johnson (Mohawk) is Associate Director for Museum Programs at the National Museum of the American Indian.

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By Julia Rinker-Miller

As someone never interested in blogging, I feel I finally have something to blog about. So here I go ...

My name is Julia Rinker-Miller. I'm the niece of Mildred Rinker Bailey and the daughter of Al Rinker - boyhood chum of Bing Crosby who, together in an old Model-T Ford, traveled down from Spokane to Los Angeles in the twenties (staying with Aunt Milly who was singing in speakeasies) to seek their fortunes in show business.

Essentially and - eventually - Milly became "Mildred Bailey," my dad became an inspired composer of pop music and hauntingly lovely semi-classic works set to poems of famous poets like Robert Louis Stevenson and Robert Burns ... and we all know what became of Bing!

As a 2nd generation "Rinker" singer, who's carved out a sustaining, most gratifying career "behind the scenes" as a Studio Singer in the recording, television and film industries of NY and LA during these last several decades ... I've worked with the best-of-the-best in the biz - giving me the confidence to have an opinion or two about what makes for good music and about who's making it.

After years of being "on the inside" of my aunt's life, that includes my start as a singer in the sixties working in the studios with some of the same great musicians who'd worked with Mildred in bands and on recordings from the late twenties through the forties (their stories of her shared with me were epic) ... it wasn't until the last few years, when introduced to young Julia Keefe, her music and "her" story - that I was given a whole new glimpse of my aunt "from the outside."

What I knew of my father's and his Rinker siblings' (one girl, four boys; one died at 18 months) earliest life on the Coeur d'Alene Reservation in Idaho - was reverently cocooned within the folds of my father's memory. Because that was the realm where he'd first been exposed to the magic and mystery of music through his boogie-woogie/ragtime/classical-playing, piano prodigy of a Native mother, no period in his life was ever spoken of with more love or longing. And because his mother died from TB when he was only eight (Mildred was 14) after they'd moved away to Spokane - when the umbilical cord to his Native roots was prematurely severed - I intuited my dad in a state of subtle, subliminal grief the whole of my life with him. Did my aunt share that same sense of loss? I was too young to have that conversation with her when she died in 1951, but can only speculate from the undercurrent of my family dynamic and from her numerous quotes in newspaper and magazine articles, record liner-notes, books and family letters - that she did.

To sense the presence of a lingering energy in search of its homeland can beget a poignant, disconcerting and gnawing feeling of responsibility inside those sensitive to their loved ones. And so it's been with me concerning my father and his family for as long as I can remember. But it wasn't until being given the gift of perceiving Mildred Bailey through the eyes of another young native girl, Julia Keefe, 3 or so years ago, that a light bulb went on allowing me to step in - with conscious conviction - as surrogate healer (if you will) on behalf of my father, aunt, their siblings, my grandma and the whole of my grandmother's family - fully recognizing who they are, who they've always been, where they've come from .. and "bring them home" in real time.

A month ago I experienced a moment that will remain forever glowing in my being. On July 1st, I flew up to Spokane, staying with Julia Keefe and her family, to join them the following day at a luncheon on the Coeur d'Alene Reservation where the Tribal Council, Governor "Butch" Otter of Idaho and several state legislators were in attendance to ceremoniously honor my aunt after the passing of the "Mildred Rinker Bailey Resolution" this last March in Idaho's Capital. In essence, the bill recognizes my Aunt Mildred as a significant daughter of Idaho and the Coeur d'Alene Tribe for her contributions to American Jazz. And suddenly, as at the end of a rainbow, I was being given a golden opportunity to empty my heart to my grandmother's people on behalf of my father, aunt and family ... reopening old channels and completing new circuitries of love.

At the end of the luncheon I heard Julia (the lovely Nez Perce girl responsible for catalyzing the call for legislation last Christmas when the Coeur d'Alene Tribal Council and local Representatives from Idaho's Legislature first saw and heard her "Mildred" program in this same room) sing live for the very first time. And all I found myself "reporting" within was: "Oh Aunt Milly ... she's good ... she's really good!!!" And that's one reason I'm blogging.

As I said, I feel I know good when I hear it. I've had artists like Crosby, Sinatra and Clooney come up to me on television shows, record dates or during social gatherings wanting me to know that my aunt had greatly influenced their phrasing and singing. And how good were these artists! My aunt was an original, joyous, authentic channel for music-in-the-becoming. And it appears that much of that music became Jazz as we know it. I grew up never questioning the default, catch-all conclusion that Mildred Bailey was a "white" singer. Again, I was too young to hear from her directly how being Native American affected her as a girl. I can only report - first hand from my father - that he'd suffered being called "breed" as a child and that it scarred him emotionally. Such potent damage of the psyche could possibly explain his having to unknowingly send the "Native" in him underground where it never ceased beckoning through his emotions.

Although obviously more at peace with her Native heritage (corroborated in quotes I've recently read of hers) because she was older and had support from her mother longer than my dad, perhaps Mildred wasn't fully aware just how much her exposure to Native singing on the reservation influenced her pristine, ego-less phrasing and rhythmic integrity ... because I've never heard of her ever balking at being called the first "white" this or first "white" that!

I see my Aunt Mildred's music in a different light these days. Along with my own experience as a professional "utility" singer who's had to know her vocal instrument well enough to create different vocal sounds for different jobs (singing in whatever bags or musical styles required), I also seem to be running across more and more Mildred quotes where she references American Indian music as having impacted, not only her approach to singing, but her instrument itself.

After much inner mulling, I recently wrote the following to a preeminent jazz journalist acquaintance and am sticking with my take on the matter: "With Indian Singing being a vocalise unto itself, stringing flute-like vowels fluidly and vertically together like a prayer released to heaven ... why has no one made the point that the Native American might have, through Mildred, brought a more personal, internal and reserved musical ethic and structure to jazz that wasn't there in the robust, laterally-expressive pleas of Black gospel-blues! In terms of the dynamics, Mildred seemed more interested in the conversation going on inside herself than in one wanting to be shared with the congregation."

The "Up Where We Belong: Native Musicians in Popular Culture" exhibit at Manhattan's NMAI is a lively, timely testament to the fact that perhaps many lone, far-flying "Native" birds are finally coming home to roost. And while thoroughly in support of Julia Keefe's most righteous point that my Aunt Mildred belongs in the Nesuhi Ertegun Jazz Hall of Fame at Lincoln Center (let alone any jazz hall of fame), I'm equally "jazzed" at the idea of the Native Community claiming not just one of its own, but all of its own in a tribute to American Indians who've contributed "greatness'" to our National contemporary musical profile.

In fact, with this very theme in mind, I'm currently preparing to give all I've got in support of a book project on Mildred Bailey soon to be initiated by Chad S. Hamill - American ethnomusicologist and author of "Songs of Power and Prayer in the Columbia Plateau" - where he'll be doing a scholarly and soul-inspired exploration of how Native American Indigenous culture gracefully wove its way through my aunt's musical artistry and into what we call "American Jazz."

While unable to fly in (myself) from California for the 4:00 "kick-off" concert at the opening of Thursday's exhibit ... or to the Ribbon-Cutting/Preview Reception afterwards at 6:00, I have asked my wonderfully talented (in the Rinker tradition) New York-based drummer son, Christopher Markwood (Miller), to represent both mother, great aunt and family in my stead.

Not only do I expect Chris to "report in" that Julia Keefe and her fellow artists on the bill gave brilliant performances, I also anticipate his seeing for himself - through the Native perspective - what all the fuss has been about regarding his Great Aunt Mildred and her contribution to Jazz. Mildred Bailey's great nephew needs to understand that he, too, carries the same genetic potential to bring the Spirit of the Soul to his music ... just as generations and generations of Native Americans before him have done.

May A Great Light Wash Over The Events Of The Day ~

Julia Rinker-Miller
(Niece of Mildred Rinker Bailey)

Congratulations Julia! I think people who has talent must be recognize and support by other people.

terrenos venta lima

Thanks. the information is very useful

Beautiful lady with a beautiful voice ;)

The power of voice represented by Julia Keefe.

Congrulation julia, your voice is very beautiful, i like your songs

jual jaket kulit

she is dam beautiful love her...........

Julia ? from where is she ? I had never heard about her before this is the first time, so when it's the first time I'm going to look for her in youtube to listen to her songs
with my Love

July 27, 2012

Celebrating American Indian Athletes in the 1912 Olympics

SVoss-Wheaties22FINALJim Thorpe Commemorative Wheaties Box, autographed by his daughter Grace Thorpe. 7 cm x 21 cm x 30.8 cm. National Museum of the American Indian, 26/4641. Photo by S. Voss


Even the most casual sports observer has heard of Jim Thorpe. The Sac and Fox athlete who swept the Pentathlon and Decathlon at the 1912 Olympics earned awards, accolades, and die-hard fans in nearly every major sport in the early 20th century: baseball, football, basketball, track and field. But he wasn’t the only Native American athlete who sealed his reputation at the Stockholm games. Thorpe was joined by three Indian brethren from the U.S. whose influence, even 100 years later, continues to reverberate throughout in Indian Country and beyond: Hopi runner Louis Tewanima, Native Hawaiian swimmer Duke Kahanamoku, and Penobscot runner Andrew Sockalexis.    

Tewanima winning the 1911 New York City marathon  -- Library of CongressLong-distance runner and Olympic medalist Lewis Tewanima (Hopi, 1889?-1969) after winning a marathon in New York City, May 6, 1911. Photo courtesy of the Library of Congress, Prints and Photographs Division

Lewis Tewanima

Like Thorpe, Tewanima entered competitive sports by way of the Carlisle Indian School in rural Pennsylvania—2,000 miles from his birthplace on the remote Hopi mesas of Arizona. In 1907, he was ordered by federal authorities to attend the government-run school after a long dispute with the tribe over the education of its children. Tewanima arrived at the Carlisle’s doorstep “virtually a prisoner of war,” the school’s superintendent Moses Friedman later put it.

At 110 pounds, the twenty-something’s scrawny physique belied his natural athleticism. According to legend, Tewanima learned enough English to tell the school’s famed coach, Glenn “Pop” Warner, “Me run fast good.” After clocking his times, Warner needed no further convincing. Just a year later and with minimal training, Tewanima found himself competing at the 1908 Summer Olympics in London alongside fellow Carlisle Indian School teammate Frank Mt. Pleasant (Tuscarora). Competing against the world’s most rigorously trained runners, Tewanima placed 9th in the marathon with a time of 3:09:15. The performance of the virtually unknown athlete caught the eye of President Theodore Roosevelt, who reportedly remarked at a reception for the team, “This is one of the originals.”

When the 1912 Olympics rolled around, Tewanima returned with yet another Carlisle teammate, Jim Thorpe. Neither was required to compete in qualifying trials, such was the confidence in their abilities. Tewanima won the silver medal in the 10,000 meters with a time of 32:06.5—a U.S. record that stood for more than 50 years until Oglala Lakota runner Billy Mills broke it to win the gold medal during the 1964 Games.

Tewanima, Thorpe, and Warner enjoyed a hero’s welcome upon their return to rural Pennsylvania. Thousands of fans lined the streets to watch the now world-famous athletes parade through town, followed by a speech from the Carlisle superintendent that was as critical of Tewanima’s culture as it was complimentary of his athletic achievements: “His people, the Hopi Tribe of Arizona, had been giving the Government much trouble and were opposed to progress and education. It was finally decided to send twelve of the head men and most influential of the tribe to Carlisle to be educated in order to win them over to American ideas,” Friedman declared. “Louis Tewanima here is the twelfth of that party. He is one of the most popular students at the school. You all know of his athletic powers—I wanted you to know of his advancement in civilization and as a man.”

What Friedman didn’t realize (or perhaps preferred not to acknowledge) is that Tewanima’s athletic prowess was a direct result of his Hopi upbringing. Born in the late 1880s, Tewanima spent his childhood carrying on the ancient Hopi tradition of running as a spiritual act. For the tribe, long-distance running is a physical form of prayer believed to produce rain for their parched lands, good fortune for their people, and a connection to their ancestors. Hopi foot races were legendary for the endurance they demonstrated, not the least because most runners ran barefoot, despite the region’s rocky, cactus-strewn landscape.

Running was also a much-needed diversion on the lonely, windswept deserts of the Southwest. During his induction into the Arizona Sports Hall of Fame in 1957, Tewanima recalled that as a child he would run nearly 50 miles with his friends just to glimpse passing trains in Winslow before embarking on the 50-mile journey home: “It was the summertime,” he explained with a shrug, “The days were long.”

But despite the insistence among Carlisle administrators that Tewanima had voluntarily exchanged his Hopi earrings, long hair, and traditional lifestyle for more “civilized” ways, he returned to Second Mesa, Arizona, soon after the 1912 Olympics. He remained there for the rest of his life, herding sheep and growing corn as his Hopi forefathers had before him. He died in 1969 after falling off a 70-foot cliff while walking home from a religious ceremony. At the time of his death, he was believed to be the oldest living U.S. Olympian.

Since 1974, hundreds of runners have gathered in Second Mesa for the annual Tewanima Foot Race to honor his memory. “Tewanima is a cultural hero to all Hopi,” Hopi High School track coach Rick Baker told Sports Illustrated in 1996, “But especially to young runners.”

Duke same series_CroppedDuke Kahanamoku (Native Hawaiian) prepares to dive, 1920 Olympics, Antwerp, Belgium. Photo courtesy of the Library of Congress, Prints and Photographs Division

Duke Kahanamoku

Known alternatively as the Bronze Duke of Waikiki, the Father of Surfing, and Hawai'i’s Ambassador of Aloha, Duke Paoa Kahanamoku remains the state’s greatest athlete. His list of achievements is a long one. Beginning with the 1912 Olympics, he participated in five Olympic games, earning three gold medals and two silver medals and setting three world records in the 100-year freestyle over the course of his career. In 1913, he earned the title of U.S. indoor champion; he became the outdoor titleholder in 1916 and repeated the achievement in 1920. He developed the now common “flutter kick” and popularized modern surfing, first appearing on the shores of Sydney, Australia, to teach eager would-be surfers how to carve their own longboards and later promoting the sport in southern California, Atlantic City, and on Brooklyn’s Brighton Beach, where an avenue once bore his name.

Though Duke’s first name suggests a link to Hawai'i’s 19th-century kingdom, the Native Hawaiian actually inherited his name from his father, whose birth coincided with the Duke of Edinburgh's first visit to Hawai'i. Born in 1890 as the eldest of nine children, Duke learned how to swim “the old-fashioned way,” as he told the audience of the popular television show This Is Your Life in 1957: by being thrown from a canoe at the age of four by his father, who instructed him to “save yourself or drown.” Despite this intense introduction to the water, or perhaps because of it, Duke would spend the better part of his childhood in the surf at Waikiki Beach not far from his home.

In 1911 Duke swam in his very first meet, a competition sponsored by the Amateur Athletic Union (AAU), and broke his very first record. Swimming 100 yards in 55.4 seconds, he beat the previous record not by fractions of a second, but an astonishing 4.6 seconds. The new time stunned AAU officials on the mainland, who refused to recognize the accomplishment, first claiming that officials in Hawai'i had misread their stopwatches and later that ocean currents had aided the swimmer. Local supporters eventually raised enough money to send him to Chicago, where he swam in a pool for the first time and dominated the 50- and 100-meter freestyle events. A year later, he made his victorious debut at the 1912 Olympics, winning the gold medal in the 100-meter freestyle and the silver medal in the 4x200-meter freestyle relay. King Gustav of Sweden crowned him with a laurel wreath that now sits in the Parker Ranch Museum in Hawai'i.

Though World War I forced the cancellation of the 1916 Games, Duke Kahanamoku continued to accept invitations to swimming exhibitions all over the country, competing in Chicago, Pittsburgh, New York, Detroit, Minneapolis, Cincinnati, and St. Louis in the span of one month that year, and bringing his 100-pound, 16-foot longboard with him whenever his travels took him near the ocean. Wind sliding, as surfing was once known among the Hawaiian royalty who practiced it, suddenly appeared on shores throughout the world.

During his last Olympic appearance, in 1924 in Paris, he was joined by his younger brother Samuel, who won the bronze medal in the 100-meter freestyle; Duke took silver. But his most impressive feat occurred in 1925, when he personally rescued eight passengers from a capsized boat off the coast of Corona del Mar using nothing but his strength and his longboard.

That such an unbelievable rescue might read like the plot of a Hollywood movie is appropriate considering that that’s where Duke headed next. Over the course of his 28-year film career, the telegenic athlete appeared alongside actors John Wayne, Jack Lemmon, Henry Fonda,  and others in roles that emphasized—and arguably mocked—his Native Hawaiian roots. During this time he also became Hawai'i’s unofficial ambassador, greeting VIPs like John F. Kennedy, Joe DiMaggio, Shirley Temple, and Amelia Earhart during their visits to the islands. The popularity and respect he enjoyed in Hawai'i eventually led him to the Honululu Police Department, where he spent 26 years as the city’s sheriff.

He died in 1968 at the age of 77. A ceremony was held on Waikiki Beach and his ashes were scattered into the Pacific Ocean while a local reverend offered these departing words: “God gave him to us as a gift from the sea, and now we give him back from whence he came.”

Reilly1128-600x952Andrew Sockalexis (Penobscot) with marathon trophies, 1912. Photo courtesy of the Department of Special Collections and University Archives, Marquette University Libraries

Andrew Sockalexis

Andrew Sockalexis, like Lewis Tewanima,  took up running as an homage to his tribe’s ancestral customs. Born in 1892 on the Penobscot Indian Island Reservation in Maine, Sockalexis grew up hearing stories about the tribe’s legendary “pure men,” an elevated status attained only by the community’s most agile youth. Before the tribe lost its hunting grounds to European settlers, these men acted as the Penobscot’s designated hunters, literally running down prey and abstaining from liquor, tobacco, and women to stay in top physical condition. The Sockalexis clan had produced a number of pure men in the past, and athleticism still ran in the family, so to speak. Andrew's father had earned a reputation as an outstanding runner in the tribe’s traditional five-hour foot races. His cousin, Louis Sockalexis, would become the first Native American baseball player to join the major leagues when the Cleveland Spiders drafted him in 1897. (Thanks to Louis’ success, in 1915 the team officially changed its name to the Cleveland Indians.)

Andrew Sockalexis was 10 years old when his father built a track near their home and encouraged his only son to use it. Just eleven years later, Andrew made national headlines by finishing 17th at the Boston Marathon in his first official race. The performance earned him a spot on the U.S. team for the 1912 Olympics, but 90-degree heat on the day of the race took its toll. Though he was considered a favorite among the marathon’s 12 American runners, Sockalexis placed 4th. He later explained that his strategy of holding back to conserve energy had backfired. He had waited too long to gain on the marathon’s frontrunners and couldn’t catch up in time. 

In the end, Sockalexis’ promising career would be cut short. In 1919, seven years after his Olympics debut, he succumbed to tuberculosis. He was just 27 years old. On the 90th anniversary of his death, the Maine State Legislature officially recognized him among the ranks of the state’s greatest runners of all time, declaring that he “brought much pride to the Penobscot Nation and to all the people of Maine.”

— Molly Stephey, Public Affairs Producer, Smithsonian's National Museum of the American Indian

These photos are part of the museum's exhibition, "Best in the World: Native Athletes in the Olympics," on view in Washington, D.C., through September 3, 2012.

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Say, you got a nice blog article.Thanks Again. Much obliged.

Olympics are awesome, any era!

Really helpful. Thanks for sharing useful detail.

Thank you very much

It's pretty cool to see the history of these American Indian athletes, especially considering the current day issues with team names and player names being disallowed from being used as they are viewed as derogatory or offensive to native tribes.

Inspiring I really enjoy to read this blog post I always appreciate work like this.

That was a pretty interesting post, will be looking forward to your future updates.

July 17, 2012

Sundance 2012: Four Days for Tunkashila

IMG_0220_MV (1)
After the Sundance: Looking east at the Tree of Life. Photo by Marisol Villanueva, courtesy of the Grandmothers Wisdom project. 

Author's note: The images shown here, by photographer Marisol Villanueva, portray elders and dancers after the formal closing of a four-day Sundance ceremony hosted in the Black Hills. They document a public ceremony that honored an ally of the Lakota families who sponsor the American Horse–Afraid of Bear Sundance. The photographs were taken and released under the families' direction, with the intention of informing "the people-at-large" of the new name given to a respected friend. 

Once again before Grandfather Sun, Tunkashila, the ceremony has come together. As they have for sixteen years, on these wondrous plateaus of the southern Black Hills of the northern Great Plains, Uncle Joe American Horse, traditional chief and former tribal president; his brother David American Horse; Grandma Beatrice Long Visitor Weasel Bear; respected headwoman Loretta Afraid of Bear; respected Pipe Carrier Tom Cook; and the American Horse/Afraid of Bear tiospayes (families) receive brothers and sisters of the many directions.

The purpose is to pray—by dancing, by receiving each other in a good way. In a properly isolated place, where wild horse herds roam relatively free, a ceremonial arbor open to the Four Directions is flanked by a large shade on poles and a dozen large tipis. This is home for four and more days to dancers there to don the ceremonial skirt, red-tied bracelets of prairie sage on ankles and wrists, crown of sage tied in red cloth, dual eagle feathers (spikes are favored) placed on the head; set to carry the ceremony as dancers of the sun.  Below—“downstairs”—a second plateau a half-mile away is camp for some two hundred family supporters of specific and groups of dancers, where more tipis and tents, an occasional RV, and many trucks and cars circle around a communal kitchen, staffed completely by volunteers— cooks and helpers.

There are many Sundances each summer, perhaps fifty or more just at the Oglala–Lakota reservation of Pine Ridge, hundreds, maybe thousands, across the Northern and Southern Plains, many more during sun-appreciation ceremonies throughout the hemispheric Native Americas. While foundational precepts and structures are manifested wherever Native peoples salute or celebrate the sun, each Sundance has its history, its specificity of culture and practice over its own ceremonial trajectory.

The Sundance sponsored by the American Horse and Afraid of Bear tiospayes, with much support by Red Clouds and other Lakota families, is unique in this general manner: About twenty years ago, grandfathers and grandmothers of the previous generation, guided by Larue Afraid of Bear and Ernest Afraid of Bear, journeyed over four years throughout the Black Hills.  Through sweat lodges and long walks, they searched for a proper place to bring the Sundance of their tiospaye from nearby Pine Ridge Reservation, home of the Oglala Sioux Nation, to their ancient grounds in the Black Hills. They found it inside an 11,000-acre sanctuary for wild horses established years ago by a cowboy-writer named Dayton Hyde. The story of how the old Indians found a meaningful partnership with the old cowboy who had saved a herd of mustangs, how they shared “signals” from a cave of ancient pictographs, put up inipi (sweatlodge) ceremonies, and finally “were led to” the sacred grounds of the present Sundance is worth much longer telling. It is an origin story and legend vivid with magical elements and assertive values—mysterious, yet true and historical. That narrative informs this particular Sundance, weaving into a common thread, which, for the sixteen years since 1997, has united a widespread range of participants.

The word tiospaye describes the very large, extended family of Plains Indian culture. The American Horse family numbers into the hundreds and originates in the line of the great 19th-century chief American Horse—a contemporary of Crazy Horse, and, along with that renowed warrior, one of four “shirtwearer” chiefs of the Oglala people. Afraid of Bear was a chief as well, from a family of strong political tradition, and progenitor also of hundreds of descendants. Other Oglala families participate in this summer solstice ceremony, notably the Red Cloud people, intermarried and relatives through tiospaye alliances since before reservation days.

Chief Joe American Horse and Loretta Afraid of Bear honor ally Dayton Hyde with a naming ceremony. Wearing a blue dress in the background is Beatrice Long Visitor Afraid of Bear. Photo by Marisol Villanueva, courtesy of the Grandmothers Wisdom project.

These are strong Oglala families, leadership people in a tribe with a long and difficult history. Deeply rooted at Pine Ridge, the American Horse–Afraid of Bear Sundance gathers spiritualists and cultural practitioners, activist families and individuals of many tribes and peoples. Through the leadership of Tom Cook and Loretta Afraid of Bear, Chief Joe American Horse, and important allies such as Milo Yellow Hair, the tiospayes work a summer gardens project that receives volunteers and consultants from many parts. Friendships and alliances extend internationally from just this one piece of the Oglala universe. This reality led the elders, after much discussion, to allow the tiospayes to accept people of other races to participate. “There’s four colors of man—red, white, black, and yellow,” Ernest Afraid of Bear once put it. “Anyone who wishes to come pray with us can come pray.” This became a definitive decision at the founding of their Sundance by Oglala elders. The decision does not lack for controversy, but the head people have only deepened their conviction over the years that while their ceremony must remain rooted in the Oglala families and Native leadership, kolas (good friends) of all races should be welcomed to participate.

On “tree day,” the evening before the start of dancing, a line of fifty cars snakes from the grounds to a creek where a silk cottonwood tree with just the right qualities has been selected.  Struck first by four young girls, the tree is sacrificed—greeted, smoked over, painted and sung over, then cut down by the men dancers, who are charged not to let it hit the ground. Thus it is carried and motored to the Sundance circle, where it is prepared, decorated with many tobacco-tie offerings, and put up, straight and gorgeous, full of spiritual promise, the Tree of Life.

Seven flagpoles to honor Armed Forces veterans are erected in ceremony to the east, just outside the arbor—American and tribal flags snapping in the wind and portraits of fallen loved ones on chairs draped with starquilts.

Day after day, the sweatlodge stones hiss with steam, the eagle-bone whistles blow, feathers sway in the wind, and the feet of many people, in the dance ground and in the surrounding shaded arbor, keep pace with the drums and singers. Strong-pounded Sundance songs sustain the prayers of the people.

Men's sweat lodge, Sundance, 2012. Photo by Marisol Villanueva, courtesy of the Grandmothers Wisdom project.

In 2012 more than sixty dancers pledged to dance the four days, fasting from food and partly from water, about forty men and twenty women, more than half from Native communities, dressed in colorful skirts manifesting much red, an impressive sight. Always tough, the severity of sacrifice varies among the many Sundances and among the individuals who participate. Men’s chests and backs are cut and pierced, hooked to hang and pull from the Tree of Life, hooked to pull buffalo skulls until breaking free, bloody wounds of courage and pity, pleading and hope, to give of their own bodies, according to traditional teaching, the only thing that actually belongs to a human being. Women give flesh offerings from their shoulders, sometimes stitching eagle feathers to their arms. Sacrifice is prayer by gift of suffering, and at this Sundance, such activity is carried out with dignity and decorum, with much common support. Veteran dancers set the pace and mood. Macho is disdained, bragging easily identified. The prayer of an individual, his or her particular vision, elicits complete respect.

Every day, pipes are loaded with prayerful tobacco, taken into the dance, and over the day given over to selected people outside the dance who will smoke for the dancer, releasing their prayers to the universe.

Every day, water is remembered fondly, our relationship with water and memory of it deeply felt, our yearning for its gift, our appreciation of its identity in ourselves.

For four days, the people convene, the Sacred Tree sways in the wind, the singers drum and the dancers dance. It is an exciting monotony and much happens, in the wind and the sky and among the people. Oglala Lakota Tribal President John Yellowbird Steele shows up on tree day with the Oglala Sioux Tribe pipe, a beautiful red pipestone buffalo carving on a long stem. He asks for special prayers for the nation, as upcoming meetings will severely challenge its sovereignty; strength of resolve is sought. The Black Hills case is mentioned; all the Lakota tribal governments are holding firm so far: “The Black Hills are not for sale.” A family comes in with four horses to give away; a group of heyokas, or contraries, shows up, adding to the ceremony with their humorous pranks directed at the dancers, teased with buckets of water. High winds, clouds of dust, hot sands and sudden rain, meaningful clouds, exhaustion and renewal, tears of pain and hope.

Tunkashila–Wakantanka, Sun and Blue Skies, energy and movement, time. The sun is grandfather. Throughout the Native Americas, the sun is regulator, he is the day, illuminator, Creator himself or his central representation in Creation, Ahau among the Maya, Inti to the Quechua, steady, unchanging, Heart of the Sky.

Very special this year, the main prayer that unites all the dancers is dedicated to womankind—“the women.” Release from shame, from violence is sought. Native ways of North and South are recollected. The Maya Calendar days are pondered and indeed the days of the dance precisely correspond with particularly intense “women’s days” in the sacred calendar, significantly the 13 Ix. This is all noted. A mother and daughter from Navajo visit; during a break between dance rounds, they speak to the assemblage about a movement among women on reviving the practice of the ceremonial Moonlodge. Good teachings around the confusing subject of menstruation and ceremony emerge, dreams recounted. In the privacy of the men’s sweatlodges, words of respect, affection, and support of the women and the families are offered. On these and many subjects, elder teachings are shared and pondered—true purpose of a sacred gathering. Men grow as the women concentrate their power.

On day four, as the dance concludes and final blessings are sought from the dancers, other ceremonies take place. There is hunka, or the making of relatives; there is a naming and honoring gifted in eagle feathers, where the venerable cowboy, Dayton Hyde, on this sixteenth year of hosting the Sundance on his horseland, receives the Lakota name Wapiya Owanyanke—Protector of Ceremonies; there are veterans’ salutes; there are give-aways by families and individuals. There is a big feed. 

—Jose Barreiro

Jose Barreiro (Taíno) is head of the National Museum of the American Indian’s Office for Latin America. His Hemispheric Journal also appears on the Indian Country Today Media Network.


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July 16, 2012

Iroquois Nationals Play a Decisive Game July 17 at the 2012 Lacrosse World Championships


Newsflash: Iroquois Nationals beat the U.S. lacrosse team today (July 17) 15–13. The Nationals advance seeded in the winners' bracket. Here's today's scorecard.

With a record of two wins and one loss so far in the 2012 World Lacrosse Championships in Turku, Finland, the Iroquois Nationals lacrosse team is making a powerful statement in world sports. The next question is, When will it play in the Olympics?
        In the first three games of the championships, which run through July 21, the Iroquois Nationals crushed England, came back for a decisive win over Australia, and in a dramatic match lost narrowly to powerhouse Canada. In their next game on July 17, the Nationals take on the U.S. team to advance from divisional play to a berth in the winners' bracket of the 12-nation tournament.
        As an expression of Haudenosaunee sovereignty, the team travels with Iroquois Confederacy passports. During the last championships, held in Manchester, England, in 2010, the British government denied the team visas. This year, the team received a warm welcome from spectators mindful of that diplomatic debacle. The next step for the team will be to play lacrosse as an official sport in the Olympics—though not during the London games starting July 27. 
        It’s an often overlooked fact that the sport, invented and still played with great spirit by American Indians, was once an official Olympic sport. And an Iroquois team once competed and won an Olympic medal. 
        The Third Olympiad, in St. Louis in 1904, held a three-way lacrosse tournament including an all-Iroquois team from Brantford, Ontario. Since competitors at the time were not entered as national teams, the Iroquois represented their club and their Haudenosaunee affiliation, not Canada. The team finished third, winning the bronze medal. Information on the team is sparse, since it submitted a roster of obvious pseudonyms, such as “Flat Iron” and “Man Afraid Soap.”     
        The 1908 London Olympics also hosted a lacrosse tournament, but no American Indian team was entered and none of the Canadian or U.S. players were identifiably Native. The cost of travel to London very likely discouraged Native participation. The Olympics dropped lacrosse thereafter as an official sport, because of the limited number of countries that played it. 
        But lacrosse made a few subsequent appearances as an Olympic exhibition or demonstration sport: in Amsterdam in 1928; Los Angeles in 1932; London in 1948, the last time the games were held there; and Los Angeles again in 1984. At the 1932 games, Olympic organizers were allowed two demonstration sports, one domestic and one foreign; they chose football as the domestic sport and lacrosse as the foreign. (The rationale was that lacrosse was played only on the East Coast, not in California.) The lacrosse federation originally projected a competition for Indian teams. At some point before try-outs in Long Island, the federation switched to an all-star Haudenosaunee team. Then, under somewhat murky circumstances, national lacrosse officials decided that too many of the Iroquois players had professional backgrounds, and the team was not allowed to compete in Los Angeles. 
        Although the sport fell into Olympic limbo, it has exploded in popularity in recent years. With widespread high school and college play and several professional leagues, lacrosse is now a major North American sport with increasing presence worldwide. It is again knocking on the Olympic door. The requirement for consideration is a viable presence in 34 countries. National lacrosse committees are now active in 32 countries, including the Haudenosaunee National team. A modest proposal: If more Indian nations fielded teams, such as a Choctaw or Cherokee team, they could easily boost the sport over the Olympic threshold and restore its place in the premiere world athletic arena.

Championship logo
To follow the World Championships, go to the 2012 World Championships website, which is giving live scorecards for ongoing games. For news on the Iroquois team and links to other sites about the sport, visit Iroquois Nationals Lacrosse. Indian Country Today (ICT) is providing thorough text and photographic coverage; ICT's excellent background story on Iroquois Nationals team and the 2012 tournament here.

Team scores to date

Iroquois 24 – England 2
Canada 11 – Iroquois 9
Iroquois 17 – Australia 9 

—Jim Adams

Jim Adams, senior historian at the National Museum of the American Indian, is the curator of the exhibition Best in the World: Native Athletes in the Olympics, on view at the museum in Washington, D.C., through September 3.

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Great post, thanks for this!

Splendid Article, Please Keep Update Us, Thank You :)