November 09, 2011

American Indian Heritage & StoryCorps 2011: The History & Diversity of Indian Country

A former executive producer at NMAI, Rob McIlvaine now works for the Army News Service at Fort Meade's Defense Media Activity, where he was asked to write about his Native American heritage. He shares this story with us:

Size0Tom Miles, the author's grandfather, is shown holding the football for a kick at Carlisle Indian Industrial School, ca.1911. Miles was a freshman when his cousin Jim Thorpe was a senior on the team. (Photo courtesy of Rob McIlvaine)

Rob writes:

Although November was not designated as National American Indian Heritage Month until 1990, I grew up knowing about my Indian heritage by hearing stories from my mother, who was born to a French woman from Quimper and an Indian descended from Chief Black Hawk. I and my Sac and Fox cousins didn't play cowboys and Indians growing up. We played at "taking back our land and restoring our nation." We imitated our ancestor who tried to do that in 1832, giving the future President Abraham Lincoln his only battle experience during the Black Hawk War.

We knew we were playing, however, because like so many of those who had gone before us, not only had the names of Indian places and people become destinations and football team names, the people had become assimilated, too.

It's a fact of life.

After warring with people, we all begin to become "one", even though some insurgents take longer than others to understand this rite of passage. Or, as we jokingly said of ourselves, "our Indian blood had become polluted." For instance, the Lenni Lenape, better known as the Delaware Indians, had assimilated long before William Penn came to Philadelphia on his ship, "Welcome."

However, when my grandfather, Wapahmak -- Dark Shining Object on Still Water -- took me fishing or watched me play football, I knew the eyes of my ancestors were upon me. When we played at war and performed stunts, such as diving through windows, climbing rock walls, swimming in cold springs, catching fish with our hands and holding onto electric fencing, we knew we were testing ourselves.

My Indian grandfather did the same but it wasn't play. He was a deep-sea diver in World War I and a ship fitter in World War II and then he built radio towers outside of Philadelphia. Indian men always wanted to prove themselves, but when war ends, they take jobs considered too dangerous by many.

Before that, my grandfather attended the Carlisle Indian School in Pennsylvania -- founded by Capt. Richard H. Pratt in 1879. There my granddad played football with his cousin Jim Thorpe. So, even though Pratt's effort to take the Indian out of the Indian had, in large part worked, my cousins, disbursed by marriage and opportunity from our tribal lands in Shawnee, Okla., still held on to both sides of our heritage.

And then, in 2002, I had the opportunity to be executive producer for the National Museum of the American Indian on the mall, near the U.S. Capitol. While my mom -- First Ray of Dawn, and granddad had both been given Indian names at birth, the museum experience gave me the opportunity to reconnect with my ancestors many years later.

Dancers during the inaugural powwow for the opening of the National Museum of the American Indian on the National Mall in September 2004. (Photo courtesy of the museum)

During my time at the museum, through my sponsors Grace Thorpe -- Jim's daughter, Bud McClellan, and other elders of the tribe, I was given the name Ni-Ka-Noo-Ko-Huk -- Leader when Lightning Strikes. I became a member of the We mi ko (Thunder) Clan, and also was invited to dance with the Gourd Clan because of my military experience.

I hired a TV crew and we traveled through Canada from Montreal to Winnepeg and from the Virginia tribes to Oklahoma, New Mexico and up to Washington state and got the chance to dance with a group of Indians in Chicago. I was hesitant to join the other dancers because I had once told a cousin that I didn't know how to dance. His answer to me was, "That's alright, no one knows how to dance ... only God knows."

My film crew and I interviewed members of the Kahnawake Mohawk territory, many of whom built the Empire State Building and the World Trade Center. This powerful tribe stood up against the Canadian police when they refused to make French their first language.

This was the first time I had heard of Indians re-learning or holding onto their language -- or that which makes them Indian. The tribe had an elementary, middle and high school where children were immersed in the language.

We made friends with the Tohono O'odham reservation near Tucson, Ariz., which began a non-profit organization called Native Seeds, and we were invited into a home to eat the results of their labors as they promoted the use of ancient crops.

092104PRWL048From the opening procession of the National Museum of the American Indian in 2004 (Photo courtesy of the museum)

We journeyed to Yakama Nation and visited Mount Adams -- their source of water and irrigation for their crops and lumber mill, and saw salmon fishing along the Columbia River in Washington. We also visited the relatively small Hoopa Valley Tribe where they showed us how they cut the river grass to make baskets, and took a boat ride up the majestic Trinity River in northern California where we saw eagles soar.

We saw tribes and nations with many resources and some striving to hold on to what they have. Some shared their art and music while others shared the fruits of their labors. But all had pride in their heritage.

Not unlike the Pow-Wow, where the people get together to join in dancing, visiting, renewing old friendships and making new ones, and to preserve their heritage, the Native Americans we met across North America knew the importance of sharing their past, present and future with others at the National Museum of the American Indian, which officially opened in 2004 with a national Pow-Wow.

DSC_223A woman walks in the opening procession of the National Museum of the American Indian, September 2004. (Photo courtesy of the museum)

Once many of the tribes raided and fought against each other. Now they gather together to keep a people alive ... to prove we are still here and we still have a voice. Where once there was mutual honor and respect for the enemy in battle, this now has evolved into mutual honor and respect for each tribe, nation or native community. We work with each other to keep alive the language, the song, the dance and the beat of the drum.


Re-printed with permission from the U.S. Army News Service as part of the museum's partnership with StoryCorps for Native American and Alaska Native Heritage Month and the StoryCorps National Day of Listening.



Comments (1)

    » Post a Comment

I am glad American Indian Heritage and football Heritage combine well.

November 08, 2011

American Indian Heritage & StoryCorps 2011: Winter Storytelling in Hopi Lands

In honor of Native American and Alaska Native Heritage Month, we're asking our friends in Indian Country to share their stories on our blog all month long.

Our first submission comes from Sharon Batala of Hotevilla-Bacavi, Arizona, who sent us this beautiful photo of the Hopi lands, where she grew up learning about her tribe's traditions during walks in the desert with her family. Batala, a former Air Force Staff Sargeant, works as a counselor at the Hopi Veterans Center Outreach Station.

Sedona,work,Pivanhonkapi 060

Sharon writes:

Winter is the time for storytelling. Through storytelling in the Hopi language, values are passed on from generation to generation. History, clan migrations, destruction of ancient cities, when the deities came to humans, when animals used to talk with humans and other information is passed on. It is a time for families to strengthen bonds, to learn important values of being Hopi and to have your imagination spurred beyond the limits!

In my family, storytelling was a favorite of my childhood living on the reservation. My grandparents, who were the storytellers. My father, the intellectual, took us on hikes as small children to the places that seemed mystical in the story, but upon close examination brought to reality the "real" story of a village and people who were no longer there. Along with teaching lessons of locations, place names, plant names, and important historical locations, my dad told us once, when we were complaining about being tired, "One day you might be in charge of this land; how are you to make good decisions about the land if you don't know it?" And so we walked on listening to him as he told us many things about our desert landscape.

One such location we visited was Pivanhonkapi, an ancient village that was destroyed. In the story, the Hopi deities come to assist the players in the story. Medicine is used to help. Powers are revealed in the magical happenings of the story as it moves to a climatic end. As a child, I couldn't sleep just thinking of the story and what happened to the people, how they must have felt and looked as they escaped, fleeing across the desert. Then when he took us to the actual place, total wonderment that the story was not just a story.

Stories enabled me to use the values they taught as I grew up, even though I did not know much of the outside world.  But the values I learned helped me throughout my life and continue to strengthen me.  I hope others will return to their own tribal stories and learn what their ancestors have provided, it is truly . . . living history.

Comments (6)

    » Post a Comment

Really interesting to hear of other people's childhoods and traditions and that these stories can be related to actual places and events.

What a wonderful but tragic heritage. The story is incomprehensible to me. If we Caucasians had acted right, perhaps we would be privileged to know so much more than we do.

In recent years, I have learned just a "tad" more about my paternal great, great grandmother, who was an American Indian. My maternal grandmother admonished me not even to admit that I had American Indian blood. Such a waste! I never heard anything about her as a person. Who was she? What was her personality like. After all, she was my grandmother's grandmother. That's pretty close. Why was she involved with our family? Was it with her consent, or not? Did anyone know her? I don't even know her name, but I will try to find out.

The history of the Americans Indian Heritage is a fascinating subject interesting.They were our first environmentalists and horticulturists.

Hi Sharon,

I enjoyed the read - American Indian Heritage & StoryCorps 2011: Winter Storytelling in Hopi Lands. thank you


Really enjoyed the great story and photo. Thanks!

You provided an impressive article I like it so much. I love historical articles like this. Thanks

November 01, 2011

Celebrate Native American Heritage Month With Us!

6a01156f5f4ba1970b0134896fd370970cMuseum staffer Terry Snowball, center, with members of Chile's Aymara communities during a repatriation trip in 2007 (Photo courtesy of Terry Snowball)

In honor of Native American and Alaska Native Heritage Month this November, we're partnering with StoryCorps, a nonprofit oral-history organization, to celebrate American Indian Heritage Day and the 2011 National Day of Listening, a new holiday started by StoryCorps that encourages Americans to record the stories of their families, friends and local communities. Both holidays fall on the same day this year—Friday, Nov. 25.

Last year, we participated by recording the tribal histories, family stories, and museum experiences of our Native American staffers, including museum director Kevin Gover (Pawnee) and repatriation coordinator Terry Snowball (Prairie Band Potawatomi/Wisconsin Ho-Chunk), above. You can listen to the interviews here:

This year, we’re reaching out to you, our visitors and our fans, in the hopes that you might make your own recordings and post summaries on the StoryCorps Wall of Listening at

Each interview’s location will be highlighted on an interactive map on the StoryCorps website, illustrating not only the scope of the museum’s friends but also the diversity of Indian Country.  

We’d also like to invite you to share some of these stories (and photos!) on the museum’s blog by writing us at  

If you'd like to participate or have any questions about the project, please email Molly Stephey at

Thank you!

Comments (10)

    » Post a Comment

Thanks a lot for sharing a very nice wording with us! Please keep it up.

Very nice picture. I learn many things from this sites. Thank you very much for sharing a lot of this good information.It’s a useful post.I learn many things from this sites. Nice post.

nice pictures too, thanks the information, a lot of things I learned from this blog.

Interesting.I live in Australia and it would be good to have something like that here.I am not an Australian and I can see that the aboridginies are not given a fair go.It is all lip service.

This is a great way of learning more about American Indians. I believe their heritage should be preserved. Thank you.

Hi Molly Stephey,
Thanks for sharing such a great information.

This sounds like an amazing exhibit. Nice article.

Nice Blog post.This is a great way of learning more about American Indians.Thanks for sharing this post and it is very helpful for all.

I have always fears native Americans are extincted but this is a great way of learning of their continued existence. Thanks for such a wonderful article.

International Conference on: Conservation of Architectural Heritage.
"Call For Paper"
23 - 27 November 2015
Luxor and Aswan, Egypt

November 26, 2010

StoryCorps Interview with NMAI's Kevin Gover (Pawnee)

This week the Smithsonian’s National Museum of the American Indian has shared the stories of five Native staffers as part of American Indian Heritage Day and the StoryCorps’ 2010 National Day of Listening. Today—Friday, Nov. 26—we celebrate both of these holidays and encourage you and your loved ones to join us by, quite simply, sharing stories with one another.

Gover-post2 Our final interview features the museum’s director, Kevin Gover (Pawnee). Before joining NMAI in 2007, Gover was a professor of law at Arizona State University. From 1997 to 2000, he served as assistant secretary for Indian Affairs in the U.S. Department of the Interior, overseeing programs in Indian education, law enforcement, social services and treaty rights.

He grew up near Lawton, Okla., where his parents worked as civil-rights activists in the 1960s and '70s.

“This museum is really attempting to redefine a number of things. In particular and most importantly, it’s trying to redefine how Indians are represented in the museum world, and establishing a requirement that in order to represent these communities properly the community has to be deeply involved in the development of any sort of content," Gover said during his conversation with Rachael Cassidy (Cherokee Nation of Oklahoma), NMAI Cultural Interpreter.

"And we can look out the window right here at the Capitol of the United States, and you realize its symbolic importance. This great stone edifice really, to me, stands for the proposition that Indians are still here, and we’re here to stay.”

On growing up in Comanche County, Oklahoma:

 Gover-Childhood (Click to Play)

EXCERPT: “I suppose my best memory was actually being at my grandmother and grandfather’s farm in Faxon, Oklahoma. It seemed like a carefree place to a child, and there were a million things to get in trouble over when you’re out on that much land with that many animals and that much farm equipment and, so, we did.”

On the biggest in influences in his life:

Gover-Biggest Influence (Click to Play)

EXCERPT: From my parents, the real lasting lesson was to accept people for who they are and to just never, ever judge somebody else because of the color of their skin or their economic background or their gender or religion or any of the other dozens and hundreds of ways we try to separate ourselves from other people. And they were insistent about that. For all their failings, that was something they drove home. That, and I suppose the idea of achieving to the limits of your potential. You know, the achievement part can be a bad thing if you become obsessed with achievement for your own sake. On the other hand, to strive for a cause is a good thing. And they taught me that.”

On choosing a career in law:

Gover- Law and Civil Rights (Click to Play)

EXCERPT: “I think it had something to do with the people that my parents exposed me to during the civil rights movement. There was a loose organization . . . that just called itself “the Group.” But they had taken on as their charter to try to end segregation in Lawton, Oklahoma, in both public and private facilities. And among the members of the group were some lawyers that I remember. I remember one named Maynard Ungerman, another named Bill Sexton. And I just saw how the Group had such a respect for them. When they spoke, everybody was listening. And I think that may be where I decided that I wanted to be a lawyer.”

On his struggles with alcoholism:

Gover-Alcoholism (Click to Play)

EXCERPT: “In my career as a drinker, I still have memories that I shudder over, things that I did, and just wish I could take them back. I know I can’t. . . . Almost everything I’ve done in my life that I’m genuinely ashamed of—not failing, but just ashamed of—happened when I was drinking. So that’s reason enough for me never to drink again.”

The National Day of Listening is an effort to encourage all Americans to honor a friend, loved one, or member of their community by interviewing them about their lives. StoryCorps has created a free do-it-yourself interview guide with equipment recommendations and interview instructions available online at


Comments (41)

    » Post a Comment

Totally enjoyed this interview. Would love to meet this gentleman. He has been involved with tribal peoples in many arenas, and just wished he could have been invited to the Klamath tribes, of which I am a member. He gives me hope, that at 62, I can continue my education after raising 6 children. We have no limits but those that we set ourselves. Indian people making a difference anywhere and everywhere we can!!

Even though I am not an American Indian, I think Kevin Grover can be an inspiration to everyone.

With regard to his bout with alcoholism, I know how devastating this disease can be. My mother was a recovering alcoholic for more than 26 years before she died. It was a daily struggle, but she used it to inspire others. When Kevin decided that he did not like the person he was when he was drinking, he used it to make a positive change in his life.

The wisdom he received from parents about accepting others without judgment is advice I think many people can benefit from today. So many of us are afraid to even acknowledge that there are differences between us, because it might not be 'politically correct' to do so.

I think it is wonderful to ask people about their different cultures. When we are open to hearing how other people live, without making judgments about them, we can actually put the National Day of Listening into effect on a daily basis.

Excellent. купить ноутбук Totally enjoyed this interview!

I can relate I have had a part time job as a drinker.

Great interview. Real experiences from real people like Kevin Gover can really serve to help a lot of people who face similar challenges.

thank you for the interview, it was very interesting. It helps other people realize that they are not alone in their struggles.

Excellent..very inspiring and informative.

great interview, we will recognize such a great work.

high value interview to listen to

Very informative blog.
nice to read.
good work
thanks for the posting.

It's wonderful to see that native American Indians are beginning to emerge into well documented and inspirational members of society. One day they may even be given the apology they so deserve. I really enjoyed the the article and gain some interesting and educational insight.

I have gone through similar times and it is great to see someone come through it as well!

Great interview. I would like to have an interview with this guy for my page.

Really very nice blog...
After a long time to find this kind of content...

Excellent, brilliant interview.

Your culture travels far. Even here in the very far south west of the United Kingdom in the county of Cornwall... there are many people with an avid interest in your fascinating culture.

Although us Celts are not too similar in many respects, I guess if we do share a common similarity... it's in our combined oral storytelling traditions.

Thank you very much indeed for posting this up.

Onen Hag Oll (One and All in the Cornish (Kernow) native language))

Mark Andrews
Cornwall UK

It's very nice and inspiring. There are many people in this world who are heroes but most will never get that recognition.

Best Regards,

Joe P.

Great to see this culture still being preserved, keep up the education!

Thank you for sharing your stories.

I am very glad to see that there is still hope. In my country the education is very low because the economic climate. You really are great!



inspiring one!! great work!!

Great story.

Very informative blog.

About Indians. Great!!!!


I met Kevin by accident once while I was taking some photos on vacation and he was a thoroughly interesting man.

Very interesting.

"This museum is really attempting to redefine a number of things. In particular and most importantly, it’s trying to redefine how Indians are represented in the museum world, and establishing a requirement that in order to represent these communities properly the community has to be deeply involved in the development of any sort of content"

I think that's very important and I hope it goes good.

I find this very interesting. I find myself 43 years old, sober, and wondering what to do. I believe I will return to school. Thanks to the commentor. If 63 is too old to go to school than 43 certainly isn't.

Very interesting blog, it is difficult to find a blog with high quality content like this, from already thank you very much.

It is fitting and just darn 'right' that an Indian community's members be involved in the decisions about what goes into their displays and stories in any U.S. museum. GD.

This was a great post. Thanks for the read :)

I think that is very important from public point of view.

very happy to read your blog.
thank you for sharing,I enjoyed the article.

Great and interesting story.
Thank you.

Thanks for this insightful information. I really enjoyed it. You provided some great values here.


Mr Gover sounds like a very interesting person. I would love to hear more about his opinions on native american history! Thank you for posting this interview!

Really really unique, good post, keep writing please.

It's the stories and people like these that give those of us who work with heritage and in museums the inspiration to work harder. Excellent article!


The museum is interesting. I especially enjoyed the piece on law and civil rights.

nice info,
thanks for sharing.. :)

I really enjoy reading such a inspiring article like this. Keep it up

I agree with Mark's comments above. This interview is pertinent to many communities worldwide where storytelling is an important part of the heritage. Her in Cornwall, stories have been passed down through many generations. Many stories are delivered through songs such as sea shanties.
Tom in Cornwall

It really is good and important to have a good memorable childhood! and glad you did.

And also having the courage and will to overcome alcoholism and even share with the public this personal journey!

Best regards!

November 25, 2010

StoryCorps Interview with NMAI's Jacquetta Swift (Comanche/Fort Sill Apache)

This week the Smithsonian’s National Museum of the American Indian will share the stories of five Native staffers as part of American Indian Heritage Day and the StoryCorps’ 2010 National Day of Listening, a holiday started by the nonprofit organization StoryCorps in 2008. Both holidays fall on the same day this year—Friday, Nov. 26.

Swift for Web Today’s interview features Jacquetta Swift (Comanche/Fort Sill Apache), the museum’s repatriation manager. She works with Terry Snowball at the museum’s Cultural Resources Center to return human remains and sacred objects to communities across the Western hemisphere, from Alaska and Arizona to Chile and Peru.

It was through NMAI’s New York branch, the George Gustav Heye Center (GGHC) in Manhattan, that Swift first became involved with the museum.   After staff at the GGHC learned about a powwow Swift had organized in 1993, they asked her to coordinate the inaugural celebration of the museum’s induction into the Smithsonian Institution the following year. “It’s a great experience to be here and to work in this field and to work with Native people and work for Native people,” Swift said during her conversation with Keevin Lewis (Navajo), the museum’s community services coordinator. “It’s been a real honor.”

On organizing a powwow in New York to combat homesickness:

Jackie Swift-Powwow (Click to Play)

EXCERPT: “I had recently gotten married, and I had moved to New York City. I had worked so long to get away from Oklahoma that once I got away … I was like, Wow, I’m really homesick. And I thought, how can I create that sense of home and have more Native folks around me … And I actually thought, You know it’d be great to bring the Apache Fire Dancers here.”  

On shifts in the museum’s approach to repatriation:

Jackie Swift-Shift in Repatriation (Click to Play)

EXCERPT: “At the museum’s inception it was known that human remains and funerary objects were the biggest priority for return … As the years have gone by, what we saw was that tribes were coming forward and saying we appreciate that you want to return human remains, but they’ll say, 'We’re not ready to have them returned,' or 'That’s not our priority. We would like these sacred objects, or these cultural patrimony objects returned to the community because we have elders that are dying, we have this need in the community to perpetuate our ceremonies and our culture and our way of life, and we can’t until we have these things returned.'”

On the concept of repatriation law:

Jackie Swift-Repatriation Lessons (Click to Play)

 EXCERPT: “It’s interesting that we have to have … a law that tells U.S. citizens that it’s not OK for you to have our ancestors in your museums … It’s not OK that you, or whoever, dug these up in the first place and took the funerary objects that were with them and sometimes, in some cases, disassociated them … So this is an effort to try and correct that wrong that has been done. And I think anybody, regardless of Native or non-Native, can appreciate the fact that no one would ever want to have their grandmother or their family members dug up so they could have the trinkets or just examine their bones.”

On participating in the D.C. museum's 2004 opening procession:

Jackie Swift-Epiphany (Click to Play)

EXCERPT: "I was taking these Cheyenne/Arapaho kids up the Mall, these little high school kids ... and I saw walking toward me these guys from the Amazon rainforest, you know they had barely any clothes on and paint decorating their bodies and no shoes and it was just one of those sort of surreal moments when you were like, “Look at this. Look at this juxtaposition.” And they’re kind of looking around at the diversity of people that were there, and I firmly believe that at no time in our history, no time in our future, will we have that many indigenous peoples and their tribal leaders at one place at one time. So that was kind of an epiphany moment for me."

The National Day of Listening is an effort to encourage all Americans to honor a friend, loved one, or member of their community by interviewing them about their lives. StoryCorps has created a free do-it-yourself interview guide with equipment recommendations and interview instructions available online at

Comments (1)

    » Post a Comment

I am from scotland and have enjoyed reading your blog , will keep an eye out for new blogs.