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Art act in effect at holiday

Assistant Editor
09/18/2008 10:23 AM
TAHLEQUAH, Okla. – This Cherokee National Holiday, anyone marketing themselves as Indians and operating vendor booths on Cherokee Nation property must be able to prove citizenship in a federally recognized tribe or face expulsion.

The tough measure stems from the tribe’s Truth in Advertising for Native Art Act, which Tribal Councilors passed and Principal Chief Chad Smith signed in January.

“We sent all of our arts and crafts vendors a copy of the Truth in Advertising for Native Art Act along with an arts and crafts contract,” Lou Slagle, holiday coordinator, said. “I’ll be making up some sort of license or verification (showing) that this vendor is an authorized Native American vendor.”

He said his staff would check booths to ensure that the act is followed and that if a vendor is caught misleading or deceiving customers, the vendor would be escorted off CN property by CN marshals and banned.

Despite the tough penalty, the act isn’t designed to stop non-Indians from operating holiday booths, but to stop them from claiming to be Indians.

“Any vendor can go out there. It’s just the difference between this vendor being certified as a tribal member versus someone who is just selling stuff,” Tonia Williams, CN Web manager and member of the tribe’s Fraudulent Indian Tribes Team, said. “As a Cherokee, as a federally recognized tribal citizen, you should be able to be certified as a federally recognized tribal citizen instead of just coming in and claiming to be Indian.”

FITT members said they initiated the act after seeing non-Indians using Web sites, buying memberships into state-recognized tribes or other so-called Indian groups and calling or associating themselves with Indian cultures – primarily through art – to legitimize themselves as Indians.

Cara Cowan Watts, Dist. 7 Tribal Councilor and FITT member, said many non-Indians use “fake identities” to sell art, fabricate culture and legitimize themselves as Indians.

Williams said FITT members don’t know how much money has been spent on non-Indian art over legitimate Indian art during the years but “for every dollar they (non-Indians) receive, it’s a dollar that doesn’t go to a real Native American.”

Theact’s main purpose is to foster authentic Indian art and combat non-Indians selling art as Indian art by defining an Indian as a federally recognized tribal citizen. Cowan Watts said the limited definition makes the CN act stronger than the U.S. Indian Arts and Crafts Act, which includes state-recognized tribal citizens.

She said the tribe’s act also expands the definition of art. It states that art is “an object or action that is made with the intention of stimulating the human senses as well as the human mind/and or spirit regardless of any functional uses,” including crafts, handmade items, traditional storytelling, contemporary art or techniques, oral histories, other performing arts and printed materials.

“It is to clarify any art, performing art, physical art or written art that you have to be a federally recognized tribal citizen if you are claiming that those things are Indian or Native American,” Cowan Watts said. “That’s different from the federal Indian Arts and Crafts Act in that it is more inclusive of all art forms. And it limits it to federally recognized tribal citizens because we believe that so-called state recognized tribes are illegitimate.”

FITT coordinator Julie Ross said the federal law allows non-Indians to market themselves as Indians because all they have to do is join a state-recognized tribe, which usually requires an enrollment fee.

“Because the federal act recognizes state-recognized tribes, it is meaningless,” Ross said.
CN’s act also establishes guidelines for the purchase, promotion and sale of genuine Native American arts and crafts within its jurisdiction and by its entities. That includes CN government offices, Cherokee Nation Businesses, Cherokee Nation Enterprises, Cherokee Nation Industries, the Housing Authority of the Cherokee Nation and any component and entity the CN is a sole or majority stockholder or owner.

For example, if non-Indian vendors sell items while claiming to be Indians on Cherokee Heritage Center grounds and go unpunished, the CHC could lose its CN funding.
“This is still all in process,” Williams said. “We don’t know what really is going to happen, but we hope that we at least start a trend.”

Cowan Watts said the act’s enforcement at holidays should bring back Cherokee artists who have been pushed out by non-Indians.

“What we find is, too frequently, it’s real easy for these folks who aren’t Cherokee to scream and yell louder than our real Cherokees,” she said. “If these non-Indian people spend their entire day playing Indian while all our real tribal citizens have regular jobs, then it’s much easier for all these people buying and selling to be attracted to these non-Indians. This will be the first holiday that the act has an effect on, so I expect that to encourage our traditional folks to return.”

The act also states the CN shall not knowingly offer for sale art produced by individuals who falsely claim, imply or suggest they are Indian and will not host, sponsor, fund or otherwise devote or contribute resources to exhibits showing artists who falsely claim, imply or suggest they are Indian.

“So we if find the Five Civilized Tribes Museum (in Muskogee, Okla.) is including known wannabes, not just state recognized…but people who are not part of a state-recognized tribe and are truly just claiming to be Indian in an art show over our federally recognized tribal citizens we could pull the money,” Cowan Watts said. “Our belief is that the Five Tribes Museum is supposed to serve the Five Civilized Tribes.”

Roger Cain, a Cherokee citizen and artist from Stilwell, Okla., said he and his wife Shawna support the act and see it as honoring their Cherokee ancestors.

“To me, if they are federally recognized they are the ones with the ancestors who stood up and said ‘I’m Cherokee; I’m Keetoowah,’ from the very beginning. We have to honor our ancestors who did this,” he said. “I got friends who are mad about it and were from the very beginning. I feel bad for them, but I tell them that I’m honoring my ancestors.”

Cain said although he supports the act, he thinks state-recognized tribal citizens have the right to make art but should have separate categories at art shows.

“If a person is buying Native art, they should know that the artist still lives in the community, still works with the Indian community and practices within the Indian community and is federally recognized,” he said. “We want to make a different category for the state-recognized tribes so they can show their stuff and aren’t competing with us.”

He does, however, want the law to impact people who know nothing about Indians or Indian culture yet tell people they are Indian.

“I want this law to impact those guys,” he said. “That’s what this law is about, catching those guys. If I’m out here in the woods gathering what I need to make my art piece, and then somebody in a big city who all of a sudden realizes they are Indian because of an old family photo can order stuff off the Internet and make their piece, it makes me say, ‘hey, I’m out here living the Cherokee culture by gathering my materials and you’re living where the Cherokees got moved away from.’ That is what the act is about – reinforcing real Cherokees and real Indians.”

FITT members said along with the holiday booths and CHC gift shop, the act has also affected CNE’s art markets and gifts shops by ensuring each item sold under the Indian art label is made by federally recognized tribal citizens.

“The entities have cleaned up a lot of the stuff they had,” Williams said. “We’ve had everything from stuff made in China to artists’ works and things like that. They have cleaned up to where they aren’t presenting non-Indians’ works, especially books. If you are saying that you are Cherokee in the book, and you’re not, then don’t say it.”

Cowan Watts said books not written by “federally recognized tribal citizens are supposed to be migrated out or there’s going to be a sticker on them saying they are not Cherokee or Indians.”

One writer she cites is author Robert J. Conley, whose books include Cherokee history-based fictions, as well as the non-fiction works “A Cherokee Encyclopedia” and “The Cherokee Nation: A History,” which the CN commissioned him to write.

Cowan Watts said Conley is only an associate member of the United Keetoowah Band and can’t trace any Cherokee heritage.

Conley, who disagrees with the act, said he traces his Cherokee lineage to the Dawes Rolls via his grandmother, Myrtle E. Parris, who is listed on the final rolls.

“If I’m not a Cherokee, it’s interesting that the Cherokee Nation registered me initially and the UKB later enrolled me,” he said. “My grandmother is one of the original (Dawes Rolls) enrollees. If Cara Cowan and her cohorts have nothing better to do than be Cherokee blood police, then they need to find some kind of lives for themselves.”

According to the UKB Office of Enrollment, Conley is an inactive member.

“In tribal enrollment terms his file is labeled ‘inactive’ because there is no record of a relinquishment letter (of CN citizenship) or a CDIB (Certificate Degree of Indian Blood) for Mr. Conley,” Sammy Still, UKB media coordinator, wrote in an e-mail. “In regards to whether Mr. Conley would be able to become a member of the United Keetoowah Band, this would depend on what degree of blood he is by providing the tribe with a CDIB.”

Conley said there was no relinquishment letter because he wasn’t a CN citizen when he enrolled in the UKB and that he doesn’t have a CDIB because he doesn’t want one.

Another aspect of the act allows the CN Tribal Employment Rights Office to certify a list of federally recognized tribal citizens as artists. Artists who register on the list would do so voluntarily, which Cowan Watts encourages.

“I get calls from Tulsa corporations or from all over the United States…and they want to buy gifts or something like that,” she said. “That way there’s a list I can send that is much more fair and equitable and we know it’s legitimate.”

Cowan Watts said the act should also help with the tribe’s cultural tourism by ensuring that tourists meet authentic Cherokees and Cherokee artists.

“We also felt that it was important to get ahead on this for the cultural truth,” she said. “It’s an economic development tool, and it’s important that we have all this in place before cultural tourism develops. We don’t want Japanese and German tourists coming in and buying from these known wannabes. We want them buying from our community members…not from who has the biggest turkey feathers.”
About the Author
Travis Snell has worked for the Cherokee Phoenix since 2000. He began as a staff writer, a position that allowed him to win numerous writing awards from the Native American Journalists Association, including the Richard LaCourse Award for best investigative story in 2003. He was promoted to assistant editor in 2007, switching his focus from writing to story development, editing, design and other duties.

He is a member of NAJA, as well as the Society of Professional Journalists, Investigative Reporters and Editors, and Society for News Design.

Travis earned his journalism degree with a print emphasis in 1999 from Oklahoma City University. While at OCU, he served as editor, assistant editor and sports reporter for the school’s newspaper.

He is married to Native Oklahoma publisher Lisa Snell. The couple has two children, Sadie and Swimmer. He is the grandson of original enrollee Swimmer Wesley Snell and Patricia Ann (Roberts) Snell. • 918-453-5358
Travis Snell has worked for the Cherokee Phoenix since 2000. He began as a staff writer, a position that allowed him to win numerous writing awards from the Native American Journalists Association, including the Richard LaCourse Award for best investigative story in 2003. He was promoted to assistant editor in 2007, switching his focus from writing to story development, editing, design and other duties. He is a member of NAJA, as well as the Society of Professional Journalists, Investigative Reporters and Editors, and Society for News Design. Travis earned his journalism degree with a print emphasis in 1999 from Oklahoma City University. While at OCU, he served as editor, assistant editor and sports reporter for the school’s newspaper. He is married to Native Oklahoma publisher Lisa Snell. The couple has two children, Sadie and Swimmer. He is the grandson of original enrollee Swimmer Wesley Snell and Patricia Ann (Roberts) Snell.


11/25/2015 10:00 AM
SAN FRANCISCO – The movie “The Cherokee Word for Water” has been voted the top American Indian film of the past 40 years in a survey conducted by the American Indian Film Institute. The movie was honored with a special screening Nov. 9 at the 40th annual American Indian Film Festival in San Francisco. It will also be available throughout November on Comcast’s Xfinity on Demand platform as part of the cable company’s National Native American Heritage Month celebration. “The Cherokee Word for Water” is a feature-length motion picture that tells the story of the work that led the late Wilma Mankiller to become the first principal chief of the Cherokee Nation. The movie is based on the true story of the Bell Waterline Project and set in the early 1980s in the homes of the rural Oklahoma community where many Cherokee houses lack running water and others are little more than shacks. After centuries of being dehumanized and dispossessed of their land and identity, the people of the Cherokee communities no longer feel they have power or control over their lives or future. Led by Mankiller (played by Kimberly Guerrero) and Cherokee organizer Charlie Soap (played by Mo Brings Plenty), using the Cherokee concept of Ga-du-gi, or working together to solve a problem, they inspired the community to trust each other and reawaken universal indigenous values. Together with a community of volunteers they build nearly 20 miles of waterline to save the community. The successful completion of the waterline led to Mankiller’s election as principal chief, her and Soap’s marriage and sparked a movement of similar self-help projects across the CN and in Indian Country that continues today. Soap, a first-time filmmaker, directed and produced the film with Kristina Kiehl, women’s rights leader and friend of Mankiller and Soap, serving as producer. “The Cherokee Word for Water” was executive produced by Paul Heller of “My Left Foot” acclaim and Laurene Powell, co-directed by Tim Kelly with cinematography by Lisa Leone and a screenplay by Tim Kelly and Louise Rubacky. Besides the AIFI honor, other awards received by “The Cherokee Word for Water” include Best Motion Picture from the Cowboy Hall of Fame & Western Heritage Museum in 2014 and Best Actress for Kimberly Guerrero from the Red Nations Film Festival in 2013. The film was also named one of the 11 Essential Native American Films You Can Watch Online by Indian Country Today Media Network. In celebration of the AIFI recognition, “The Cherokee Word for Water” is being made available for purchase on DVD and Blu-Ray at a discount for a limited time. Visit <a href="" target="_blank"></a> and enter AIFF40DVD at checkout to buy the DVD version for $10 or enter AIFF40BLU to purchase it for $15. “The Cherokee Word for Water” was funded through the Wilma Mankiller Foundation to continue her legacy of social justice and community development in Indian Country. Support for the Wilma Mankiller Foundation is tax-deductible and profits from the film fund positive portrayals of American Indians and programs for Indian communities across the country.
11/20/2015 10:30 AM
FORT SMITH, Ark. – The Fort Smith National Historic Site closed its visitor center on Nov. 18 until Dec. 2 for the installation of a new heating and air conditioning system. The new HVAC unit will replace an older, less efficient system. The decision to close is due to visitor safety concerns, dust, noise, and the heavy equipment used to install the new system. The visitor center will reopen at 9 a.m., Dec. 3. During the time of the closure, the park will conduct business out of the Frisco Railroad Station located at 100 Garrison Avenue. Services available to visitors at the Frisco Station location will include interpretive tours, the park’s orientation video, and bookstore sales. Entrance fees will be waived during the main visitor center closure, and National Park Service Park Passes will be available for purchase at the Frisco location. “Making the decision to close the visitor center for two weeks was tough, but it is the right thing to do for visitor safety and project efficiency. We have worked to provide as many services to the public and hope to make this a seamless transition throughout the project,” said FSNHS Superintendent Lisa Conard Frost. The Fort Smith National Historic Site is located in downtown Fort Smith. To access the free parking lot from Garrison Avenue, turn south on 4th Street and west on Garland Avenue. For more information on the park, call 479-783-3961 or visit <a href="" target="_blank"></a>.
Senior Reporter
11/09/2015 02:29 PM
WARNER, Okla. – Two Cherokee men are building on the success they had in 2014 with their “Birds of the Cherokee Nation” calendar and are offering a 2016 version. The calendar consists of photographs of area birds and their Cherokee names in the tribe’s syllabary. Jeff Davis, of Warner, and David Cornsilk, of Tahlequah, collaborated on the calendar. Cornsilk researched the Cherokee names for the birds and Davis provided the photographs. “Last year’s calendar was very well received. This year’s calendar features 14 different birds. I’ve had numerous people thank me for publishing it and said they were looking forward to this 2016 edition,” Davis said. Because he descends from the Cherokee Bird Clan, Davis said, as a photographer, birds are some of his favorite subjects. Davis, who is also an artist and descendant of Principal Chief John Ross, said a reason for doing the calendar in 2014 was to help promote the language. When living in Kenwood in Delaware County, Cornsilk said he listened to Cherokee speakers talk about birds and the meaning of their names. He said he noticed the older speakers knew a lot of birds’ names but younger speakers knew hardly any. Out of concern for the Cherokee language, Cornsilk began collecting bird names in Cherokee for a book he thought he would write. He then decided to collaborate with Davis, who already had local bird photos, to make the calendar. Davis said many Cherokee speakers just use the word jee-squa, which means bird, for every bird. He said he hopes the calendar helps people learn how the Cherokee names of different birds living in northeastern Oklahoma. Each bird in the calendar has a Cherokee syllabary and English phonetic name, as well as an explanation of what the bird means to the Cherokee. On the calendar’s back cover is a copy of the Cherokee syllabary to help translate the bird names and the months in Cherokee listed with the photos. Also included in the calendar is a list of moons associated with each month and what Cherokee beliefs are associated with each moon. Cherokee translator William Eubanks compiled those beliefs in the 1890s, and Cherokee linguist Lawrence Panther translated the calendar’s name. The calendars are available for $10 at the Cherokee Nation Gift Shop, Cherokee Heritage Center Gift Shop, and the Spider Gallery in Tahlequah. By mail order, the price is $12.95 each, which includes shipping. PayPal or postal money orders are accepted. For PayPal send payment to <a href="mailto:"></a>, and to mail payment, send to: J. Davis, P.O. Box 492, Warner OK 74469.
Senior Reporter
11/09/2015 01:41 PM
TAHLEQUAH, Okla. – The Cherokee National Youth Choir is releasing a new Christmas music CD and will be performing songs from it at two concerts in November and December. “Cherokee Christmas” can be purchased at all Cherokee Gift Shops, at the concerts or by calling CNYC Co-Director Kathy Sierra at 918-453-5638. The CD has 12 songs that were recorded this past summer. “We are doing all styles of music from ‘Up On the Housetop’ and ‘Silver Bells’ to ‘O Holy Night,’” CNYC Co-Director Mary Kay Henderson said. This is the third Christmas CD the choir has recorded. The previous one, “Comfort and Joy,” was released in 2006. [BLOCKQUOTE]The choir’s CD release concert will be at 7 p.m. on Nov. 17 at the Oklahoma Music Hall of Fame at 401 S. Third St. in Muskogee. This event is free and open to the public. A second concert will be at 7 p.m. on Dec. 15 at the Wagoner Civic Center located at 301 S. Grant in Wagoner. Tickets are $5 and can be purchased by calling 918-485-3414. The choir also will be performing on Dec. 5 at the lighting of the Courthouse Square in Tahlequah. The CNYC is made up of 40 Cherokee youths from northeastern Oklahoma communities. Members perform traditional songs in the Cherokee language. It was founded in 2000 as a way to keep Cherokee youths interested in and involved with language and culture. “I have been with the choir since 2003. I love the kids. Kathy (Sierra) started with the choir in 2000 as a parent and has been with them ever since,” Henderson said. She said the choir gets requests “literally every day” to perform somewhere in the area. Auditions for new choir members will be held Jan 5. Candidates must be in sixth through 11th grade, a CN citizen, willing to learn Cherokee and attend weekly rehearsals. Interested youth should call Sierra at (918) 453-5638 to schedule an audition time. Interest in the Cherokee language has been rekindled among young people largely through the success of the youth choir. Several area schools now use the choir’s CDs as learning tools, and other schools are interested in developing curriculum to teach Cherokee language and music. People may listen to samples and purchase CNYC music at iTunes by searching the music section with the phrase “Cherokee National Youth Choir.” The choir’s CDs are also available on
11/05/2015 02:00 PM
TAHLEQUAH, Okla. – In celebration of Native American Heritage Month, the Cherokee Nation is hosting a Lunch & Learn lecture series every Monday throughout November. The series willfeature speakers on topics related to CN history, culture and government. The first presentation of the series held Nov. 2 was “History of the Cherokee Phoenix newspaper” by Cherokee Phoenix Senior Reporter Will Chavez. The free series is open to the public and will be held at noon in the Tsalagi Community Room, 17675 S. Muskogee Ave. Attendees are invited to bring a sack lunch. The remaining presentations are: Nov. 9 “Natives and Major League Baseball” by Rob Daugherty, director of CN Community and Cultural Outreach Nov. 16 “History of the Cherokee Nation Marshals Service” by Shannon Buhl, CN marshal Nov. 23 “U.S. Marshals Museum” by Jim Dunn and Alice Alt, president and vice president of the U.S. Marshals Museum Nov. 30 “What is an Indian Tribe?” by the Cherokee Nation Office of the Attorney General For more information, contact Catherine Foreman-Gray at
10/23/2015 10:00 AM
CLAREMORE, Okla. – When Will Rogers returned to his Indian Territory heritage as a boy coming home from school, as a New York stage actor dropping in on his way across the country and as a famous star of the big screen, there was always a celebration. They were recorded in the Claremore newspaper and in Will’s daily and weekly writings. When he died in a 1935 airplane crash and the Will Rogers Memorial Museum opened on his birthday three years later, a group of his old friends, the Indian Women’s Pocahontas Club, vowed to especially remember him each year on his birthday. That memorial event has grown into “Will Rogers Days,” which Claremore is celebrating Nov. 4-8. The focus remains on the Will Rogers Memorial’s mission of “collecting, preserving and sharing the life, wisdom and humor of Will Rogers for all generations.” Admission to the Museum will be free Nov. 4-8, said Tad Jones, executive director. Visitors and members of the business community are encouraged to dress western during the event. During the four-day celebration, two events are devoted primarily to children with hands-on activities that will acquaint them with Will Rogers and his Cherokee family values. A birthday party, complete with cake, will be celebrated at the Will Rogers Birthplace Ranch near Oologah on opening day from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m., Nov. 4, the 136th anniversary of Will’s birth. There will be music that Will loved so much, presented now by Oologah-Talala students, and trick roping by Kowboy Kal, a world champion roper who has mastered and will demonstrate some of Will’s tricks. Children’s Day at the Museum is three hours of activities at the Claremore Museum with school groups hearing Cherokee Storyteller Robert Lewis, playing old-fashioned games, learning to trick rope and spending time in the Children’s Museum. The annual parade is on tap for 10 a.m., Saturday, Nov. 7 followed by a 4 p.m. lecture by Amy Ware, author of a new book “The Cherokee Kid: Will Rogers, Tribal Identity, and the Making of an American Icon,” in the Will Rogers Museum Theatre. New on this year’s schedule is a musical performance of “the Will and the Wind,” by Dr. Dale Smith, directed by Sherrell Daniel, retired educator. The cast of children from the Claremore area will be on stage in the Museum Theatre at 7 p.m. Saturday and again on Sunday at 2 p.m. The week will wind down with a celebration and dedication of Will Rogers Park at the museum from 2-4 p.m. The park, now the site of a Claremore city park, was once part of the property Will Rogers purchased for a home site and is now the home of the Will Rogers Memorial. All “Will Rogers Days” events are free and open to the public