Cherokee rocket scientist leaves heavenly gift
By Kara Briggs
WASHINGTON – The Smithsonian’s National Museum of the American Indian recently received notice of a bequest from Cherokee citizen Mary Golda Ross, who died in 2008 three months shy of her 100th birthday.
Ross joined 25,000 Native people who help open the museum in 2004. Now her gift, invested in the museum’s endowment, will help perpetuate the NMAI’s cultural and educational mission for future generations.
“She was a mathematician, and she knew if you gave a large scholarship it would be gone in a year,” her niece Evelyn Ross McMillan said. “But if you gave to endowment the principal would continue to give.”
Though no dollar amount was given, NMAI officials called the gift “generous.”
“She was a strong-willed, independent woman who was ahead of her time,” said Norbert Hill, chairman of the NMAI’s board of trustees.
Ross, whose Cherokee lineage includes former Principal Chief John Ross, was a rocket scientist who spent her 99 years of life looking mostly into the future.
Born in 1908 in the foothills of the Ozarks, she was one year younger than the state of Oklahoma. A gifted child, she was sent to live with her grandparents in the Cherokee Nation capital of Tahlequah to attend school. At 16, she enrolled in Northeastern State Teachers College.
“When I went to the college to enroll, they asked me what I wanted for my major subject. I said, ‘What’s a major subject?’” she said later in life. “The person finally said, ‘What did you have the most fun with when you were in high school?’
She said she answered math, of course and graduated with a bachelor’s degree in 1928. She taught math and science for nine years in nearby high schools. But by 1937, Ross asked herself if she was going to go out and see the world or stay in Oklahoma.
She took a civil service exam and was hired as a statistical clerk at the U.S. Bureau of Indian Affairs in Washington, D.C. There, a Cherokee woman from the Department of Education noticed her.
“We can’t waste you here,” the official said. “You’re an Indian with a degree and experience in teaching. We need you in the field.”
In 1937, she was sent to Santa Fe, N.M., to work as the girls’ advisor at a school for American Indian artists. The school later became the Institute of American Indian Art. In the summers Ross pursued a master’s degree in mathematics at the University of Northern Colorado.
While there, she took astronomy classes and read every book about the stars. But it was while visiting friends in California when she heard that the Lockheed Corp., short of skilled workers upon the outbreak of World War II, was looking for people with her technical background. She was hired as a mathematician in 1942.
She was assigned to work with the engineering staff on the effects of pressure on the P-38 Lightning fighter plane as it neared the sound barrier and improving the aero elasticity of that first plane so large it had to be treated as a flexible body.
After the war, Lockheed sent her to the University of California at Los Angeles to get a professional certification in engineering. She studied mathematics for modern engineering, aeronautics and missile and celestial mechanics. By 1948, she was on the ground floor of what would become the space race.
In 1952, Lockheed asked Ross to be one of 40 engineers known as the Lockheed Skunk Works, a secret think tank. It was the start of Lockheed Missiles and Space Co., a major consultant to NASA based in Sunnyvale, Calif. Ross was 45, the only woman and the only Native American.
“Often at night there were four of us working until 11 p.m.,” she recalled later. “I was the pencil pusher, doing a lot of research. My state of the art tools were a slide rule and a Frieden computer. We were taking the theoretical and making it real.”
Ross retired from Lockheed at age 65 in 1973, and turned her attention to the next generation of Native Americans and women in engineering. She recruited high school and college students to the field.
A member of the Society of Women Engineers since the 1950s, she also took an interest in American Indian groups such as the American Indian Science and Engineering Society and the Council of Energy Resource Tribes.
“To function efficiently, you need math,” she said later in life. “The world is so technical, if you plan to work in it, a math background will let you go farther and faster.”
One of the regrets Ross mentioned was that she had spent much of her life apart from Indian people. Part of Ross’ longevity, her niece said, stemmed from her belief in “keeping old friends and making new friends.”
Among her newer friends was Tribal Councilor Cara Cowan Watts, who is also an engineer: “Just think, a Cherokee woman from Park Hill (Okla.) helped put an American on the moon.”
LONDON – Following the success of its first-ever photography competition, Survival International, the global movement for tribal peoples’ rights, has announced its second worldwide photography contest, which aims to celebrate photography as a powerful medium for raising awareness of tribal peoples, their unique ways of life and the threats to their existence.
Both amateur and professional photographers are encouraged to enter. Photographs can be submitted in the guardians category, which are images showing tribal peoples as guardians of the natural world; the community category, which are portraits of relationships between individuals, families or tribes; and the survival category, which are images showing tribal peoples’ diverse ways of life.
The judging panel consists of Survival’s Director Stephen Corry, Survival Italy Coordinator Francesca Casella, The Little Black Gallery Co-Founder Ghislain Pascal and Max Houghton, senior lecturer in photography at the London College of Communication.
The 12 winning entries will be published in Survival’s 2016 calendar with the overall winner’s image featured on the cover. The closing date for entries is April 30.
For more information, visit: <a href="http://www.survivalinternational.org/photography" target="_blank">www.survivalinternational.org/photography</a>.
DAHLONEGA, Ga. – The next meeting of the Georgia Chapter of the Trail of Tears Association will begin at 10:30 a.m. on March 14 at the University of North Georgia in Dahlonega.
The speaker will be GCTOTA board member Walter J. Knapp, instructor of Native American Culture and History at UNG. The topic will be “Successes and Challenges for Native Americans Today and in the Future”.
Visit <a href="http://ung.edu/visitors/campuses/dahlonega/driving-directions.php" target="_blank">http://ung.edu/visitors/campuses/dahlonega/driving-directions.php</a>
for directions to the university. The meeting will be held in the Adult Education building across from the main entrance to the campus between a pizza place and a Dairy Queen. The address is 82 College Circle Drive.
The Trail of Tears Association was created to support the Trail of Tears National Historic Trail established by an act of Congress in 1987. The TOTA is dedicated to identifying and preserving sites associated with the removal of Native Americans from the southeast. The association consists of nine state chapters representing the nine states that the Cherokee, Creek and other tribes traveled through on their way to Indian Territory, now Oklahoma.
The GCTOTA meetings are free and open to the public. People need not have Native American ancestry to attend the meetings, just an interest and desire to learn more about this fascinating and tragic period in this country’s history.
For more information about the TOTA, visit the National TOTA website at <a href="http://www.nationaltota.org" target="_blank">www.nationaltota.org</a>
and the Georgia Chapter website at <a href="http://www.gatrailoftears.org" target="_blank">www.gatrailoftears.org</a>. For questions about the March meeting, email Tony Harris at <a href="mailto: email@example.com">firstname.lastname@example.org</a>.
OKLAHOMA CITY – Cherokee National Treasure Martha Berry will teach a beginners-level beadwork class from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. on April 11 at the Oklahoma History Center at 800 Nazih Zuhdi Drive.
Participants will learn how to make a lady’s purse. All supplies and lunch is included in the cost.
For enrollment or cost information, call OHC Director of Education Jason Harris at 405-522-0785 or email him <a href="mailto: email@example.com">firstname.lastname@example.org</a>.
Beadwork artist Martha Berry was born and raised in Tulsa. Her grandmother and mother taught her how to sew and embroider at age 5, and she later became a professional seamstress. As a Cherokee artist Berry creates elaborately beaded bandolier bags, moccasins, belts, knee bands, purses and sashes inspired by the styles of Southeastern tribes including the Cherokee, Creek, Choctaw, Chickasaw, Seminole, Yuchi and Alabama. Her work is displayed in museums throughout the country.
Berry, 66, of Tyler, Texas, taught herself the craft of beading and continues to research the beadwork of Southeastern tribes. She is credited with helping bring back the art form to the Cherokee people and makes time to teach others her craft.
TAHLEQUAH, Okla. – During a Feb. 7 benefit stomp dance, more than 400 people gathered at the Tahlequah Community Building to raise money for a local Cherokee family that suffered a horrific car accident in January.
The stomp dance was originally planned to raise money for the Echota Ground, a Cherokee stomp ground in Park Hill. Echota Ground Chief David Comingdeer said the event raised more than $3,500 with half going to the Flynns to help with their expenses.
Family members suffered multiple injuries and totaled their vehicle in the accident.
“This evening here in Tahlequah we’ve called all our ceremonial grounds together from the Cherokee Nation, Muskogee Creek, Eucha, Shawnee, Seminole, Seneca Cayuga, even Peoria and Ottawa,” Comingdeer said. “We’ve all come together to help a family, a Cherokee family, a ceremonial family who got in a really bad wreck. We’ve decided to do what we can to help them.”
The Flynns, driving a 2004 Chevy Trailblazer, were hit in a head-on collision on State Highway 51 by Randall Welch, of Welling, who was driving a 2002 Nissan Frontier.
Welch was taken by Tulsa Life Flight and admitted for injuries while the driver of the Trailblazer, Jack “Red” Flynn, was taken to Arkansas with external trunk, leg and head injuries.
Jack’s passengers were Kathy Gann, Jimmy Ross and Nellie Flynn, all family members of Jack. Ross suffered injuries to the head trunk and leg, according to the Oklahoma Highway Patrol. Nellie, Jack’s mother, was taken to a Tulsa hospital with similar injuries.
Nellie was unable to make it to the event because of continual problems with the injuries she suffered. Jack, Ross and Gann were present during the dance along with several other family members.
Some family members said the accident had put the family in a financial bind with hospital visits and losing the vehicle.
“Their going back and forth to the hospital. Both him (Jack) and Nellie are going,” Linda Christie, a Flynn family relative, said.
She said the funds would help with gas, food, travel and anything else unforeseen.
Jack said without the benefit assistance the family would be forced to suffer more with the financial hardship in which the accident put them.
The Flynns and Ross will have a long road ahead of them for full recovery, family members said, but they were appreciative of the donations and support from those who attended.
Stomp dance attendee Celia Xavier said witnessing the fundraiser “felt like a throwback to the way our earlier societies were.”
“Moving in the same direction, giving a helping hand when one needed it. What affects one, affects all. We are supposed to help each other,” Xavier said. “The antithesis of today’s ‘me society.’ It was interesting to see kindness through the actions of the chief of the Echota Grounds. He is giving half the donations to the Flynn family, who was in dire need of help. It was a moving and spiritual experience.”
The family is a member of Stokes Ceremonial Grounds, but Comingdeer said it doesn’t matter what ground one is from.
“They may not be from our ground, but they’re from another ground and we have a lot of respect for each other. We always support each other, try to love and understand each other,” he said. “You can take everything away from us, even our land. You can take all of our corporation away, as long as we still have our beliefs and our tradition we can build a fire, have our dances and take our medicine, speak our language, then we’re still a tribe. Tonight is the foundation of our culture. It’s the foundation of our tribe, and this is how we help each other.
For those interested in donating to the Echota Ground or the Flynns can do so by mailing a check to Route 4 Box 1570, Stilwell, OK 74960. Make checks out to Echota Ground and indicate in the memo where donation is to go.
CATOOSA, Okla. – The 25th anniversary of Indian Health Care Resource Center’s annual dinner and auction “The Dance of the Two Moons” will be Feb. 21 at the Hard Rock Hotel and Casino in Catoosa.
The “Dance of the Two Moons” dinner and auction was established 25 years ago as an annual fundraiser to help support the many great programs and services provided to the Native American community by the IHCRC. Proceeds from the event are once again supporting the vital programs and services currently paid from IHCRC’s general fund, including: maternal/child health, adult/child fitness and wellness programs, annual powwow, Spring Break Youth Camp and Youth Summer Camps.
The honorary chairs of the 2015 “The Dance of the Two Moons” are Dr. Joseph and Mary Cunningham. Dr. Cunningham, medical director of Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Oklahoma and Mrs. Cunningham are personally dedicated to helping IHCRC improve the lives of our patients, states an IHCRC press release.
Tickets to the event are $150 per person or $250 per couple. Sponsorship levels are available ranging from $2,000 to $10,000. For more information, to preview auction items, or to purchase a sponsorship or tickets, visit <a href="http://www.ihcrc2moons.org" target="_blank">www.ihcrc2moons.org</a>.
The evening will include hors d'oeuvres, cocktails served during the silent auction, and a meal served in the grand ballroom as traditional dancers entertain attendees.
IHCRC officials said it appreciates having Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Oklahoma as the 2015 Silver Anniversary Sponsor. Additional sponsors include Hard Rock Hotel and Casino, Choctaw Nation of Oklahoma, Tiger Natural Gas, Meeks Group, Delores Titchywy Sumner, Conner & Winters, and many other generous business and personal contributors.
The Indian Health Care Resource Center of Tulsa is a 501(c)(3) organization funded through a contract with Indian Health Services, state and federal grants, private foundations and donors, and its annual fundraiser “The Dance of the Two Moons.” Utilizing a patient-centered, multidisciplinary, medical home approach, IHCRC offers a full range of health and wellness services tailored to the Indian community.
Services include: Medical, Optometry, Dental, Pharmacy, Transportation, Behavioral Health, Health Education and Wellness, Substance Abuse Treatment and Prevention, and Youth Programs focused on traditions, health, and leadership skills.
With more than 18,000 active patients representing in excess of 150 Tribes, IHCRC provides more than 126,000 patient visits each year to improve the general health status and reduce the incidence and severity of chronic disease of the urban Indian community.
Contact Deb Starnes at 918-382-1203 or <a href="mailto: email@example.com">firstname.lastname@example.org</a>
for more information about the IHCRC or “The Dance of the Two Moons” fundraiser.
TAHLEQUAH, Okla. – Cherokee artist Lisa Rutherford recently shared her experiences from researching textiles in December at the National Museum of the American Indian in Washington, D.C.
In mid-January she gave a presentation in Tahlequah using a slide show about some of the artifacts she studied at the museum. For nearly two weeks, Rutherford studied pre-19th century textiles, fibers and cordage of the Mississippian culture in the collections of the NMAI as part of the museum’s “Artist Leadership Program for Individual Artists.” She hoped to gain more knowledge about the techniques used by Southeastern peoples to weave materials.
Following her research visit, Rutherford was asked to facilitate a community project to share knowledge learned from the experience and research.
In January, she conducted two weaving classes and discussions for Cherokee Heritage Center employees at the CHC in Park Hill where she used twine made from jute plants to weave a skirt and other items. She said at the NMAI she saw a twine skirt that was found in a cave in Tennessee that she has replicated.
“I have replicated the skirt, but I think I can do a closer approximation of it now that I’ve seen it in person and studied the fibers up close,” she said.
She said she also had the opportunity to study artifacts from the Spiro Mounds site in eastern Oklahoma in Leflore County. The site is not a Cherokee site, but belongs to the ancestors of the Quapaw, Caddo and Osage tribes. At approximately the same time period, Cherokee people used the same twining techniques used by craftspeople at Spiro, Rutherford said.
“There Cherokee objects found at Spiro, so there was trade, there was interaction, so we know they were probably using some the same techniques,” she said.
This past summer, Rutherford worked in the Diligwa Village, a Cherokee village set in 1710, at the CHC where she learned from the other villagers on staff and also taught others how to make yellow dye from bois d’arc shavings. Rutherford and other artists used the yellow dye along with brown dye made from walnuts to dye the jute material.
The versatile Bois d’arc tree is used by Cherokee bow makers to make bows.
“So now the bow makers are saving their shavings for dye, and we’re all working together. I think that’s the way it would have been in 1710. We all had to work together and help each other out,” she said.
Rutherford is encouraging Native artists to apply for the NMAI’s “Artist Leadership Program for Individual Artists.” She said it was a “valuable experience” for her and it was so much more than she expected.
“It was a remarkable experience for her as an artist to come into the collection of the Smithsonian and really bring to live the stories and the life experiences of the cultural material of the Cherokee Nation,” Museum Programs Outreach Coordinator for the NMAI Keevin Lewis said.
Lewis came to Tahlequah in January to observe Rutherford share the knowledge she gathered from Smithsonian institutions in Washington, to visit with Cherokee artists and visit the CHC.
Along with making twine skirts and bags, Rutherford is a skilled and an award-winning potter. She is also skilled at making Cherokee baskets, historic Cherokee-style clothing, beadwork, creating oil paintings, beadwork pieces and feather capes.