archived image

Cherokee rocket scientist leaves heavenly gift

BY Phoenix Archives
12/18/2008 07:22 AM

By Kara Briggs
NMAI Newservice

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.”

Culture

BY STAFF REPORTS
01/31/2015 02:00 PM
TULSA, Okla. – The George Kaiser Family Foundation announced Jan. 21 that it is extending the deadline for the national artist fellowship program – the Tulsa Artist Fellowship from Feb. 2 to April 3. The TAF is meant to enhance Tulsa’s growing art scene by providing awards and resources to local and non-local artists. Native American artists are encouraged to apply. Fellows will be awarded an unrestricted stipend ranging from $15,000 to $40,000 and, in most cases, free housing and studio workspace. “It is our goal with these awards to recognize great artists in all stages of their career. In addition, we feel that providing housing and workspace in Tulsa’s Brady Arts District gives the non-resident fellows the opportunity to experience the treasures of our art community and share their talents with Tulsa,” Stanton Doyle, George Kaiser Family Foundation senior program officer, said. The TAF is open to both local and non-resident artists and will provide awards for both early and mid-career artists. In an effort to help grow and shape Tulsa’s vibrant arts community, non-resident artists will be required to live in provided housing in Tulsa. In the first year, fellowships will be awarded to artists in the discipline of public and/or gallery-oriented visual arts with the possibility of adding other disciplines in the future. The program will reserve some of the fellowship positions for Native American, Alaskan Native and Native Hawaiian artists. A screening committee and selection panel will follow the Indian Arts and Crafts Act of 1990 as a guideline in awarding Native American artists a fellowship. “In terms of Native American art, Tulsa has deep roots diverse artistic traditions represented in the extensive collections of many nearby tribal institutions as well as at the Gilcrease and Philbrook museums – and a vibrant community of contemporary Native artists working in various media and style,” Doyle said. Fellowships offered will be merit-based grants and will have a one-year term with an option to renew for a second year. Five to 15 fellowships will be provided depending on the quality of entries. Fellowships will be separated into two categories. Early Career Artists: Award of a $15,000 unrestricted stipend with free private housing and workspace during year one. Year two is optional and will include a stipend of $7,500 plus free housing and workspace. If the fellow wants to stay in Tulsa, housing, and workspace can be retained for a third year for $500 a month total. Mid-Career Artists: Award of a $25,000 unrestricted stipend with free private housing and workspace in year one. Year two is optional and will include a stipend of $15,000 plus free housing and workspace. If the fellow wants to stay in Tulsa, housing and workspace can be retained for a third year for $500 a month total. A coordinating committee consisting of local leaders in the Tulsa arts community will screen all fellowship applications for eligibility and coordinate community programs for the fellows during their time in Tulsa. Eligible applicants will be reviewed by a national panel of panel comprised of national artists, curators, reviewers and experts in the area of focus. Applications for the TAF are due on April 3 and the fellowship will begin on Jan. 4, 2015. To learn more about the Tulsa Artist Fellowship and apply, visit <a href="http://www.gkff.org/taf " target="_blank">www.gkff.org/taf</a>.
BY STACIE GUTHRIE
Reporter
01/31/2015 08:00 AM
WAGONER, Okla. – The Cherokee National Youth Choir on Jan. 16 went on its annual retreat that was filled with interactive games, singing and the making of new friends at the Tulakogee Conference Center. The retreat is to welcome new members so they can leave the title of “new” choir member behind. During the retreat choir members got to know each other by playing games and by learning some of the music they will be singing in the coming months. CNYC Director Mary Kay Henderson said the choir consists of approximately “half and half” of new and old members. “Some of the kids already know someone in the choir, but we’ve got a lot of new ones,” she said. “It’s just a little bit larger group than we’re use to having, but it’ll be fun.” Cherokee language teacher and CNYC travel coordinator Kathy Sierra said an important aspect about the choir retreat is that alumni choir members come and help with storytelling and cultural activities. “The alumni will come in and help them learn. Even all the former members that are there will be helping all the new ones. It’s just a unique group,” she said. “Once this orientation’s (retreat’s) over we’ll be like one big, happy family.” Home-schooled freshman Danya Pigeon, 15, said she wanted to join the choir for a couple of years but has always been too busy. Pigeon was one of the 15 youths who were inducted into the choir in January. “I finally felt like it was something that I needed to do to help preserve the culture and keep it alive,” she said. “I like to sing also, so I figured it was a win-win.” Pigeon said she learned some of the Cherokee language by learning “Amazing Grace.” “I learned the first two verses and then that kind of got me into wanting to learn more,” she said. After enjoying the activities of the retreat’s first night Pigeon said she could tell the choir was like a family. “This isn’t just a group of young people that sing, it’s really more than that. They’re like a family, and they’re friends, and they just all fit together like puzzle pieces,” she said. Pigeon said she looks forward to learning more of the Cherokee language and encouraging others to do so. Sequoyah High School junior Morgan Mouse, 17, has been in the choir for a year and said she remembers being a new choir member. “I was so scared and nervous. I wasn’t sure if I was going to like it or not, but after I got progressed in it was really fun and I enjoy it so much,” she said. “Going different places and seeing different people that I’ve never met, that was really fun.” She said now she is trying to help new members feel comfortable. “I’m just trying to guide them and tell them, “Don’t be so nervous and don’t be afraid to show them who you really are.” That’s really all that matters,” she said. Mouse said she influenced her brother, Tenkiller Public School eighth grade student Elijah Bennett, to join the choir. Bennett is a new member for the 2015 season. “At first he was really scared because he really didn’t want to sing that much,” she said. “Every time I came home I talked about choir. He got really jealous because I brought up so many stories and so many funny memories that he said he wanted to share them too, so that’s why he’s here.” Henderson said she and Sierra have upcoming shows in the works, with the first being in March. She said they plan to use the $10,000 the choir won from the GRAMMY Foundation and the rock group Foreigner for a summer tour. The choir won the money by submitting a public service announcement that showed their love for music. “We hope to use that to take this choir on a short tour in June to Cherokee, North Carolina, to different cultural places along the trail (Trail of Tears) and not only to learn, but to share their culture with the people in that area,” she said. “The choir is so unique that nobody else has one that sings totally in Cherokee.” The CNYC released its 12th CD in 2014 titled “From the East.” The 12-track disc contains songs from the Cherokees’ ancestral homeland in the East.
BY STAFF REPORTS
01/22/2015 10:22 AM
PORTLAND, Ore. – Daniel H. Wilson, author of technology thrillers such as “Robopocalypse,” “Robogenesis,” and “Amped,” has teamed up with Portland game design studio Mountain Machine to produce “Mayday! Deep Space,” a playable science fiction story for iPhone, iPad and iPod Touch. The app made its debut in the Apple App Store on Jan. 7. In the app, players answer a mayday call from a survivor who is stranded on a derelict spaceship and use voice commands to guide him to safety – all while uncovering the terrible secret behind what wiped out the crew. “It’s pure survival-horror with a shocking twist at the end,” states a press release for the app. A Cherokee Nation citizen, Wilson has been working for the past year and a half with Mountain Machine to develop the playable sci-fi story app. “I grew up in Tulsa and attended the University of Tulsa to study computer science. No surprise then that ‘Mayday!’ is part audio book and part video game – a story that you can play,” Wilson said. “It employs speech recognition very intentionally to put the player into an intimate, emotional experience with the survivor character. Basically, ‘Mayday!’ combines everything I love about reading and gaming into one package.” Harnessing the latest Apple hardware to employ seamless speech recognition, players can use more than 10 voice commands to guide a survivor to safety through five levels of increasing mayhem and uncover the terrible secret behind what happened to the crew of the USS Appaloosa. Osric Chau (“Supernatural,” “2012,” “Halo 4: Forward Unto Dawn”) voices the main character, joined by Bitsie Tulloch and Claire Coffee, stars of the NBC television show “Grimm.” Wilson is committed to using the latest technology to find new ways to tell stories. “By using spoken commands, I hoped to forge an intimate, emotional experience,” he said. “My goal for ‘Mayday!’ was simple: create a story that you can play. Please grab a copy and let me know what you think, and as early adopters, it’s always important to leave reviews right away if you enjoy the game. Thank you for your support. It’s because of you that I keep scheming.” Wilson has formed his own entertainment company called “Iron Cloud Entertainment.” He is also a New York Times bestselling author behind books such as “Robopocalypse,” “How to Survive a Robot Uprising,” and “Amped.” Wilson, of Portland, has built a diverse writing career since earning a doctorate degree in robotics from Carnegie Mellon University in 2005. In 2008, he hosted “The Works” on the History Channel, a 10-episode series exploring the inner workings of everyday stuff. In collaboration with DC Comics, he is writing a weekly series called “Earth 2: World’s End.” He is also penning a science fiction survival script for the movie company Lionsgate with Brad Pitt attached to produce. “Mayday! Deep Space” is available today for a price of $2.99 from the App Store on iPhone, iPad, and iPhone Touch or at <a href="http://www.AppStore.com" target="_blank">www.AppStore.com</a>. For more, visit <a href="http://www.maydayapps.com" target="_blank">www.maydayapps.com</a> or on Twitter: @maydayapps.
BY WILL CHAVEZ
Senior Reporter
01/22/2015 08:53 AM
TAHLEQUAH, Okla. – Cherokee Heritage Center Executive Director Candessa Tehee has been chosen to take part in a May workshop that has the potential of improving the CHC’s museum. The five-day workshop in Bloomington, Indiana, called “Museum at the Crossroads” will meet May 14-21 at the Mathers Museum of World Cultures and will include eight “museum partners” from the United States and abroad. Tehee is one of eight partners who will take part in the “innovative international workshop on the future of museums of culture and history.” “They received a number of applications and they only selected eight. It wasn’t just applications from the U.S., and it was not limited to tribes either. Everyone had the chance to apply,” Tehee said. Before going to the workshop, Tehee is required to evaluate the CHC’s attractions and identify challenges it faces in terms of how it is presenting Cherokee stories and history to the public. She also had to write about why she thought she would make a good candidate and why the CHC would benefit from her participation. The challenges the CHC faces preserving its artifacts and presenting Cherokee culture will be discussed along with the other participants’ challenges during the five-day workshop. Tehee said the challenges discussed will have an international perspective because there will be multiple partners there, some from other countries. “We’ll discuss how those relate specifically to our own institutions, and we’ll work on ways to address those as a whole and individually,” she said. After the workshop, the participants will go home and work on implementing the ideas formed during the workshop. “The primary idea is that we bring everything that we worked on home and we implement it in our home organizations,” she said. One challenge Tehee will discuss is the infrastructure at the museum and how it affects the museum’s collections and archives. “We face that mainly because our facilities are as old as they are,” she said. The longhouse-shaped museum turned 40 years old in 2014 and was added to a complex in 1974 that included an amphitheater and an ancient Cherokee village. In 1985, the museum was remodeled to add more technology, but today needs more work especially in its basement where flooding occurs after heavy rains. The basement holds much of the museum’s collections and archives. There are also cultural concerns such as caring for medicine bundles in the collection, which Tehee said were entrusted to the CHC because the donors felt like the items would be safe in its care. “From a cultural perspective, we have to question whether or not we are the appropriate place to be holding them,” she said. Also, she added, museums are responsible for creating historical consciousness. The museum has to be aware of the Cherokee story it is presenting and the way it’s being presented. “At the Heritage Center...we’re presenting a slice of Cherokee life that’s rooted in history, which is something that is necessary and needs to be done. On the other hand, Cherokee people are a diverse, vibrant people, so it is a challenge to make we are presenting a full, diverse picture of what it means to be Cherokee and not being locked in to one notion of what that means,” she said. “Those are some of the things I touched on when I submitted my application, and then of course all of things come together in interesting ways.” Tehee said another benefit from attending the workshop is she will have contact with the other seven participants and their experiences and ideas, which could be used to improve the CHC. “I know the issues that we face are not necessarily unique to us. There are people who face similar issues, and there are people who have had success in trying to address these issues.”
BY WILL CHAVEZ
Senior Reporter
01/17/2015 08:00 AM
PARK HILL, Okla. – The Echota Ceremonial Ground operates with the assistance of the Cherokee Nation and with the assistance of its members and other ceremonial grounds in the area. The ceremonial ground is on CN land near the Cherokee Heritage Center. It moved to Park Hill in 2001 from Adair County. “It (land) was provided by the (Tribal) Council for the relocation of our fire. We were losing the property where we were at, but before we did we started looking for a new home, and the Council offered several pieces of property and we chose that one for our use,” Echota Ceremonial Ground leader David Comingdeer said. “Since then we’ve had a healthy land-use agreement with the Tribal Council and our chiefs.” The Echota Ceremonial Ground’s history is older than the state’s, Comingdeer said. It began near the Peavine Community in Adair County and later moved to Coon Mountain, also in Adair County. There the ground struggled as its leadership aged or became ill until the ground was turned over to Comingdeer, who was serving as second chief, in 2002. “It’s a struggle to keep the ground going, but it’s very rewarding at the same time,” he said. A benefit stomp dance will be held for the Echota Ceremonial Ground from 7 p.m. to midnight on Feb. 7 at the Tahlequah Community Building located at 908 S. College Ave. Members from all ceremonial grounds are welcome for fellowship and fundraising for improvements to the ground. The emcee will be Opv Mack. Raffles, cake walks, an auction and drawings for grocery baskets will be a part of the fundraiser. Also, a concession stand will be available for guests. Comingdeer said some maintenance needs to be done to the ceremonial ground and he wants to update the restrooms available to members and guests. “There are so many people who come out there. We have primitive restrooms, and we just want to improve things a little bit for our visitors and make it more comfortable when they come,” he said. Comingdeer said he’s proud that the Echota Ceremonial Ground is still a member of the “Four Mothers’ Society.” He said it is the only Cherokee ground that is still a member of the more than 100-year-old society. The society began because Cherokee ceremonial people, along with Muscogee (Creek) ceremonial people, opposed the allotment of the tribal lands during the Dawes Commission allotment period in the late 1800s and early 1900s. The people feared it would open up “surplus lands” to white settlement, which did occur. He said several Muscogee (Creek) ceremonial grounds are still part of the “Four Mothers’ Society.” At the ceremonial grounds stomp dances, stickball games, meetings and ceremonies are held. “My ancestors from that ground (Echota) and the other core families from that ground, allied with the Creeks,” he said. “To this day, when they have meetings in the Creek Nation, I get invited to meet with the Creek ceremonial chiefs to discuss different issues. The Creeks still acknowledge us as part of the alliance.” Comingdeer said he expects to receive support at the benefit stomp dance from Muscogee (Creek) ceremonial grounds and local Cherokee groups. He said members of the Echota Ceremonial Ground also support the Muscogee (Creek) grounds with their fundraisers and events. “We are a Cherokee community, and we embody the Cherokee ceremonial culture. We work hard to perpetuate, nor preserve, our ceremonial values and ceremonial ways the way they were passed down to us,” he said. “That’s what makes us a tribe. It’s not enterprises or businesses or whatnot. You can take all that away as long as we still have our ceremonial ground and our language and our ceremonial beliefs, we’re still a tribe. That’s what gives us our federal recognition...so it’s important that we uphold that.” Members of the Echota Ceremonial Ground have five dance meetings during the spring and summer with the first dance in April. For more information about the benefit stomp dance, call Comingdeer at 918-822-2302.
BY STAFF REPORTS
01/16/2015 12:00 PM
BENTONVILLE, Ark. – Academy Award-winning actress Geena Davis announced on Jan. 6 that she’s launching a film festival to champion women and diversity in film to be held in Bentonville. The Bentonville Film Festival will be held May 5-9 and is sponsored by her own organization, the “Geena Davis Institute on Gender in Media,” as well as corporate partners Wal-Mart, Coca-Cola, AMC Theaters, and ARC Entertainment. “I’m honored to collaborate with ARC Entertainment, Wal-Mart, AMC and Coca-Cola to launch this important initiative,” Davis said. “I have been so impressed with the commitment Wal-Mart has made to support Women through their Global Women’s Economic Empowerment Initiative, which has as one of its goals to source $20 billion from women-owned businesses in the U.S.” The festival will begin accepting submissions on Jan. 15 and will focus on films that prominently feature women and minorities in cast and crew. The selected films will be announced in March. According to Variety magazine, the festival will be unique for being “the only film competition in the world to offer guaranteed theatrical, TV, digital and retail home entertainment distribution for its winners.” Davis also said that judges would be looking for films with high commercial potential. The festival’s advisory board will include Angela Bassett, Bruce Dern, Samuel L. Jackson, Randy Jackson, Eva Longoria, Julianne Moore, Paula Patton, Natalie Portman, Nina Tassler and Shailene Woodley. Davis is best known for her roles in 1980s and 1990s classics such as “A League of Their Own”, “Fletch,” “Beetlejuice” and “Thelma and Louise.” Film submissions to the festival must meet two of seven requirements: female or minority lead, female or minority director, female or minority writer, female or minority production company, gender and diversity balanced cast, gender and diversity balanced crew, and family or shared viewing appropriate. For more information on the festival, visit <a href="http://www.bentonvillefilmfestival.com" target="_blank">bentonvillefilmfestival.com</a> or email <a href="mailto: info@bentonvillefilmfestival.com">info@bentonvillefilmfestival.com</a>.