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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 WILL CHAVEZ
Assistant Editor – @cp_wchavez
04/27/2017 08:15 AM
ROCK FENCE, Okla. – Leading a school bus of Greasy School fifth and sixth graders in his pickup truck, Cherokee Nation ethno botanist Roger Cain stops near a bridge overlooking Little Lee Creek, east of the Adair County school. After the children and teachers unload, he leads them to a nearby river canebrake where he shows them how cane grows, discusses how Cherokee people used it for tools and weapons and to hide in when they were attacked by enemy tribes. For the past few years, Cain has researched and catalogued river cane fields in the tribe’s jurisdiction for the Cherokee River Cane Initiative. The initiative encourages people to understand better and preserve dwindling river cane fields in the jurisdiction. Since January, Cain has visited fifth and sixth graders at Greasy School to teach them about river cane and how Cherokee people used it. The students have had opportunities to shoot blowguns made from river cane and learn how to throw river cane spears using an atlatl, which gives the spear more force. “We’re finally finishing up the school year by coming out to a canebrake and seeing what a canebrake looks like and how it impacts the environment,” Cain said. “We’ve been talking about river cane and how it’s used for baskets, for blowguns, atlatls as well how it’s good for the environment...for water quality. Cain also told students how he uses Google Maps to map and catalog river canebrakes in the CN. Next fall he said he plans to show the students how he creates his maps. Teaching Greasy students about river cane and how it affects their environment is needed, he said, because 99 percent of river cane found in Adair County is located near the school. “What we figured (through the initiative) is we need to start addressing this with the local school systems and working at keeping them (canebrakes) clean and teaching how important the ecosystems are. Hopefully we’ll expand the coverage area for future use and future Cherokees,” he said. “I’m hoping to continue it and expand it into other schools next year.” During the April 13 field trip, Cain also showed students other plants and their importance to Cherokee people such as the bloodroot plant, which is used for medicine as well as dye to color woven baskets including baskets made from river cane. Greasy student Sadie Ritter said she’s learned a lot about river cane including how it grows, where to find it and how it can be made into various things. “I learned about (river cane) rhizomes and how to find it on Google Maps. It’s really cool to learn about it,” she said. Sixth grade teacher Marilyn Bynum said she believes her students learned a lot about their environment from Cain and the role it played for Cherokee people. “The children have had the opportunity to use the blow darts and throw the atlatl and experience hands on some tools their ancestors had used for many years, and it really brought it to life. It was like living history,” she said. “Today, we have talked about the natural resource (of river cane) and how it protects the banks of the river. We’re at Little Lee Creek in Adair County, and Roger has shown us how the river cane helps maintain the soil along the banks.” For more information, visit the Cherokee River Cane Initiative page on Facebook.
BY WILL CHAVEZ
Assistant Editor – @cp_wchavez
04/18/2017 08:15 AM
PARK HILL, Okla. – Sac and Fox artist Tony Tiger took home the grand prize award for his work “Metamorphosis” at the Cherokee Heritage Center’s 46th annual Trail of Tears Art Show. Winning artists for the show were announced April 7 during an opening-night celebration for the show, which can be viewed through May 6. The TOTAS is the longest-running Native American art show in Oklahoma and features a variety of authentic art. Featured artwork is available to purchase throughout the show’s duration. CHC Interim Director Tonia Hogner Weavel said the show is open to any federally recognized tribal citizen. Artists competed for more than $14,000 in prize money in seven categories: paintings, graphics, sculpture, pottery, basketry, miniatures and jewelry. “The art is the most prestigious in the country, and it is for sale to the public. The art show gives people the opportunity to see some of the most contemporary artists that are being featured nationally. So, we are pleased and happy to host this show,” she said. Tiger said he has been participating in the art show for about 10 years, and this is the first time he’s won the grand prize. “I was very surprised,” Tiger, who is also Seminole and Creek, said. “Artists have to have opportunities to exhibit their art, to sell their art, and this (TOTAS) is a wonderful way to do that.” Cherokee Nation citizen Renee Hoover entered her contemporary double-wall baskets using round reed material in the show and won a first place award for her “My Mother’s Basket.” “The Trail of Tears Art Show is really a special show. It recognizes the wonderful traditions of Native people and the artistry that we have. I especially like participating in it because of the quality of the art is outstanding. It’s very competitive, and I always come in worried ‘will I be good enough, will I be juried in?’ So, there’s a lot of anxiety,” she said. “It’s wonderful to also appreciate the artwork that’s here and the way we as Native people use our art to continue to allow our traditions and culture to thrive.” For a complete list of awardees, visit www.Anadisgoi.com. <strong>2017 TOTAS Winners & Awards</strong> Painting: Roy Boney Jr., Cherokee Nation, “She Led Her By the Hand ” Sculpture: Troy Jackson, Cherokee Nation, “Exodus, The Assembling of Displacement” Basketry: Renee Hoover, Cherokee Nation, “My Mother’s Basket” Pottery: Chase Earles, Caddo Nation, “Caddo Story of the Flood: Respect Land and Animals” Jewelry: Toneh Chuleewah, Cherokee Nation, “Copper Style Bracelet” Graphics: Brenda Bradford, Cherokee Nation, “Light Through Fire” Miniature: Merlin Littlethunder, Cheyenne Nation, “Chiefs Meeting on Water Rights” Emerging Artists: Kellie Vann, Cherokee Nation, “Bath Time for Super Heroes” Bill Rabbit Legacy Award: Karin Walkingstick, Cherokee Nation, “Tsi-s-du” Betty Garner Elder Award: Paul Hacker, Choctaw Nation, “The Chief”
BY STAFF REPORTS
04/11/2017 12:45 PM
PARK HILL, Okla. – Learn the history of the Cherokee National Female Seminary during a lunchtime discussion on April 21 at the John Ross Museum. Retired educator and local historian Beth Herrington will lead the one-hour discussion beginning at noon. Construction began on the Cherokee National Female Seminary in 1847 under the direction of Principal Chief John Ross. It opened in 1851 as one of the earliest schools of higher learning established for women west of the Mississippi. The building was later destroyed by fire on Easter Sunday in 1887. Rebuilt 130 years ago, the building represents the oldest structure on what would come to be known as Northeastern State University. The event is open to the public and free to attend. Guests are encouraged to bring a brown bag lunch. The museum will also offer free admission throughout the day. The museum highlights the life of John Ross and houses exhibits and interactive displays on the Trail of Tears, Civil War, Cherokee Golden Age and the Cherokee Nation’s passion for education. The museum is housed in an old, rural school building known as School No. 51 and sits at the foot of Ross Cemetery, where John Ross and other notable CN citizens are buried. The museum is located at 22366 S. 530 Road.
BY LINDSEY BARK
Staff Writer
04/11/2017 08:15 AM
PRYOR, Okla. – Five years after her father Bill’s death, Cherokee Nation citizen Traci Rabbit is continuing her family’s artistic legacy with her ability to create and reproduce art for the studio they operated together – Rabbit Studios. “(I’m) so just very blessed that I’m able to support quite a few people in my family…carrying on my dad’s legacy. Doing the only thing I knew to do,” Traci said. Traci said her father was “progressive” when he started reproducing art to sell as a means of income to support a family. She said artists are realizing the value of reproductions and how to make a living as an artist. For the Cherokee Phoenix’s second quarter giveaway, she donated an 18-inch-by-24-inch giclee (reproduction) on canvas of her “Gifts of Life” painting. “I chose ‘Gifts of Life,’ which depicts a Native American woman with four hummingbirds representing the four directions, the four seasons, different stages of life. When people look at my work, I may try to convey one message but they see another. With spring coming, I thought that would be a good piece and people might like it,” Traci said. “The color palette that I used was to depict spring and the renewal of life and starting over. So that was what I was thinking when I painted that piece.” Most of her art depicts Native American women. She said she is inspired by the women in her family. “I would say that the reason that I do (paint Native American women) is from an early age my parents always empowered us kids. My mother is a very strong woman. The people in my family and the people that I was around and raised by, they were all very strong women. So, I guess growing up around that I admired their strength and their determination and their ability to rise above bad circumstances,” Traci said. At Rabbit Studios, all work and reproductions are done in-house on items such as art tiles, clipboards, mouse pads, cell phone covers, coffee mugs, coasters, scarves and handbags. Traci said her schedule throughout the year is “crazy.” From August to March, she travels to one or two art shows a month in and out of state, including wholesale shows. From March to July, she creates new art and decides what will come next in her product line to get ready for the next season’s schedule. Not only does she have to think creatively for her art, but she also get into a business mindset to determine what products she wants to sell. “Not only do I create the art, but being able to do the business side of it is, I think, so important for artists today. They should know both sides. That way they’re not fumbling through, not understanding. At least have an understanding of…that other side if you’re going to do it for a living because it is very important,” Traci said. Her art and merchandise can be found at billandtracirabbit.com. For more information, email <a href="mailto: orders@billandtracirabbit.com">orders@billandtracirabbit.com</a> or visit Rabbit Studios at 231 S. Taylor. On July 1, the Cherokee Phoenix will draw a winner for Rabbit’s “Gifts of Life.” For every $10 donated to the Cherokee Phoenix Elder/Veterans Fund or spent on Cherokee Phoenix goods one entry will be entered into the drawing.
BY LINDSEY BARK
Staff Writer
04/10/2017 08:00 AM
SNAKE CREEK, Okla. – From the dirt to the plate, spring is when many Cherokees are in the woods and hollows gathering a delicacy known as wild onions. For the Standingwater family, it’s a long-standing tradition passed generation to generation. Cherokee Nation citizen Stephanie Standingwater-Cutrer said she’s gathered onions for more than 30 years and remembers going with her grandmother. “I remember going with my grandma when I was old enough to walk. (I would) follow her. I didn’t know what she was doing. I just pretty much played in the dirt. She was always picking something. I would see her gathering everything up and take them and clean them,” Standingwater-Cutrer said. “I don’t remember actually being taught, I just was around it.” CN citizen Willa Standingwater said she remembers what her dad told her about Cherokee people. “Dad used to say that Indians lived off the land during spring and summer. Like in the woods, they’d go get onions and all these different kind of plants that you can eat. During the winter they’d eat off the animals.” Standingwater-Cutrer said she “picked up” on how her grandmother identified onions, looking for the “brightest green” stalks and ensuring they were “big enough” to be ripe. She said there is a right time to pick the onions. If they are too small, they taste sweet. If they are too big then they are “about to go to seed” and turn tough because of seeds growing in the bulbs. “I just know from the middle of March to the end of March they are pretty good to eat. Like this year they came out early,” Standingwater-Cutrer said. She said when it’s the right time to gather, onions can “smell up the house,” leaving an odor on clothing. Standingwater-Cutrer said she learned techniques from her grandmother and father for unearthing onions. She uses shovels, screwdrivers, sticks or her hands. Standingwater said she uses a butter knife and is teaching her children the same technique. When it comes to cleaning onions, Standingwater-Cutrer said she takes them to a nearby creek and runs them through the water. Then she peels back the first layer on the onion bulb and pinches the end to remove the roots. After learning where onions are located, how to identify them and using different unearthing techniques, Standingwater-Cutrer said she’s able to pass on the tradition to her son, whom she has taken on wild onion excursions since he was a baby. “Later on they’ll realize how important it is,” she said. As for cooking onions, Standingwater said she learned from her mother. After onions are cleaned, she prepares a frying pan with about two tablespoons of grease and chops the onions into 1-inch pieces. She then places three to four handfuls of chopped onions into the pan and lets them fry until the stalks turns dark green. After darkening, Standingwater adds salt and about a quarter cup of water and cooks the onions until the water evaporates. The last ingredient is whisked eggs. She cooks until the eggs are done. The whole process takes about 20 minutes. Standingwater-Cutrer and Standingwater said they enjoy getting out to their wild onion locations annually to gather as much as they can before the season ends. “They only come in season. You can’t get them anywhere (else), and there’s a lot of work that goes into it, too. A lot of the older people can’t really get out in the woods anymore and get down on the ground and get them like they used. A lot of them depend on us to get them some onions,” Standingwater-Cutrer said.
BY STAFF REPORTS
04/06/2017 04:00 PM
INDIANAPOLIS – One of downtown Indianapolis’ top artistic and cultural celebrations returns June 24-25, for its 25th anniversary: the Eiteljorg Museum Indian Market and Festival. Visitors can meet Native American artists from more than 60 tribes and purchase their handmade art, including jewelry, pottery, beadwork, cultural items, basketry, paintings, sculpture and weavings. The weekend also will feature performances from renowned Native American musicians Arvel Bird and Tony Duncan, as well as family-friendly cultural demonstrations of Native art, cooking and storytelling. The Indian Market and Festival will take place on the Eiteljorg Museum grounds from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. (Eastern Standard Time) on both days, with artists’ booths located outside and inside the museum. A special feature this year will be a museum gallery exhibit celebrating 25 years of collecting Native American art during previous Eiteljorg Indian Markets. “As the Eiteljorg Indian Market and Festival developed over the past 25 years, many Native American artists from all over the U.S. and Canada have traveled to Indianapolis to show their art and cultivate new collectors here in the Midwest – friends who return to Indian Market each year to see their favorite artists’ latest works,” said Eiteljorg President and CEO John Vanausdall. “This silver anniversary of Indian Market and Festival is especially meaningful, as longtime collectors and a second generation of visitors converge on the Eiteljorg Museum to experience Native American art and culture and share in this important community event.” After a modest start in 1993, the Eiteljorg Indian Market and Festival has grown into one of the top Native American art markets in the nation, and thousands of people attend the event held on the weekend after Father’s Day each year. Artists are chosen through a juried selection, and for artists to be eligible to participate, all entries must be handmade within the past two years by the artist entering the piece. Entries must be available for purchase during Indian Market and Festival and not include any part of a species of a protected animal. To ensure authenticity of artwork, all artists must provide documentation confirming they are members of a state-recognized tribe or citizens of a federally recognized tribe under the Indian Arts and Crafts Act. Judges who review the artwork will present awards to artists in multiple divisions, including a youth division. New to the Indian Market and Festival this year is veteran storyteller Ramona Moore Big Eagle (Tuscarora/Cherokee). As the oral historian and legend-keeper of the Tuscarora Nation of North Carolina, she is an educator and motivational. Returning storyteller Teresa Webb (Anishinaabe) also will talk about her culture, accompanied by flute, rattle and drum. For the performance schedule, visit <a href="http://www.eiteljorg.org" target="_blank">eiteljorg.org</a>. Admission to the Indian Market and Festival, which also gets visitors into the museum, is $13 for adults and $11 for seniors. Youth 17 and under are free. Eiteljorg members enjoy free admission. Discount tickets can be ordered in advance by calling 317-636-9378. Parking for a fee is available in the White River State Park garage. To enjoy early shopping before the crowds arrive, enthusiasts of Native American art can attend the Indian Market and Festival Preview Party on June 23. For party details and admission prices, see <a href="http://www.eiteljorg.org" target="_blank">eiteljorg.org</a>.