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.”
TAHLEQUAH, Okla. – At a Dec. 8 luncheon for Cherokee National Treasures – the keepers of Cherokee arts, culture and language – learned of a $50,000 grant that will directly benefit them, as well as opportunities to sell their works or have them displayed.
Tribal Councilor Victoria Vazquez, who became a Cherokee National Treasure for pottery in 2012, announced that the grant she helped procure took effect on Oct. 1 and the Cherokee National Treasure Advisory Committee is hoping to begin spending the money soon on treasures.
Cherokee National Treasure and potter Jane Osti, who is part of the advisory committee, called the grant a “generous one.”
“We want it to benefit National Treasures, and one way we hope it will is through their teaching. It will preserve the culture at the same time they will be able to make extra money by teaching,” she said.
Osti said it is hoped that most of the $50,000 will be spent paying the treasures to teach their skills and to buy their artwork to display in Cherokee Nation buildings.
Osti said nearly all of the 40-plus living treasures attend the annual luncheon. She said artists who are awarded the title excel in their respective crafts or arts and are recognized by the tribe as a master. There is also a category for those who help perpetuate the Cherokee language.
Those selected are also involved with the preservation and revival of traditional cultural practices that are in danger of being lost. Since its inception in 1988, 84 CN citizens have been recognized for their art and preservation efforts.
“Most of these arts are traditional. Some of them are kind of new, but most of them are ancient art forms,” Osti said.
Osti, who is from Rocky Ford/Teresita, was named a treasure in 2005 for her pottery. Before that only one other potter had been named a treasure and that was Anna Mitchell, Osti’s mentor.
Cherokee National Treasure Sue Thompson, of Woodall, was named a treasure for her work with the Cherokee language and teaching it to others.
“What I enjoy most is speaking the language and seeing the kids relating to it. Hopefully it will cause them to learn the language,” Thompson said.
She said Cherokee was her first language before she attended Woodall Schools. Her knowledge of the language allowed her to teach it in communities while working for the tribe’s Adult Education Program. She now mainly works with the public schools in the tribe’s jurisdiction to share the language.
Gina Olaya, Cherokee Nation Businesses director of cultural art procurement, told the treasures that she is looking to buy Cherokee artwork for tribal clinics being built in Jay, Ochelata, Stilwell and Sallisaw, as well as for the new W.W. Hastings Hospital to be built in Tahlequah.
She said Cherokee art is also needed for the tribe’s casinos and office buildings. Casinos are being constructed in South Coffeyville and Roland. Olaya brought one of her team members to show the treasures how to sell their art to CNB if they have not before.
Olaya said she has also been tasked with creating a Cherokee National Treasures exhibit to be displayed in the lobby between the Cherokee Restaurant and the Cherokee Nation Gift Shop in Tahlequah.
“It will have a piece or pieces of every National treasure that has been designated since the first one was designated (1988). We’ve been working for the past year and a half to try to find pieces (for the exhibit),” she said.
Cherokee Heritage Center Executive Director Dr. Candessa Tehee said the treasures are an important part of the tribe’s future and present-day efforts to preserve Cherokee culture and announced that the CHC would host the inaugural “Cherokee National Treasures Art Show and Sale,” Oct. 3 through Nov. 8.
“We want to do this in recognition of your artistic skill, and all of you have wonderful pieces that can be included in the show. Some of you may not wish these items to be for sale, that’s why it’s a combination exhibit and sale,” she said.
She encouraged the treasures to inform the families of deceased treasures about the show so that their works can also be exhibited. The CHC will also try to contact the families of deceased treasures.
Tehee said she understands the art show and sale would conflict with the annual Cherokee Art Market usually held in October in Catoosa, but she is willing to work with treasures to allow them to participate in both.
Cherokee National Treasures are also invited to earn money by teaching classes at the CHC through its Education Department, Tehee said, and are invited to bring their works to sell at its gift shop.
TULSA, Okla. – The Cherokee Nation was inducted into the Tulsa City-County Library Hall of Fame on Dec. 6 during a ceremony held at the Hardesty Regional Library.
The honor is given annually to an individual or organization demonstrating leadership and exemplary contributions of time, talent and energy toward improving the library and its resources. The tribe was selected as the 2014 inductee for its partnership with the library to record the Cherokee language on computer software. The software allows TCCL patrons to learn to speak, read and write Cherokee on computers.
“Since the library opened its American Indian Resource Center 15 years ago the Cherokee Nation has supported the center by providing presenters for educational program, as well as monetary donations for the library’s collections,” TCCL CEO Gary Shaffer. “Thanks to the hard work of the Cherokee Nation and the American Indian Resource Center, Mango Languages, which is one of our vendors that works with the library, will begin offering for the first time an indigenous language, the Cherokee language course, beginning in early 2015.”
Shaffer added that the CN helped develop interactive lessons and provided speakers of the language to record the lessons. The lessons will be offered through a user-friendly language instruction tool on the library’s website, as well as 2,000 other libraries across the country.
Accepting the award for the tribe were CN translators Anna Sixkiller and John Ross, Cherokee Language Program Manager Roy Boney, Cherokee Heritage Center Executive Director Candessa Tehee, Cherokee Nation Businesses Director of Strategic Investments Jay Calhoun and Tribal Councilors Cara Cowan Watts and Lee Keener.
Sixkiller and Ross completed two chapters for the Mango Languages software. The chapters include audio recorded by Sixkiller and Ross and written lessons.
Ross said he and Sixkiller worked with Mango personnel via Skype, which allows people to have conversations using a webcam and the Internet.
“Anna and I worked with a linguist from Mango. We worked on a script in the Cherokee language, and we started translating greetings, gratitude and goodbyes. The second part was conversation on ‘how is the weather today,’ names, places, etcetera. When we completed the writing part we started recording,” he said.
The project began in August and was completed Dec. 1.
“Personally, I see this as an opportunity to teach the Cherokee language to non-Native communities and other parts of the world to learn our Cherokee language,” Ross said. “If the people like the Cherokee language, Mango would like to continue the translation and continue adding more. It all depends on how the Cherokee language is received by the public.”
Boney said it is fitting the CN is working with the TCCL because the tribe has a long history of literacy.
“Education has been one of our major goals as a people as long we’ve been a people. We had the first institution of higher learning west of the Mississippi (the Cherokee Female Seminary),” Boney said. “We’re proud of our literacy, and this project is in keeping with that. The Cherokee language, like most Native languages, is endangered. We don’t want to lose our language, so we use every tool possible that’s available to us to keep it. A project like this using this language learning software is pretty big thing for us. It provides people access to hear fluent speakers of Cherokee speaking the language.”
Shaffer also thanked Ross and Sixkiller for their efforts.
“It’s really a remarkable collaboration...to develop this. One of Tulsa City-County Library’s goals is that the library be a center for community, reading, life-long learning and access to information for all,” Shaffer said. “For the Cherokee Nation’s outstanding commitment and longstanding support of the Tulsa City-County Library and for its diligence to preserve its Native language, we are proud to induct the Cherokee Nation into the Library Hall of Fame.”
Mango Languages can be accessed online for free with the use of a library card or by paid subscription. An app is also available for download on smartphones so users can hear Cherokee pronunciation at home. The website is <a href="http://www.mangolanguages.com" target="_blank">www.mangolanguages.com</a>.
PARK HILL, Okla. – The Cherokee Heritage Center is inviting people to experience a new exhibit that is open through March 1.
The “1710 Cherokee Hands-On Exhibit” features a sandbox with animal paw print pads that helps people learn how to identify animal tracks. It also has coloring pages, animal puzzles, a magnetic wall where children and adults can arrange color designs for baskets, a weaving wall with ropes to teach people how a basket is weaved, a “Be an Archaeologist,” section where artifacts can be uncovered and a pottery section with pottery dating to the 18th century.
“This is the first time the heritage center has tried to do a complete hands-on exhibit. We want to do something different that we’ve done in the past, but we want to make sure it complements Diligwa, our ancient village, so every activity in here is hands-on, family friendly and teaches people about Cherokee history and culture in the 1710s,” CHC Curator Mickel Yantz said.
He said the exhibit is really for all age groups and meant to give visitors a hands-on experience for the things seen in the Diligwa Village next door to the museum.
Diligwa is a replica of 1710 Cherokee village that opened in 2013 on the grounds of the CHC. The outdoor living exhibit provides guests with an enhanced experience of authentic Cherokee life and history in the early 1700s.
Diligwa is a name derivative of Tellico, a village in the East that was once the principal Cherokee town and is now underwater.
Cherokee Immersion Charter School first grade teacher Helena McCoy said she brought her class to the CHC on Dec. 5 to experience the hands-on exhibit and expose her students to basket making and other Cherokee-made crafts. She said she also wanted to give her students the opportunity to observe the Cherokee history displayed in the museum.
“We wanted them to have hands-on experience. They are making baskets right now, and they’re excited to learn about (basket) patterns and learn about animals by looking at their tracks,” she said. “Every chance we get we try to take them somewhere to do something different besides being in the classroom.”
CHC Executive Director Dr. Candessa Tehee said grants from the Oklahoma Arts Council and the Oklahoma Humanities Council is funding the hands-on exhibit.
“It sort of brings the Diligwa Village indoors. So, we have a number of activities that people can come in and put their hands on. Hopefully it gives people a little touch of culture, history and crafting,” Tehee said.
For information about the CHC and its exhibits, call 918-456-6007 or 1-888-999-6007 or visit <a href="http://www.cherokeeheritage.org" target="_blank">cherokeeheritage.org</a>.
PARK HILL, Okla. – In his 38 years of working at the Cherokee Heritage Center, Tom Mooney worked on numerous projects and held various titles, but he retired on Dec. 5 as the center’s archivist.
He began his CHC career as its historical registrar in 1976, the same year the Cherokee people ratified a new tribal constitution and 10 years after work began on the center.
“I’ve enjoyed every year here. A lot of my life has been spent here. When you spend that much time some place you make a lot of friends. I’ve been very pleased all the years I’ve been out here,” Mooney said.
He assisted people with genealogy until 2000, when he began overseeing the center’s massive archive. The archive includes books, newspapers, photographs, Cherokee Nation records from 1948-75 and donated papers from former Principal Chief William Keeler and many other former leaders and CN citizens.
“When I started here there was file cabinet and that was basically the archives,” he said. “It’s just been the past few years that we’ve really gotten things squared away in our collections.”
After helping with genealogy, he said he was glad to be able to concentrate on the archives, which now make up two rooms in the museum’s basement.
The 66-year-old said his favorite document in the archives is a letter written by Ellen Whitmore, the first principal of the Cherokee Female Seminary, which opened in 1851. The CHC nearly sits where the seminary once did. The seminary burned down in 1887, and the center has as its centerpiece the three remaining brick columns of the seminary.
“She’s writing her family. She’s been offered a job out here. She’s in Massachusetts, and she’s having to make this decision about whether to come out to Cherokee Nation or not,” Mooney said of Whitmore’s letter. “Today, it’s a big challenge for a girl to come from Massachusetts to Oklahoma to take a job. Back then it must have been horrendous.”
The perils of traveling to Indian Territory by boat in 1850 down the Ohio River to the Mississippi River through Memphis and then through Arkansas on the Arkansas River and into Indian Territory and Tahlequah, where Principal Chief John Ross greeted her, tested her will. However, Mooney said she enjoyed her time leading the seminary.
Documents such as Whitmore’s letter and others are being scanned and made into digital files so they can be accessed easier without damaging the original document.
Mooney said before documents were scanned it was up to him “to remember where some box was” to access certain documents.
[BLOCKQUOTE]In 2011, Mooney became a certified archivist through the Academy of Certified Archivists. He said at the time he took the certification test as a method of self-evaluation to see if he could pass the ACA test.
CHC Executive Director Center Candessa Tehee said Mooney has been more than the center’s archivist.
“He’s really been the backbone of the institution. He has so much institutional knowledge,” she said. “Tom built the archives. He started with basically nothing, and now we’ve got thousands of documents, and he has dealt with so many challenges...it’s really amazing what he has been able to do with so little.”
One challenge was dealing with flooding in the basement during heavy rains. Tehee said Mooney told her during those times he would sleep on a cot with his arm above his head and his hand touching the floor so when the water came into the basement and touched his hand he would know to get up and vacuum it before it reached the archives.
“Tom has such a passion for the institution. He has such a passion for Cherokee history, Cherokee heritage, Cherokee culture that he has made innumerable personal sacrifices to be here as archivist to continue to safeguard this collection,” Tehee said.
Mooney retired a day before his 38th anniversary, which fell on Dec. 6. On Dec. 5, Mooney’s coworkers gathered in the CHC’s museum atrium to honor him for his dedication to the archives and for being a friend. He was presented with an “Unbroken Friendship Mat” made from river cane and woven by Cherokee artist and coworker Betty Frogg. Under the mat, which was enclosed in glass and a frame, read: “Thank you for 38 years of your ‘Unbroken Friendship.’”
His wife, daughter and grandchildren also attended the honoring ceremony. Mooney met his wife Robin when they both worked at the CHC.
He said he would miss the people he worked with the most, but he would, of course, also miss the “old documents” with which he has become familiar.
“It’s been a great place. I’ve enjoyed the ride,” he said.
VENORE, Tenn. – The Sequoyah Birthplace Museum in Vonore is offering a beginning and an advance beginner Cherokee language class beginning Jan. 12.
Classes will be held from 6:30 p.m. to 9 p.m., Jan. 12, 19, 26 and Feb. 2. The cost of the class is $40 for all four evenings. Shirley Oswalt and Mary Brown, citizens of the Eastern Band of the Cherokee Indian, will teach the class.
The noted Cherokee linguist Sequoyah was born near the museum site in 1776. The mission of the Sequoyah Birthplace Museum, a property of the EBCI, is to promote the understanding and appreciation of the history and culture of the Cherokee Indians in Eastern Tennessee, particularly the life and contributions of Sequoyah. The museum collects, preserves, interprets and exhibits objects and data that support this mission.
The Sequoyah Birthplace Museum, located on Tellico Lake, features video, electronic displays and exhibits from various periods of Cherokee occupation in the Tennessee Overhill area. Its gift shop offers for sale many Cherokee and Native American crafts and jewelry as well as books on Cherokee history and culture.
People interested in taking this class should contact the museum at 423-884-6246 to reserve space. In case of inclement weather, call the museum ahead of time to determine if the class is meeting.
TAHLEQUAH, Okla. – To honor the Dec. 14 birthday of Ned Christie the Cherokee National Prison Museum is temporarily showcasing his rifle and gun.
Known as a statesman, Christie was a blacksmith and gunsmith by trade, who in 1885 was elected to the Cherokee Nation Council. His resentment towards the federal government was apparent, and he became well known for his intense speeches that promoted tribal sovereignty.
While in town to serve a warrant on May 4, 1887, U.S. Deputy Marshal Daniel Maples was shot and killed. Because Christie was seen in the vicinity, he was accused of having been the shooter. Since Maples was a United States citizen, jurisdiction for the crime fell to the Federal Court for the Western District of Arkansas under Judge Isaac C. Parker. Refusing to submit to a “white man’s court,” Christie sought refuge at his home in Wauhilla. Five years later, deputy marshals shot and killed him.
Twenty-six years after his death, a man claimed to have witnessed the shooting and identified Bud Trainor as the murderer, not Ned Christie. His account, published in an article that ran in the Daily Oklahoman, exonerated Ned Christie.
Today, Christie’s story is told at the museum, which includes the Cherokee National Prison, which was the only penitentiary building in Indian Territory from 1875 to 1901. It housed sentenced and accused prisoners from throughout the territory. Built of sandstone rock, the prison was made to hold the most hardened and dangerous prisoners.
The interpretive site and museum, located at 124 E. Choctaw St., show visitors how law and order operated in Indian Territory. The historic site features a working blacksmith area and reconstructed gallows. Today’s museum offers stories of Cherokees and how they were perceived as outlaws in the Cherokee Nation, while others were revered as patriots.
For information, call 1-877-779-6977 or visit <a href="http://www.VisitCherokeeNation.com" target="_blank">www.VisitCherokeeNation.com</a>.