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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
Senior Reporter – @cp_wchavez
12/05/2016 08:30 AM
PARK HILL, Okla. – Family and friends of Cherokee National Treasure and potter Anna Mitchell recently attended a reception for a Cherokee Heritage Center exhibit celebrating her life and legacy as a Cherokee potter. The “Anna Mitchell Legacy” will be on display through April 1 and includes pottery Mitchell made during four decades. Anna Belle Sixkiller Mitchell was born Oct. 16, 1926, to Oo-loo-tsa and Houston Sixkiller in Delaware County and died March 3, 2012, at age 86. The CHC and Mitchell’s family wanted to showcase her life’s work and contributions. Mitchell’s daughter, Victoria Mitchell Vazquez, said for her mother’s exhibit she located collectors who agreed to loan pottery items made by her mother for the exhibit. She said it was her idea to recreate her mother’s studio for the exhibit, complete with original pottery tools her mother worked with, her original worktable, examples of clay and some in-the-works pieces. Her mother’s worktable came from her sister’s cellar and still has clay on it. “I love the way it has all been put together. Jane Osti (a Mitchell student) helped a lot,” she said. “I love the panels that have all the descriptions and stories of mother. I like the easy flow of being able to go in a circle and you see some of her best work, and as you go around you see her work, her students’ work and their students’ work.” She said while the exhibit captures much of who her mother was it doesn’t capture all of her mother’s essence. How important Mitchell was for bringing back pottery making to the Cherokee people is not fully captured, she said. Mitchell was instrumental in bringing back Southeastern-style pottery to Cherokee people in Oklahoma. No one had been able to continue the tribe’s pottery tradition after it was moved to Indian Territory, now Oklahoma, in the early 1800s. Cherokee potter Crystal Hanna studied pottery under Mitchell. She met her after seeing Mitchell’s photo in a brochure for the annual Red Earth festival in Oklahoma City. Hanna said she contacted Red Earth representatives to get in touch with Mitchell because she felt she was someone she should get to know. Mitchell later called her and invited her to her house in Vinita. “That was in October of 1998, and she asked me if I was interested in doing an apprenticeship. I hadn’t really thought about it then. I was so excited to meet her to see what she did,” Hanna said. “She invited me to come back in March, that’s when she started working (making pottery) for Indian Market in Santa Fe (New Mexico).” Hanna said she returned to Vinita in March 1999 for a three-month apprenticeship with Mitchell. Mitchell loaned her books about Southeastern-style pottery and told Hanna she wanted her to study her “ancient culture and history before she put her hands in the clay.” One of Hanna’s tasks was sifting dried clay pieces for hours and rehydrating the clay for use. “After I did that all afternoon, she said, ‘oh, I just wanted to let you know how our ancestors did it.’ There’s an easier way. You can take the hand-dug clay and put it in little pebbles, soak it and then put it through a screen,” she said. “We went through every step – grinding the clay, processing it, the hand coiling, the burnishing, the slip painting.” She said after her apprenticeship Mitchell was always available to answer pottery questions. “We definitely bonded. She kind of reminded me of my mom. She was amazing, really amazing, and I loved her,” Hanna said. Vazquez learned pottery making from her mother after her father, Bob, died in 1997. After his death she moved home to Vinita from Houston where she had worked. “I came back to stay with mom for a couple of weeks, and I decided I need to stay here to support her but also really get serious about making pottery back in Oklahoma because you couldn’t do it in an apartment in Houston,” she said. Vazquez is known for making effigy pottery with human and animal faces. “I like pots, but I always wanted to do something different. I’ve always been drawn to animal or human effigies,” she said. Mitchell’s youngest daughter, Julie McPeek, never took up her mother’s craft, but she appreciated what her mother and father created as a team. She said her father was her mother’s support system and encouraged her constantly. McPeek said by the time she finished college and began raising her family, her mother was too busy with making pottery for art markets and customers that she no longer had time to teach. “And then it just seemed there was not opportunities after that,” she said. She said based on taking a pottery class with Victoria, she now understands that one just can’t “take a lesson or two” to really learn how to make great pottery. One has to learn “from the ground up” and study the culture behind Southeastern-style pottery making, she said. “I was here when they were getting things put in (for the exhibit), and it has such a presence of Mom here. I’m just overwhelmed,” McPeek said. “I love the way it flows from her work and then on around to students that she has taught and then students that her students have taught.”
BY ROGER GRAHAM
Media Specialist – @cp_rgraham
11/18/2016 08:00 AM
PARK HILL, Okla. – More than 1,800 school-age children from surrounding schools attended the annual Cherokee Heritage Festival on Nov. 3-4 at the Cherokee Heritage Center. CHC Interim Director Tonia Weavel said 371 students visited the first day and 1,449 students visited the second day. “We have schools today from Tulsa, McAlester, Roland, Marietta, Dahlonegah, Muskogee and others.” Weavel said. “The Cherokee Heritage Festival is a fantastic fall event where we’ve invited children to come and learn about the Cherokee culture.” Weavel said students who attended received “hands on and up close” lessons on Cherokee culture and history. “So we’re glad they’re here. It’s going to be a good day.”
BY STAFF REPORTS
11/17/2016 04:00 PM
ROLAND, Okla. – Cherokee Nation Businesses is preserving and promoting Cherokee culture at each of its properties by utilizing themes and technology to immerse guests in tribal art, language and history. The tribe’s newest gaming and hospitality property, Cherokee Casino & Hotel Roland, highlights the company’s ability to enhance the entertainment experience by embracing technology and sharing the tribe’s history and culture. The venue’s design represents earth, wind, water and fire and is evident throughout the casino. “Our Cherokee heritage is unique and beautiful,” Principal Chief Bill John Baker said. “Adorning our entertainment properties with cultural elements, brilliant works of Cherokee art and even subtle design motifs allows us to preserve and share our tribal culture while creating memorable impressions that invite visitors to return time and again.” More than 25 years ago, the Cherokee Nation opened its first gaming operation, a bingo hall, on the same property as the current casino resort. At that time, much of the technology used today was nonexistent. The technological advances in gaming, security and surveillance have transformed Cherokee Casino & Hotel Roland into the region’s leading entertainment destination. The tribe’s business arm used new methods to match the property’s increased focus on technology and art, including an animated TV wall featuring art with moving elements and audio across three monitors and a mosaic TV wall displaying the casino and hotel’s entire art collection. Holographic greeters offer patrons a quick and factual education in Cherokee culture and language while also depicting the tribe’s history within Sequoyah County. The greeters feature the appearances and voices of actual employees who work at the property. “It’s an honor as both an employee and as a Cherokee Nation citizen to work in an environment that expresses so much of our tribal history and culture through numerous displays,” Chad McReynolds, general manager of Cherokee Casino & Hotel Roland, said. “Our guests appreciate the art and are interested in hearing the stories behind each piece. The art team really did a wonderful job with this project." Cherokee culture is represented throughout CNB and CNE properties by using historical and modern media. The Roland location features the works of 28 Cherokee artists, including eight Cherokee National Treasures: Bill Glass Jr., David Scott, Donald Vann, Jane Osti, Luther Toby Hughes, Noel Grayson, Shawna Morton Cain and William Cabbagehead. The property boasts 3-D works ranging from basketry to ceramics by Cain, Osti and Scott, photos by Cherokee photographer Jeremy Charles and a ceiling centerpiece reflecting the four directions on earth created by Bill and Demos Glass. Honeysuckle baskets, woven and hand-built pottery, a historic sugar bowl and handmade hunting and fishing tools used before European contact, as well as 8-foot-tall panels displaying Ron Mitchell’s piece “Art of the People” are also on display. “It is very important that we continue to preserve our culture and support Cherokee artists,” Gina Olaya, CNB director of cultural art and design, said. “Cherokee Casino & Hotel Roland exemplifies the many ways modern technology helps us share and enjoy Cherokee history, language and art, while simultaneously creating an entertainment experience unlike anything else in the area.” The CN and its businesses rely on Cherokee artists and their works to bring authenticity to all of the tribe’s properties. A catalogue of the tribe’s collection is accessible through an online art database at <a href="http://cnart.pastperfect-online.com" target="_blank">http://cnart.pastperfect-online.com</a>.
BY STAFF REPORTS
11/10/2016 08:30 AM
INDIANAPOLIS – Western paintings and Native American artifacts collected by former NFL Tennessee Titans owner Kenneth S. “Bud” Adams go on exhibit Nov. 12 at the Eiteljorg Museum of American Indians and Western Art. The “Titan of the West: The Adams Collection of Western and Native American Art” exhibition includes items from a multimillion-dollar collection bequeathed by Adams to the museum when he died in 2013 at age 90. It is one of the largest and most historically important bequests the museum ever has received. Visitors will see paintings by Frederic Remington, Charles Russell, Thomas Moran and other artists who shaped the image of the Old West. They also will see Native American artifacts, including beaded and quilled clothing from Plains tribes, pottery and weavings from the Southwest, Cherokee basketry and a variety of horse gear, smoking pipes and moccasins all gifted to the museum by the late Adams in his will. “Bud Adams and his wife Nancy Adams assembled an impressive personal art collection at their Houston home and business inspired by Bud’s dual heritage as an enrolled member of the Cherokee Nation and descendant of pioneers. While football fans knew Bud Adams as the owner of the Tennessee Titans, we at the Eiteljorg Museum also came to know him as a tremendous enthusiast for the history of the West. The Adams’ collection is one of national importance, and we were thunderstruck with gratitude when Bud entrusted this collection to the Eiteljorg for the public’s enjoyment and appreciation,” said Eiteljorg Museum President and CEO John Vanausdall. A wealthy Houston businessman and rancher, Adams was prominent in the oil and gas industry as CEO of Adams Resources & Energy. Adams also was a central figure in the history of modern professional football. He was co-founder of the American Football League, which later merged with the NFL, and he was owner of the former Houston Oilers franchise that later became the Tennessee Titans in Nashville. Many direct ancestors of Adams were among the Cherokee forced to leave Tennessee on the Trail of Tears. The Tiana Rogers family traveled with a party that took 189 days to reach Indian Territory (in what is now Oklahoma) in 1839. In 1841, daughter Martha married Hilliard Fields. She was Bud Adams’ great-great-grandmother. W.W. “Bill” Keeler was the brother of Adams’ mother and was president of Phillips Petroleum. Keeler became principal chief of the CN first appointed by President Harry Truman and holding the office until 1975. Adams was a supporter of the Cherokee Heritage Center in Park Hill, Oklahoma, and in 2000 received “the highest honor awarded by the Cherokee National Historical Society for his support and dedication to the preservation and promotion of Cherokee culture.” Curators and collection experts at the Eiteljorg have spent nearly three years preparing for the display of 60 paintings and nearly 90 Native American artifacts Adams collected, which together will fill an exhibition room. A full-color 300-page book authored by the curatorial staff accompanies the exhibition. “The Eiteljorg Museum is one of the premier museums of Native American artifacts and Western art in North America, and it is appropriate that these priceless treasures will be housed at the Eiteljorg permanently,” said Amy Adams Strunk, daughter of Bud Adams and controlling owner of the Tennessee Titans. “This collection was very special to my father, and our family hopes that those who view these items on display will walk away with the same sense of wonder and appreciation for the culture and heritage that these unique artifacts and works of art represent.” The “Titan of the West” exhibition continues through Feb. 5 and is included with regular museum admission.
BY STAFF REPORTS
11/07/2016 12:00 PM
TAHLEQUAH, Okla. – The Cherokee Speakers Bureau Thanksgiving will be held Thursday November 10, 2016 from 12:30 - 4pm. We will meet in the Community Ballroom that is located behind the Restaurant of the Cherokee. All Cherokee speakers are invited to attend. If you want to bring a side dish or a dessert, feel free to bring it. Come speak Cherokee and enjoy food and fellowship. For further information about the event, please contact: Edna Jones at (918) 453-5151; John Ross at (918) 453-6170; or Roy Boney, Jr. (918) 453-5487
BY STACIE GUTHRIE
Reporter – @cp_sguthrie
11/07/2016 08:15 AM
TAHLEQUAH, Okla. – After reconnecting with her pre-school teacher, Cherokee Nation citizen Talisha Lewallen learned how to make Cherokee double-wall baskets from basket weaver Regina Thompson. This led her to share the skill with co-worker Joshua Cooper, and they in turn began teaching children they helped while working with CN’s Indian Child Welfare. “We both work for Cherokee Nation Indian Child Welfare, and we started realizing that when we’re teaching kids to do it, it really helps them to be able to talk to us more. It kind of gives them a way to relax around us. It takes their mind kind of off what they’re really telling us and helps, I think, all of us feel a little more comfortable in some situations,” she said. “It also helps them reconnect with their heritage and realize that they’re apart of something bigger and they’re not just out there by themselves.” Cooper, a CN citizen, said the children kept what they made but he and Lewallen noticed they had an excess of baskets. He said this prompted them to start TooNooWee Baskets about a year ago. “From doing that we had all of these baskets left over and never had much to do with it so I was like, ‘might as well start selling them,’” he said. Cooper said they have sold baskets and spread Cherokee culture to people all over the world. “I’ve sent some to Australia. I’ve sent some to England and France and Austria. So we kind of share it (Cherokee culture) that way,” he said. “We also share it with our personal family and also people here in Oklahoma.” Lewallen said they also sold all of their baskets at their booth during the 64th annual Cherokee National Holiday. “Our booth did very well.” Cooper said he believes creating baskets helps him, Lewallen and the children they teach connect with their culture. “These baskets are from the western Cherokee, after the removal. It’s kind of the style that kind of came about because they didn’t have the same materials,” he said. “It kind of keeps us connected to the sacrifices they made and understand how far we’ve come and continue it. I want to be able to teach my kids. Also, we know that the basket kind of holds it’s all self together, there’s nothing added in to it so it’s kind of like the way the Cherokee people kind of work. We kind of hold ourselves together and keep moving forward.” Lewallen said as for her baskets she recently began entering art shows and competitions and is interested in entering more. “I’ve already won two awards from the two art shows I’ve entered so I’m pretty excited about that,” she said. She said she won Judges’ Choice at the 11th annual Cherokee Holiday Art Show and first place at the 2016 Tulsa State Fair Competitive Exhibits. Cooper said the duo also offer basket-weaving classes. “We’ve only done it a few times but it’s something that we really enjoy,” he said. “We’ve actually taught all of ICW for Cherokee Nation. We had a class of probably about 100 something people.” To purchase baskets, request a custom basket or set up a class, visit <a href="http://www.etsy.com/shop/TooNooWeeBaskets" target="_blank">www.etsy.com/shop/TooNooWeeBaskets</a> , call 918-805-7082 or email <a href="mailto: toonooweebaskets@gmail.com">toonooweebaskets@gmail.com</a>. To keep up with TooNooWee Baskets “follow” them on Instagram or “like” them on Facebook.