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Mother teaches 3 sons weaving tradition

BY JAMI MURPHY
Senior Reporter – @cp_jmurphy
01/12/2009 09:05 AM
REEDS, Mo. – Cathy Moomaw, a third-generation loom weaver originally from Jay, Okla., has been weaving since she was 8 – the age she learned it from her “Granny” Pearl Abercrombie. These days Moomaw is passing the tradition to her three sons.

“My grandmother taught most all of her kids and grandkids how to weave, so it’s only natural that I want to teach my boys. And as far as we know we are the only fourth-generation Cherokee weavers we have been able to find,” the 46-year-old Cherokee Nation citizen said.

Since there are so few Cherokee weavers left, Moomaw said she began teaching her sons once they were big enough to reach the loom pedals.

“There are just a handful that we have been able to find, and there are not a lot of young weavers,” she said. “Out of all the grandkids, I feel very honored that I was the one that gets to pass this on. And I think it’s my responsibility to make sure that I teach more generations and that we keep this going and not let this die out.”

Chance, her youngest son at 13, said he likes weaving because it’s relaxing and it allows him to create artwork for others to enjoy.

“Being a fourth-generation weaver, it is kind of an important tradition to keep going and hopefully my kids will get to weave, too,” he said.

As part of keeping the art alive, Moomaw makes many blankets, including diamond weave blankets, which her grandmother was known for. In 2006, Moomaw entered a diamond weave blanket into the annual Cherokee Art Market at the Cherokee Casino Resort in Catoosa, Okla., and won.

The win got her an invitation to the 2007 Red Earth Native American Cultural Festival in Oklahoma City, which is one of the biggest Native American art shows in the country. Once there, she won her division with another diamond weave blanket.

“I felt like that was a real honor, just to be invited to get to go and then to win first was a even bigger surprise,” she said.

At the 2008 Red Earth, she placed third for an entry, while her oldest son Isaac Plumb, 28, took second place and Chance won the children’s division. Gus Plumb, her 20-year-old son, attends college and hasn’t entered a contest.

Moomaw’s award-winning knowledge of loom weaving stems from her days at the Oak Hill Indian Weavers hall in the Oak Hill/Piney community just outside Jay. There she learned from her grandmother how to weave and spent summers weaving rugs. However, that changed after she graduated high school and moved away from the area. Following the death of her grandmother, an aunt gave the looms to Moomaw, who has been weaving since.

Moomaw said to her knowledge the history of Cherokee loom weaving in Oklahoma goes back to the 1930s, when the CN established several weaving halls. She said her grandmother learned to weave at the Oak Hill hall and later became its president.

“She had the weaving hall for about 40 years where the other women in Oak Hill would come over and weave,” Moomaw said. “I still have my first placemats that I made when I was 8 years old.”

Part of her grandmother’s legacy includes a blanket in the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, D.C.

“We do have a letter from the Department of Interior where they commissioned her to weave draperies,” she said. “I hopesomeday she will be nominated for the Cherokee National Treasures. That would be the ultimate to see her receive that award considering how many weavers she taught and how she tried to keep natural fibers going.”

Moomaw said when the Cherokee weavers started they began weaving with wool and natural fibers but later switched to acrylic fibers. However, she said she prefers natural fibers.

“If I’m going to wrap up in something I want to wrap up in something that is natural,” she said. “There is more work in a wool blanket, but a wool blanket is going to look just as gorgeous 50 or 60 years from now as it does the first time you use it, so that’s why I like them.”

Moomaw said her grandmother was strict on how she taught her children and grandchildren. They had to have their tension, edges and stitches just right.

“A lot of people who see weaving, they see the design and the color and they think that’s how you pick a weaving, but for people that weave it is the edges and the tightness and the even spacing that’s the hard work of weaving,” she said.

Moomaw said she didn’t realize the importance of being meticulous and working hard at a blanket until now. She said crafting a 55-inch-by-72-inch blanket, which sells for about $500, usually takes her eight hours.

“Now that I have started doing the competitions I am so thankful that she took the time and taught me to do it the right way,” she said.

And anyone expecting to learn from Moomaw can expect the same teaching. www.cherokeewovenspirits.com. (417)-358-4907.
About the Author
Reporter

Jami Murphy graduated from Locust Grove High School in 2000. She received her bachelor’s degree in mass communications in 2006 from Northeastern State University and began working at the Cherokee Phoenix in 2007.

She said the Cherokee Phoenix has allowed her the opportunity to share valuable information with the Cherokee people on a daily basis. 

Jami married Michael Murphy in 2014. They have two sons, Caden and Austin. Together they have four children, including Johnny and Chase. They also have two grandchildren, Bentley and Baylea. 

She is a Cherokee Nation citizen and said working for the Cherokee Phoenix has meant a great deal to her. 

“My great-great-great-great grandfather, John Leaf Springston, worked for the paper long ago. It’s like coming full circle. I’ve learned so much about myself, the Cherokee people and I’ve enjoyed every minute of it.”

Jami is a member of the Native American Journalists Association, and Investigative Reporters and Editors. You can follow her on Twitter @jamilynnmurphy or on Facebook at www.facebook.com/jamimurphy2014.
jami-murphy@cherokee.org • 918-453-5560
Reporter Jami Murphy graduated from Locust Grove High School in 2000. She received her bachelor’s degree in mass communications in 2006 from Northeastern State University and began working at the Cherokee Phoenix in 2007. She said the Cherokee Phoenix has allowed her the opportunity to share valuable information with the Cherokee people on a daily basis. Jami married Michael Murphy in 2014. They have two sons, Caden and Austin. Together they have four children, including Johnny and Chase. They also have two grandchildren, Bentley and Baylea. She is a Cherokee Nation citizen and said working for the Cherokee Phoenix has meant a great deal to her. “My great-great-great-great grandfather, John Leaf Springston, worked for the paper long ago. It’s like coming full circle. I’ve learned so much about myself, the Cherokee people and I’ve enjoyed every minute of it.” Jami is a member of the Native American Journalists Association, and Investigative Reporters and Editors. You can follow her on Twitter @jamilynnmurphy or on Facebook at www.facebook.com/jamimurphy2014.

Culture

BY STAFF REPORTS
05/26/2016 01:00 PM
TAHLEQUAH, Okla. – Cherokee Nation Cultural Tourism will offer a family-friendly storytelling event every Wednesday in June. The program will last one hour and be hosted at 10 a.m. at the gazebo located on the grounds of the Cherokee National Courthouse. Before Sequoyah introduced his “talking leaves” writing system, generations of Cherokees passed down family heritage and culture through the art of storytelling. The general public is now getting a chance to hear these stories, a CN Communications release states. The stories to be featured will be “Opossum’s Tail,” “First Man and First Woman,” “The Medicine Plant” and “How the Turtle Cracked His Shell.” Attendees also receive free admission to the Cherokee National Supreme Court Museum and the Cherokee National Prison Museum, the release states. The Cherokee National Courthouse is located at 129 S. Muskogee Ave. For information on Cherokee Nation Cultural Tourism, including museum operations, call 1-877-779-6977 or visit <a href="http://www.VisitCherokeeNation.com" target="_blank">www.VisitCherokeeNation.com</a>.
BY WILL CHAVEZ
Senior Reporter – @cp_wchavez
05/24/2016 04:00 PM
TULSA, Okla. – What was the experience of Cherokee children following the removal of Cherokee people in 1838-39? Dr. Rose Stremlau, an associate professor of history, American Indian studies and gender studies at the University of North Carolina-Pembroke, focused on this topic in her April 23 presentation “The Last Generation and the First Generation: Cherokee Children in Post-Removal Indian Territory.” She presented during the “From Removal to Rebirth: The Cherokee Nation in Indian Territory” symposium held at the Gilcrease Museum. She focused on children and emphasized stories of children who lived rather than focusing on the period’s high rates of child mortality. Stremlau wanted to know how the survivors lived. “An individual’s account of a traumatic experience, the contextual details, those easily dismissed as inconsequential, is precisely the information that points to how survivors of trauma reconstruct their lives,” she said. “The little things are actually the big things.” Stremlau used various sources to “understand the experiences of Cherokee children” during the removal era. She used their words as recorded in the Cherokee Phoenix and Cherokee Advocate, political correspondence and oral histories collected from the period. She also used records compiled by church missionaries “who worked closely with Cherokee children and families.” She said to discuss how Cherokee children survived post-removal one must also look at how they were raised in the old CN before removal. “Cherokees believed children to be precious, valuable and sentient beings from birth. In a Cherokee society children were full persons with rights and responsibilities as kin. Of course as a matrilineal people, children are particularly precious to their clan kin,” she said. She said Cherokee parents strived to raise “powerful” children who could live in harmony with one another in a complicated, ever-evolving world around them. “The Cherokee kinship system empowered women who prioritized the needs of children,” she said. Following the removal there was a destabilization of households and disruption of familial relationships. “Traditionally, Cherokee households would have been secure, safe places for children...young people’s needs were typically met without disruption,” she said. So for children who showed up in Indian Territory without any maternal kin, “it was an unspeakable tragedy.” The removal’s scope was not comparable to the American Colonial period when outbreaks of disease or warfare usually occurred locally and regionally and other Cherokee towns could assist affected kin with food stores and taking in refugees. “In contrast, removal affected Cherokees nationally,” she said. “The trail was especially hard on babies, children and the aged. The death of children is always tragic no matter what the context, but in Cherokee society the survival of children without their grandparents was also tragic.” Children lost teachers. Elders were not there to show cultural knowledge, Stremlau said, or teach appropriate social boundaries, the teasing and joking, which was the primary way Cherokees corrected misbehaving children rather than using corporal punishment. “For this reason Cherokee children would experience those tremendous losses and their consequences quite differently than adults,” she said. Moravian Congregationalists and missionaries who documented the period after removal spoke about the need to care for orphaned children as a result of some families coming “so close to dying out” and in some instances only children were left. “The prevalence of children without caregivers was a real problem and immediately addressed by the Cherokee government. The Cherokee government, even before resolving other deeply divisive issues resulting from the removal, began to provide for the care and education of orphan children beginning in December of 1841,” Stremlau said. It also funded a foster care system that subsidized the care of orphans by “a good, steady family convenient to a school in their area.” She said Cherokees wished to maintain the integrity of post-removal communities by keeping children in them rather than entrusting their care and education with missionaries. Stremlau said because of the confusion caused by the removal and families not knowing where their relatives resettled in Indian Territory, the restablization of households was a long process and continued through the mid-1840s. “Sickness and death continued to undermine Cherokee recovery as children continued to die and experience the loss of loved ones at elevated rates in post-removal Indian Territory,” she said. Many deaths were the result of sicknesses and a shortage of common medicines. The old and young died in the greatest numbers. When re-establishing homes, some Cherokees settled far away from others and some chose to farm larger plots of land while others chose to settle in towns and farmed smaller plots. Stremlau said children living in the towns were able to “enjoy social relationships more consistent with original customs.” Cherokee farmers were not familiar with the region’s weather patterns and suffered droughts, wildfires, flooding and predators attacking livestock in the early 1840s as they tried to re-establish farms, which in turn caused their children to suffer. Rebuilding homes while trying to plant crops without enough laborers due to sickness resulted in “outright poverty” for some Cherokee families. “In short, children who survived removal were only beginning a period of seemingly biblical tribulations that slowed the restoration of the predicable and reliable subsistence cycle that had characterized the domestic economy in the old nation,” she said. “The harsh economic realities of post-removal Indian Territory cut childhood short.” Children, especially boys, were needed to clear fields for corn or plant corn, so some did not attend school regularly. Also, because growing crops was an uncertain practice, Cherokees fell back to relying on nature to survive by hunting, gathering nuts and berries, found honey and tapped maple trees. Children who experienced the devastation of removal and the rebuilding of homes, who had their families, even when things weren’t perfect, had a chance to become adults and live happy, productive, balanced lives in the ways Cherokee people defined that in the 1800s, Stremlau said. “In 1840s Indian Territory, then, children witnessed the re-establishment of households all around them. What’s remarkable...is how hard Cherokee adults worked to return to a state of normalcy,” she said. Scholars and historians frequently use one word to describe Cherokee survival and the restoration of their homes and government, Stremlau said. That word is resilience.
BY WILL CHAVEZ
Senior Reporter – @cp_wchavez
05/20/2016 08:30 AM
PARK HILL, Okla. – Seven Stilwell High School students displayed photos and narratives about their ideas on how to sustain Cherokee communities during an exhibition held May 10-13 at the Cherokee Heritage Center. The public discussed the “Sustainable Communities: Through the Lens of Cherokee Youth” exhibit on May 13 at the CHC. Tiffanie Hardbarger Ord, an instructor of Cherokee and Indigenous Studies at Northeastern State University in Tahlequah, facilitated the project. “It is the culmination of a project that was done with Stilwell High School young people,” she said. “They used photography to answer research questions because this started as my dissertation project. I went to Stilwell, and they were very, very welcoming and supportive of the project.” Initially, she had 18 students interested. However, seven students, ages 15 to 18, went through the process. “The students who were interested and had the ability to participate went through group interviews, and I told them all about what the project was about and they thought it was interesting,” she said. December Rider, of Stilwell, said it was important to participate because she believes Cherokee culture is “sort of dying” and she wanted to show that Cherokee people are “still here” and “still important.” She said the photo that inspired her was the one she took of the three columns outside the CHC that are the only surviving pieces of the Cherokee Female Seminary that once stood. “It’s inspirational because we had to fight for where are right now. We had to work so hard to get here, and the struggle that we went through and the education that these women had and what happened to this place is just tragic to me, and I felt like it’s very part of our culture,” she said. Ord asked students to take photos of sustainable communities from the perspective of young Cherokee people. She also asked them to show the values, practices and relationships needed “to perpetuate to sustain our (Cherokee) lifeways for generations to come.” Students took photos of their communities before turning them in to Ord, who is from Stilwell. “We had one-on-one dialogue about the meanings of those photographs. So, I took the transcript of what they had told me the meanings behind the photos were and that’s the narratives that you see that are exhibited along with their photographs,” Ord said. She said it’s hoped the students’ perspectives might start dialogue in their communities and with their elders that will carry on to their careers or inspire individual projects or projects with the Cherokee Nation. “This is the beginning of the conversation. What these students say is not the only conversation, it’s just the very beginning of the conversation and a way to get it more public,” Ord said. Kali Sawney, of Stilwell, said she was interested in the project from the beginning, and through it, learned more about Cherokee culture. “I was really interested in getting in touch with it and learning more about it, and I thought this would help me,” she said. Sawney’s photo of a family quilt hung during the exhibition. The photo shows her grandmother and mother holding a quilt that her great-grandmother started before dying. Her grandmother finished it. “Quilts are a big part of the family. We keep them like art. We don’t really cover up with them. We keep them in a chest. They’re just kind of sacred, I guess,” Sawney said. “I just thought it was a good representation of a sustainable community, communication, and it really represented the Cherokee way of life.” Ord initially tried to work with Sequoyah High School, but school officials informed her that students would likely not be able to fit the project into their busy schedules. So, in April, she turned to Stilwell High School. Ord said she was amazed at how quickly the seven students gathered their photographs and narratives. The students had about a week to take photographs and submit them. “So, I’m very, very proud of the young people,” she said. “I am so blown away by their creativity and the depth of thought they put into not only their photographs but the meanings behind the photographs and how engaged they’ve been.” Stilwell Principal Ramona Ketcher said when Ord explained the project to her she was “excited.” “It was such a great idea and such a blessed opportunity for my kids,” she said. “They go home every day to their elders. They go home to a way of life, you know, they don’t even realize what a blessed opportunity it is for them. The most important thing that I was excited about for my kids in her project was opening up communication between them and their elders.” The other participants in the project were Kelen Pritchett, Cody Chewey, Shania Brown, Justine Littlehead, and Shameka Cochran. The students’ chosen photos and narratives were published in a booklet that was handed out on May 13 at the CHC. Ord thanked NSU, Stilwell High School, the CN and Arizona State University for assistance with the project. She said she would like to see the project continue at Stilwell and other area high schools.
BY STAFF REPORTS
05/19/2016 02:00 PM
PARK HILL, Okla. – The evolution of Cherokee clothing represents more than just a historical record of what was worn throughout time. It shares the story of identity, resiliency, adaptability, history and culture of the Cherokee people. The “Threads of Time” exhibit runs May 21 through Aug. 20 and showcases Cherokee clothing from ancient history to modern day apparel. “Cherokee clothing represents a beautiful balance as it embraces practical components of society at large, while maintaining cultural identity,” Dr. Candessa Tehee, CHC executive director, said. “Each piece communicates a different part of our history and culture while giving us a unique perspective at Cherokee lifestyles throughout the years. “ Today, Cherokee artisans carry on the tradition of creating Cherokee clothing, as their tribal identity continues to be an important part of life. Cherokee artists make traditional style clothing and create themes that maintain and promote identity. “Cherokee clothing has long been both practical as well as beautiful,” Callie Chunestudy, CHC curator said. “Through this exhibit we are able to share the evolution of Cherokee textiles and provide valuable insight to how and why some of the progression took place.” The CHC is located at 21192 S. Keeler Dr.
BY STAFF REPORTS
05/19/2016 12:00 PM
TAHLEQUAH, Okla. – The next meeting of the Tahlequah Writers group is 2 p.m. on May 21 at the Cherokee Arts Center at 212 S. Water St. behind the Spider Gallery. The meeting is open to the public and provided by Tahlequah Writers. Following announcements concerning local writing events and accomplishments in submissions by members, attendees are invited to participate in a workshop to critique written materials brought to the meeting. Submissions to the group’s upcoming anthology are also ideal for receiving workshop comments. Whoever is interested in participating should bring a copy to read. Monthly meetings are casual and involve news of interest to writers and updates on what attendees are writing. Attendees include poets, fiction writers, historians, essayists, humorists, playwrights, scriptwriters, and more. Meetings discuss the art of writing as well as the business of publishing and promotion. For more information about the Tahlequah Writers group call 918-207-0093. People can also visit Tahlequah Writers on Facebook.
BY WILL CHAVEZ
Senior Reporter – @cp_wchavez
05/13/2016 04:00 PM
TULSA, Okla. – Author and radio host Steve Inskeep recently provided insight about the actions Principal Chief John Ross took beginning in the late 1820s to retain what remained of Cherokee Nation lands in Georgia, North Carolina, Tennessee and Alabama. The host of National Public Radio’s “Morning Edition” and author of “Jacksonland” discussed the history of Ross and President Andrew Jackson, who led their respective nations when the CN was being harassed to give up its lands. Inskeep spoke at the “From Removal to Rebirth: The Cherokee Nation in Indian Territory” symposium held May 22-23 at the Gilcrease Museum. “I see John Ross as part of the wider American democratic tradition,” Inskeep said. He said the Cherokee fight against removal is “one strand” of the American democratic experience. “I, as an American, as a journalist, as a student of our democratic system, have learned a lot in the course of writing this book about what I see as the Cherokee contribution to our national democratic traditions.” Ross’s goal, Inskeep said, was to maintain the CN’s sovereignty within the “umbrella of the wider United States.” As an example, he read a letter by Ross to the secretary of War, the department that oversaw Indian affairs, to protest the Cherokees’ harsh treatment by its white neighbors in Georgia. Ross declared the Cherokees considered themselves to be “part of the great family of the republic of the United States” and that they were “willing to sacrifice everything in the republic’s defense.” “Other Native leaders wanted out of this new and spreading country. John Ross, as leader of the Cherokees, wanted in, and that to me makes him a vitally important figure because he was, in effect, a part of an original minority seeking to play on an equal footing with the white citizens who dominated the country,” Inskeep said. Ross knew he would have to come up with a proposal to save Cherokee sovereignty and land and asked for suggestions from Cherokee leaders. Inskeep said Ross proposed the tribe enter into a treaty with the United States for admission as citizens as part of a territorial or state government within Georgia. In the late 1820s Ross was willing to “extinguish traditional culture for the sake of civilization and the preservation of existence,” Inskeep said, which he hoped would eliminate Georgians’ prejudice against Cherokees. “In short, they (Cherokee) would change almost everything in order to preserve their rights to the land,” he said. “Clearly not everyone in the Cherokee Nation agreed with that vision as he expressed it, but he expressed the determination to be seen as an equal in white society and laid out the possibility by making the Cherokee Nation a separate territory or state.” The Georgians were not interested, Inskeep said, but were interested in Cherokee real estate and how it could be utilized to grow crops such as cotton. The government wanted the CN and other tribes to move west of the Mississippi River “where they would not be corrupted by white society.” “This is a very interesting argument. ‘I am ruining your life; you need to leave your home,’” he said. To achieve his vision, Ross utilized “the tools of the emerging democratic system” by allying with U.S. political leaders and subscribing to newspapers. He corresponded with newspapers to inform people about Cherokee issues. The CN also founded the Cherokee Phoenix in 1825 and began printing its views in the newspaper in Cherokee and English in February 1828. Also, the Phoenix was partially distributed by exchange or traded for as many as 100 newspapers from throughout the U.S. “Articles from the Cherokee Phoenix would be clipped and reprinted by other newspapers across the United States,” Inskeep said. “They would go viral in the 19th century sense.” Ross and the Cherokees also fought for their lands in Congress and came close to winning in Congress by helping lobby against the 1830 Indian Removal Act, which narrowly passed, Inskeep said. After losing in Congress, the CN went to the Supreme Court. The tribe won its second case, Worcestor v. Georgia, in 1832 that held a Georgia criminal statute prohibiting non-Natives from being present on Native lands without a state license was unconstitutional. The case also laid out the relationship between tribes and the U.S. government and is considered the government’s foundation for the doctrine of tribal sovereignty. Jackson ignored the ruling and efforts to remove the CN from Georgia by Jackson and the Georgians continued. By the spring of 1838, Inskeep said, Cherokee people began seeing soldiers preparing to escort them from their lands. The deadline to leave came on May 23, 1838, exactly two years after Jackson signed the Treaty of New Echota, which sold remaining Cherokee lands in the East. Congress had approved the treaty by one vote. Inskeep said in April 1838 the Cherokee people defied the Indian Removal Act and the Treaty of New Echota by planting crops as if they expected to be there to harvest them. An Indian agent in the CN observed this, and Inskeep said the people’s actions might have persuaded federal officials to seriously negotiate with Ross, who was in Washington. “In the spring of 1838 the farmers of the Cherokee Nation proved their ownership of the land one more time,” Inskeep said. “Removal was inevitable, but he (Ross) wanted to at least improve the terms. Faced with the realization that troops under his command were going to cause a humanitarian disaster, President Martin Van Buren finally negotiated with John Ross. It was too late to avoid removal, but Ross at that moment was able to improve the terms.”