Cherokee Nation citizen Frances Donelson sews a Choctaw tear dress in her home near Fort Gibson, Okla. In 1993 she started making tear dresses and ribbon shirts when her sister was a vendor at the Cherokee National Holiday. TESINA JACKSON/CHEROKEE PHOENIX
Donelson keeping traditional Cherokee fashion alive
Cherokee Nation citizen Frances Donelson holds an adult Cherokee tear dresses she made. Since 2002, she has won 12 awards for her sewing at events for her tear dresses and ribbon shirts. TESINA JACKSON/CHEROKEE PHOENIX
TAHLEQUAH, Okla. – The Cherokee people love their traditional games, foods, stories and clothes. In 1993, Cherokee Nation citizen Frances Donelson decided to use her sewing skills to keep the tradition of tear dresses and ribbon shirts alive.
“It’s just something that I’ve done for years,” she said.
The tear dress is the traditional dress for Cherokee women. The ribbon shirt, which has ribbons on the front and back, is popular for Cherokee men.
According to CN website, the dress is believed to be the style of dress from the Trail of Tears era, when most women had no access to scissors because of the removal and confiscation of belongings. So the material was torn from larger pieces. The traditional dress has diamonds around the skirt and sleeves. Today, some dresses have been modified to utilize triangles, circles and even the seven-pointed star of the Cherokee.
The Trail of Tears-era dress had quarter length sleeves and a mid-calf skirt length. Women’s dresses had button-down tops, while the buttons were usually fastened in the back for infants. Today, the dress has been modified to be floor length with full-length sleeves.
Donelson said she began sewing when she was young. But it wasn’t until 1993, when her sister was a Cherokee National Holiday vendor, that Donelson made tear dresses and ribbon shirts.
“She was doing jewelry and she said ‘you can make a couple of skirts and we’ll see about selling them,’” Donelson said. “So it just kind of evolved from there. I started working on the tear dresses. I’ve found by observation, looking at some, and I finally decided that I could make one of those and the first time I did I had only five. After I sold all five of them, I started making more.”
She quickly learned that it’s better to add elastic to the waist and wristbands to fit more people.
“I started making them a little bit more flexible because a lot of it is custom made and when you don’t know who you are going to make it for you have to make it a little bit larger or try different ways of making it flexible instead of having a fitted waist,” she said.
Donelson also makes Muscogee Creek and Choctaw tear dresses and ribbon shirts.
“I figured out I can do a Cherokee tear dress; it takes me approximately 20 hours,” she said. “The Choctaw dress involves a lot of handwork and I figured out that I sit for 80 hours doing one dress.”
Donelson has made dresses for people living in California, Texas, Hawaii, Washington and New Jersey. She has even made one for someone in Germany.
“People say ‘do you have a website?’ No I don’t have a website and I’m not on Facebook, I don’t do any of that,” she said. “All the orders I get are just word-of-mouth.”
She even made Principal Chief Bill John Baker’s ribbon shirt that he wore at his Nov. 6 inauguration as well as several dresses for his family.
“For the last three years, Frances has made a tear dress for our granddaughter. She’s made her one for every (Cherokee National) holiday,” said first lady Sherry Baker. “She just does a beautiful job and she always makes it to fit and she just goes out of her way to take care of it.”
Donelson charges $60 for an adult ribbon shirt, $45 if material is provided; $75 for a Cherokee tear dress for ages 3 to 7, $50 if material is provided; $100 for a Cherokee tear dress for ages 8 to 12, $75 if material is provided; and $150 for an adult Cherokee tear dress, $100 if material is provided.
She said she doesn’t rely on her hobby for a living and tries to keep her costs low.
“…it’s something that I enjoy doing, so I try to keep it down as much as possible, but you always feel like you need something for the cost of the material and the amount of time you put into it,” she said. “Someone asked me once if I wasn’t doing this then what would I be doing. I’d probably be sitting and just watching TV and not doing much of anything. It keeps me busy and I enjoy doing it and as long as people seem to like the dresses I’ll continue making them.” firstname.lastname@example.org
918-453-5000, ext. 6139
WAGONER, Okla. – The Cherokee National Youth Choir on Jan. 16 went on its annual retreat that was filled with interactive games, singing and the making of new friends at the Tulakogee Conference Center.
The retreat is to welcome new members so they can leave the title of “new” choir member behind.
During the retreat choir members got to know each other by playing games and by learning some of the music they will be singing in the coming months.
CNYC Director Mary Kay Henderson said the choir consists of approximately “half and half” of new and old members.
“Some of the kids already know someone in the choir, but we’ve got a lot of new ones,” she said. “It’s just a little bit larger group than we’re use to having, but it’ll be fun.”
Cherokee language teacher and CNYC travel coordinator Kathy Sierra said an important aspect about the choir retreat is that alumni choir members come and help with storytelling and cultural activities.
“The alumni will come in and help them learn. Even all the former members that are there will be helping all the new ones. It’s just a unique group,” she said. “Once this orientation’s (retreat’s) over we’ll be like one big, happy family.”
Home-schooled freshman Danya Pigeon, 15, said she wanted to join the choir for a couple of years but has always been too busy. Pigeon was one of the 15 youths who were inducted into the choir in January.
“I finally felt like it was something that I needed to do to help preserve the culture and keep it alive,” she said. “I like to sing also, so I figured it was a win-win.”
Pigeon said she learned some of the Cherokee language by learning “Amazing Grace.”
“I learned the first two verses and then that kind of got me into wanting to learn more,” she said.
After enjoying the activities of the retreat’s first night Pigeon said she could tell the choir was like a family.
“This isn’t just a group of young people that sing, it’s really more than that. They’re like a family, and they’re friends, and they just all fit together like puzzle pieces,” she said.
Pigeon said she looks forward to learning more of the Cherokee language and encouraging others to do so.
Sequoyah High School junior Morgan Mouse, 17, has been in the choir for a year and said she remembers being a new choir member.
“I was so scared and nervous. I wasn’t sure if I was going to like it or not, but after I got progressed in it was really fun and I enjoy it so much,” she said. “Going different places and seeing different people that I’ve never met, that was really fun.”
She said now she is trying to help new members feel comfortable.
“I’m just trying to guide them and tell them, “Don’t be so nervous and don’t be afraid to show them who you really are.” That’s really all that matters,” she said.
Mouse said she influenced her brother, Tenkiller Public School eighth grade student Elijah Bennett, to join the choir. Bennett is a new member for the 2015 season.
“At first he was really scared because he really didn’t want to sing that much,” she said. “Every time I came home I talked about choir. He got really jealous because I brought up so many stories and so many funny memories that he said he wanted to share them too, so that’s why he’s here.”
Henderson said she and Sierra have upcoming shows in the works, with the first being in March.
She said they plan to use the $10,000 the choir won from the GRAMMY Foundation and the rock group Foreigner for a summer tour. The choir won the money by submitting a public service announcement that showed their love for music.
“We hope to use that to take this choir on a short tour in June to Cherokee, North Carolina, to different cultural places along the trail (Trail of Tears) and not only to learn, but to share their culture with the people in that area,” she said. “The choir is so unique that nobody else has one that sings totally in Cherokee.”
The CNYC released its 12th CD in 2014 titled “From the East.” The 12-track disc contains songs from the Cherokees’ ancestral homeland in the East.
PORTLAND, Ore. – Daniel H. Wilson, author of technology thrillers such as “Robopocalypse,” “Robogenesis,” and “Amped,” has teamed up with Portland game design studio Mountain Machine to produce “Mayday! Deep Space,” a playable science fiction story for iPhone, iPad and iPod Touch.
The app made its debut in the Apple App Store on Jan. 7. In the app, players answer a mayday call from a survivor who is stranded on a derelict spaceship and use voice commands to guide him to safety – all while uncovering the terrible secret behind what wiped out the crew.
“It’s pure survival-horror with a shocking twist at the end,” states a press release for the app.
A Cherokee Nation citizen, Wilson has been working for the past year and a half with Mountain Machine to develop the playable sci-fi story app.
“I grew up in Tulsa and attended the University of Tulsa to study computer science. No surprise then that ‘Mayday!’ is part audio book and part video game – a story that you can play,” Wilson said. “It employs speech recognition very intentionally to put the player into an intimate, emotional experience with the survivor character. Basically, ‘Mayday!’ combines everything I love about reading and gaming into one package.”
Harnessing the latest Apple hardware to employ seamless speech recognition, players can use more than 10 voice commands to guide a survivor to safety through five levels of increasing mayhem and uncover the terrible secret behind what happened to the crew of the USS Appaloosa.
Osric Chau (“Supernatural,” “2012,” “Halo 4: Forward Unto Dawn”) voices the main character, joined by Bitsie Tulloch and Claire Coffee, stars of the NBC television show “Grimm.”
Wilson is committed to using the latest technology to find new ways to tell stories.
“By using spoken commands, I hoped to forge an intimate, emotional experience,” he said. “My goal for ‘Mayday!’ was simple: create a story that you can play. Please grab a copy and let me know what you think, and as early adopters, it’s always important to leave reviews right away if you enjoy the game. Thank you for your support. It’s because of you that I keep scheming.”
Wilson has formed his own entertainment company called “Iron Cloud Entertainment.” He is also a New York Times bestselling author behind books such as “Robopocalypse,” “How to Survive a Robot Uprising,” and “Amped.”
Wilson, of Portland, has built a diverse writing career since earning a doctorate degree in robotics from Carnegie Mellon University in 2005. In 2008, he hosted “The Works” on the History Channel, a 10-episode series exploring the inner workings of everyday stuff.
In collaboration with DC Comics, he is writing a weekly series called “Earth 2: World’s End.” He is also penning a science fiction survival script for the movie company Lionsgate with Brad Pitt attached to produce.
“Mayday! Deep Space” is available today for a price of $2.99 from the App Store on iPhone, iPad, and iPhone Touch or at <a href="http://www.AppStore.com" target="_blank">www.AppStore.com</a>. For more, visit <a href="http://www.maydayapps.com" target="_blank">www.maydayapps.com</a> or on Twitter: @maydayapps.
TAHLEQUAH, Okla. – Cherokee Heritage Center Executive Director Candessa Tehee has been chosen to take part in a May workshop that has the potential of improving the CHC’s museum.
The five-day workshop in Bloomington, Indiana, called “Museum at the Crossroads” will meet May 14-21 at the Mathers Museum of World Cultures and will include eight “museum partners” from the United States and abroad.
Tehee is one of eight partners who will take part in the “innovative international workshop on the future of museums of culture and history.”
“They received a number of applications and they only selected eight. It wasn’t just applications from the U.S., and it was not limited to tribes either. Everyone had the chance to apply,” Tehee said.
Before going to the workshop, Tehee is required to evaluate the CHC’s attractions and identify challenges it faces in terms of how it is presenting Cherokee stories and history to the public. She also had to write about why she thought she would make a good candidate and why the CHC would benefit from her participation.
The challenges the CHC faces preserving its artifacts and presenting Cherokee culture will be discussed along with the other participants’ challenges during the five-day workshop.
Tehee said the challenges discussed will have an international perspective because there will be multiple partners there, some from other countries.
“We’ll discuss how those relate specifically to our own institutions, and we’ll work on ways to address those as a whole and individually,” she said.
After the workshop, the participants will go home and work on implementing the ideas formed during the workshop.
“The primary idea is that we bring everything that we worked on home and we implement it in our home organizations,” she said.
One challenge Tehee will discuss is the infrastructure at the museum and how it affects the museum’s collections and archives.
“We face that mainly because our facilities are as old as they are,” she said.
The longhouse-shaped museum turned 40 years old in 2014 and was added to a complex in 1974 that included an amphitheater and an ancient Cherokee village. In 1985, the museum was remodeled to add more technology, but today needs more work especially in its basement where flooding occurs after heavy rains. The basement holds much of the museum’s collections and archives.
There are also cultural concerns such as caring for medicine bundles in the collection, which Tehee said were entrusted to the CHC because the donors felt like the items would be safe in its care.
“From a cultural perspective, we have to question whether or not we are the appropriate place to be holding them,” she said.
Also, she added, museums are responsible for creating historical consciousness. The museum has to be aware of the Cherokee story it is presenting and the way it’s being presented.
“At the Heritage Center...we’re presenting a slice of Cherokee life that’s rooted in history, which is something that is necessary and needs to be done. On the other hand, Cherokee people are a diverse, vibrant people, so it is a challenge to make we are presenting a full, diverse picture of what it means to be Cherokee and not being locked in to one notion of what that means,” she said. “Those are some of the things I touched on when I submitted my application, and then of course all of things come together in interesting ways.”
Tehee said another benefit from attending the workshop is she will have contact with the other seven participants and their experiences and ideas, which could be used to improve the CHC.
“I know the issues that we face are not necessarily unique to us. There are people who face similar issues, and there are people who have had success in trying to address these issues.”
PARK HILL, Okla. – The Echota Ceremonial Ground operates with the assistance of the Cherokee Nation and with the assistance of its members and other ceremonial grounds in the area.
The ceremonial ground is on CN land near the Cherokee Heritage Center. It moved to Park Hill in 2001 from Adair County.
“It (land) was provided by the (Tribal) Council for the relocation of our fire. We were losing the property where we were at, but before we did we started looking for a new home, and the Council offered several pieces of property and we chose that one for our use,” Echota Ceremonial Ground leader David Comingdeer said. “Since then we’ve had a healthy land-use agreement with the Tribal Council and our chiefs.”
The Echota Ceremonial Ground’s history is older than the state’s, Comingdeer said. It began near the Peavine Community in Adair County and later moved to Coon Mountain, also in Adair County. There the ground struggled as its leadership aged or became ill until the ground was turned over to Comingdeer, who was serving as second chief, in 2002.
“It’s a struggle to keep the ground going, but it’s very rewarding at the same time,” he said.
A benefit stomp dance will be held for the Echota Ceremonial Ground from 7 p.m. to midnight on Feb. 7 at the Tahlequah Community Building located at 908 S. College Ave. Members from all ceremonial grounds are welcome for fellowship and fundraising for improvements to the ground. The emcee will be Opv Mack.
Raffles, cake walks, an auction and drawings for grocery baskets will be a part of the fundraiser. Also, a concession stand will be available for guests.
Comingdeer said some maintenance needs to be done to the ceremonial ground and he wants to update the restrooms available to members and guests.
“There are so many people who come out there. We have primitive restrooms, and we just want to improve things a little bit for our visitors and make it more comfortable when they come,” he said.
Comingdeer said he’s proud that the Echota Ceremonial Ground is still a member of the “Four Mothers’ Society.” He said it is the only Cherokee ground that is still a member of the more than 100-year-old society.
The society began because Cherokee ceremonial people, along with Muscogee (Creek) ceremonial people, opposed the allotment of the tribal lands during the Dawes Commission allotment period in the late 1800s and early 1900s. The people feared it would open up “surplus lands” to white settlement, which did occur.
He said several Muscogee (Creek) ceremonial grounds are still part of the “Four Mothers’ Society.” At the ceremonial grounds stomp dances, stickball games, meetings and ceremonies are held.
“My ancestors from that ground (Echota) and the other core families from that ground, allied with the Creeks,” he said. “To this day, when they have meetings in the Creek Nation, I get invited to meet with the Creek ceremonial chiefs to discuss different issues. The Creeks still acknowledge us as part of the alliance.”
Comingdeer said he expects to receive support at the benefit stomp dance from Muscogee (Creek) ceremonial grounds and local Cherokee groups. He said members of the Echota Ceremonial Ground also support the Muscogee (Creek) grounds with their fundraisers and events.
“We are a Cherokee community, and we embody the Cherokee ceremonial culture. We work hard to perpetuate, nor preserve, our ceremonial values and ceremonial ways the way they were passed down to us,” he said. “That’s what makes us a tribe. It’s not enterprises or businesses or whatnot. You can take all that away as long as we still have our ceremonial ground and our language and our ceremonial beliefs, we’re still a tribe. That’s what gives us our federal recognition...so it’s important that we uphold that.”
Members of the Echota Ceremonial Ground have five dance meetings during the spring and summer with the first dance in April.
For more information about the benefit stomp dance, call Comingdeer at 918-822-2302.
BENTONVILLE, Ark. – Academy Award-winning actress Geena Davis announced on Jan. 6 that she’s launching a film festival to champion women and diversity in film to be held in Bentonville.
The Bentonville Film Festival will be held May 5-9 and is sponsored by her own organization, the “Geena Davis Institute on Gender in Media,” as well as corporate partners Wal-Mart, Coca-Cola, AMC Theaters, and ARC Entertainment.
“I’m honored to collaborate with ARC Entertainment, Wal-Mart, AMC and Coca-Cola to launch this important initiative,” Davis said. “I have been so impressed with the commitment Wal-Mart has made to support Women through their Global Women’s Economic Empowerment Initiative, which has as one of its goals to source $20 billion from women-owned businesses in the U.S.”
The festival will begin accepting submissions on Jan. 15 and will focus on films that prominently feature women and minorities in cast and crew. The selected films will be announced in March.
According to Variety magazine, the festival will be unique for being “the only film competition in the world to offer guaranteed theatrical, TV, digital and retail home entertainment distribution for its winners.”
Davis also said that judges would be looking for films with high commercial potential. The festival’s advisory board will include Angela Bassett, Bruce Dern, Samuel L. Jackson, Randy Jackson, Eva Longoria, Julianne Moore, Paula Patton, Natalie Portman, Nina Tassler and Shailene Woodley.
Davis is best known for her roles in 1980s and 1990s classics such as “A League of Their Own”, “Fletch,” “Beetlejuice” and “Thelma and Louise.”
Film submissions to the festival must meet two of seven requirements: female or minority lead, female or minority director, female or minority writer, female or minority production company, gender and diversity balanced cast, gender and diversity balanced crew, and family or shared viewing appropriate.
For more information on the festival, visit <a href="http://www.bentonvillefilmfestival.com" target="_blank">bentonvillefilmfestival.com</a> or email <a href="mailto: email@example.com">firstname.lastname@example.org</a>.
LINE SWITCH, Okla. – A river cane field located on Cherokee Nation land in southern Adair County got some needed help using fire.
On land adjacent to Sallisaw Creek, Roger Cain, researcher for the Cherokee Nation River Cane Initiative, joined Cherokee Nation Wildlife Fire Coordinator David Comingdeer and his son Spencer for a “controlled burn” under the native river cane growing next to the creek.
The river cane project began in 2011 to preserve, map and perpetuate the growth of river cane in the CN.
“So far we’ve identified 60 acres of river cane on tribal land out of about 18,000 acres. We’re here today on this plot that has been partially poisoned, and we’re trying to correct the problem by burning off the old cane, and hopefully we’ll connect two separate cane breaks together,” Cain said. “Burning cane breaks hasn’t been done since before statehood. Before statehood we were able to burn and do all sorts of stuff as a tribe...so this is pretty unique. We’re doing something other tribes wish they could do, and we’re glad we can do it and protect our tribal resources.”
Cain said the burn is done in the winter to remove the river cane’s competition. River cane grows in the winter, and if its competition is eliminated it will get a head start in the spring and grow taller and larger.
When the cane reaches a certain height it will develop a canopy and won’t have to compete as much with other plants around it because it will block out the sun, he said.
Comingdeer said he and his son attempted a “controlled burn” on Jan. 9, while the conditions were good with good humidity and little wind. However, the “fuel” or leaves needed to keep the fire going were compacted due to recent rainfall.
“A lot of our native species and our plants that are in this area that we use for our artwork, our basketry, our materials that we harvest for certain things like our medicine...are fire dependent. If you don’t have fire occasionally in those areas, than those native species simply die off. Other invasive species will come in and choke them out,” Comingdeer said. “The fire didn’t carry well through most of the cane itself, but if it doesn’t burn, it doesn’t need fire right now, so we’ll come back when the conditions for fire are a little bit better.”
Comingdeer said the plants growing in the area near Sallisaw Creek are similar to plants that grew in the Cherokee’s eastern homelands, so that’s why many Cherokee gravitated to the area after the forced removal.
Another problem for the river cane on this piece of tribal land is cattle are continuously eating the cane and preventing it from growing taller. Cain said the cattle are after the protein in the cane, which is a grass and is 30 to 40 percent protein. On the other side of the fence where the cattle are not able to graze, the river cane is much taller.
Cain said tribal leaders have pledged to fence in the river cane to prevent the cattle from eating it.
A third problem for the river cane is poisoning. Some of the cane near the creek was killed by poison possibly used by the rancher leasing the land to kill milk thistle and other weeds in the pasture next to the cane field. Milk thistle can cause nitrate poisoning in cattle and push out beneficial plants.
“The resulting run off from the poison washed down the field and bisected a canebrake as it washed into the creek,” Cain said.
River cane can be used to make blowguns, and milk thistle bulbs are used to help make blowgun darts.
Also, when ranchers mow over larger cane stalks they create spikes that are dangerous to animals and people, Cain added. People cutting cane and leaving spikes is one of Cain’s major complaints and safety concerns in canebrakes.
River cane was the Cherokees’ plastic, Cain said. It was used for shelter, weapons, mats, chairs, food and supplied material for baskets.
Unfortunately not much of the river cane found on the 60 acres of tribal land is fit for “traditional art” such as baskets, Cain said, because it has not been taken care of and is attempting to grow under the canopy of trees. River cane once grew 40 feet tall in the area, but now cane growing only 20 feet tall can be found.
“What we are finding is that river cane is best when a man is working with it and helping maintain it,” he said. “That’s what we’re trying to do here is help its visibility to the sun increase as well as trying something we’ve never done as a tribe in using our traditional fire knowledge to improve the environment.”