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  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
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
BY TESINA JACKSON
Reporter
01/13/2012 08:36 AM
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.”

tesina-jackson@cherokee.org
918-453-5000, ext. 6139

Culture

BY STAFF REPORTS
12/07/2016 04:00 PM
PARK HILL, Okla. – Storytelling is alive and well in Oklahoma, and the state’s storytelling organization, the Territory Tellers, exists to promote storytellers and storytelling. As part of its mission, the group is hosting its winter retreat Jan. 13-15 at Tenkiller Lodge near Tenkiller Lake. Anyone interested are invited to attend and learn about Territory Tellers, storytelling and the power of story. The retreat will begin at 3:30 p.m. on Jan. 13 afternoon and end at 10 a.m. on Jan. 15. The events and workshops are free. Guests must pay for their lodge rooms and evening meals. The schedule includes a workshop on audience participation with Fran Stallings, a workshop on creative story-play with Shaun Perkins, informal storytelling sessions and story concerts at night on Jan. 13-14. Special guest the Jan. 13 at the ghost tales concert will be Sequoyah Guess, a United Keetoowah Band citizen and a sixth-generation descendant of Sequoyah, the creator of the Cherokee syllabary. “Storytelling is a way our ancestors used to impart good lessons and point out undesirable traits,” Guess said. “They were usually told during the cold months when there wasn't much else to do.” Guess, who has been a storyteller for more than 35 years, said he still gets excited when he gets a chance to tell stories. “I usually leave it up to the listeners on what type of story they want to hear – historical, funny, scary,” said Guess. “I tell all kinds but I’m kind of known for telling scary ones.” New and old members will get a chance to practice telling stories and to hone their skills and entertain one another. The special group rate at Tenkiller Lodge will be $62.50 plus tax for a room with a king bed or 2 queen beds. To receive this rate, reservations must be made by Dec. 20 by calling the Lodge at 918-453-9000. A continental breakfast is included with the price of the room and is served from 8 a.m. to 10 a.m. Lunch, courtesy of the Rural Oklahoma Museum of Poetry, will be provided on Jan. 14. Dinners on the first two nights will take place at the Big Red Restaurant across the street from the Lodge. Payment for the restaurant meals will be the guests’ responsibility. For more information or to register, call Shaun Perkins at 918-864-9152 or email <a href="mailto: okiestoryteller@gmail.com">okiestoryteller@gmail.com</a>. One can also register at <a href="https://territorytellers.com" target="_blank">https://territorytellers.com</a>.
BY STAFF REPORTS
12/07/2016 08:00 AM
MUSKOGEE, Okla. – On Nov. 9, Susan Roberts along with 41 Native students in Kindergarten to eighth grade at Cherokee Elementary in Muskogee presented “Keepers of the Flame” to an audience of approximately 300, which included students, teachers and guests. Roberts, who is an Indian education and Native American Student Advocacy counselor, helped NASA students decorate their classrooms as well as assign them speaking parts among other duties. Students also celebrated a month-long Native American Heritage Celebration where students were able to represent their respective tribe’s clothing among other information pertaining to their tribe. Some guests included Cedric Sunray, who is a campus liaison and Indigenous student coordinator at Southwestern Christian University and Lynette Gunn, who is a wound care and foot specialist at Jack C. Montgomery VA Medical Center in Muskogee. During the month, college students Allison Reyes and Hannah Tyner visited the students and talked about the importance of obtaining a college degree. Other guests included Aaron Carapella who presented NASA students with a set of maps that depicts tribe’s original names and locations and Muscogee (Creek) Nation Tribal Councilor Joyce Deere who was honored by NASA students for representing the Muskogee District as well as supporting Native students in the area.
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.