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 JAMI MURPHY
Senior Reporter – @cp_jmurphy
02/21/2017 03:30 PM
BELL, Okla. – Christopher Cojeen, a contracted archeologist with the Cherokee Nation, and a two other CN departments recently performed three site visits in Adair County near where a new federally funded road will be built near the community of Bell. Cojeen said during the last 20 to 25 years he has worked with the tribe to determine if there are homesteads or prehistoric sites located in the path of projects that use tribal or federal funds including road, community services buildings or housing projects. “Initially, we went out and did an archeological survey of the road. Just visually looking at the surface, looking for homesteads, prehistoric sites like you saw or cemeteries like you saw,” he said. “The Cherokee Nation has a lot of cemeteries that aren’t fenced, right up adjacent to the road…and today we were just coming back out with the roads department and Sheila Bird to determine how significant the sites were and whether we can go ahead and get funding to go to a second stage.” He added that the sites visited deserve to go to a testing level of recovery because there is so much lithic stone material on the surface as well as projectile points that are characteristic to a time period found at the sites. Two cemeteries were viewed in an effort to see the condition and state of the sites. Upon departmental recommendations, additional testing will occur around both cemeteries to determine if any burials are close to where the road will be built. Additional testing is warranted to ensure burials will not be disturbed during the construction. Another location visited he said would be an ideal location for a prehistoric site due to its location and relation to water tributaries. “You’ve got a first terrace like we were standing on over the creek and occupation like that would’ve happened during the archaic period for as much as 1,000 to 2,000 years (ago),” he said. “This would start roughly at 0 A.D. going back 1,000 to 2,000 years B.C.” At that age he said, it makes it difficult to determine a kind of “people” that may have inhabited the location. “That’s old enough that you’re really just looking at a time period. Many people do have a good idea of what groups were in this area at the time obviously, the Cherokee Nation brought in on the Trail of Tears wouldn’t be one of the tribes that would probably lay claim to this area prehistorically,” Cojeen said. Providing this type of service, he said, all people would benefit from with a better understanding of prehistory, but his involvement is due to a federal law protecting sites prehistoric and historic sites. “Aside from that, you’ve got an area which has a great number of stone tool recovery, and if we can find it in a dateable sequence, and this being right above the creek probably did have a lot of deposition that got laid over time. We might find archaic tools on the surface and as we go back middle archaic tools and early archaic or maybe even Paleo-Indian material resting at the bottom of the whole thing. If we have a good stratigraphic situation like that, then we can learn a lot about the changes in occupation over time.” Moving forward, Cojeen said, they’ll go into a testing phase of recovery where they’ll place areas in “one by one’s like you see on T.V.,” he said. Check back with the Cherokee Phoenix for updates on this story.
BY STAFF REPORTS
02/10/2017 12:00 PM
LONGMONT, Colo. – First Nations Development Institute, a national Native American nonprofit organization that works to improve Native economies and communities, on Feb. 2 announced it has received a $2.7 million grant for a three-year Native arts project. This award will position First Nations to expand its Native Arts Initiative, formerly known as the “Native Arts Capacity Building Initiative,” into 2019. Launched in early 2014, the purpose of the Native Arts Initiative is to support the perpetuation and proliferation of Native American arts, cultures and traditions as integral to Native community life. It does this by providing organizational and programmatic resources to Native-led organizations and tribal government programs that have existing programs in place that support Native artists and traditional arts in their communities. Since 2014, First Nations has awarded more than $600,000 in grant funds to various eligible Native-led nonprofit organizations and tribal programs in Minnesota, North Dakota, South Dakota and Wisconsin to bolster the sustainability of their organizational and programmatic infrastructure as well as the professional development of their staff and leadership. Under the expansion, First Nations will continue to offer competitive funding opportunities to Native-led nonprofit organizations and tribal programs in Minnesota, North Dakota, South Dakota and Wisconsin. First Nations will begin to offer competitive funding opportunities to Native-led nonprofit organizations and tribal programs in two new regions – the Southwest, including Arizona, New Mexico and Southern California, and the Pacific Northwest, including Washington and Oregon. First Nations expects to release a request for proposals in the coming days and will award approximately 45 Supporting Native Arts Grants of up to $32,000 each over the next three years to eligible Native-led nonprofits and tribal government programs in these regions. NAI recipient organizations and programs will utilize their grants to strengthen their organizational and programmatic infrastructure and sustainability, which will reinforce their support of the field of Native American artists as culture bearers and traditional arts in their communities. In addition to financial support, the NAI will offer individualized training and technical assistance opportunities for grantees as well as competitive professional development opportunities for staff members of eligible Native-led organizations and tribal programs. For a list of current and former NAI grantees, visit <a href="http://www.firstnations.org" target="_blank">http://www.firstnations.org</a>.
BY STAFF REPORTS
02/09/2017 04:00 PM
PARK HILL, Okla. – The 46th annual Trail of Tears Art Show is set to run from April 8 through May 6 at the Cherokee Heritage Center with categories including painting, sculpture, pottery, basketry, graphics, jewelry and miniatures. Artists will compete for more than $15,000. Artists must be a citizen of a federally recognized tribe to enter the show. A submission fee of $10 is charged per entry and entries must be submitted to callie-chunestudy@cherokee.org by 5 p.m. on March 15. Artists who wish to enter their works should submit photographs of their completed works, an entry form and the fee. These items must be submitted at the same time or the entry will be disqualified. A list of accepted artwork will be posted on March 22 on the CHC website. An awards reception is set for 6 p.m. on April 7 to recognize winners in each category. The Trail of Tears Art Show began in 1972 as a means of fostering the development of painting as a form of expressing Native American heritage. Initiated before the completion of the museum, the art show was held in the rain shelter of the Tsa-La-Gi Theater. In 1975, it became the first major exhibition in the present museum. The CHC is located at 21192 S. Keeler Drive. For more information, call 1-888-999-6007 or visit <a href="http://www.cherokeeheritage.org" target="_blank">www.cherokeeheritage.org</a>.
BY STAFF REPORTS
02/05/2017 10:00 AM
PARK HILL, Okla. – Native American youths are invited to participate in the 2017 Cherokee Art Market Youth Competition and Show, scheduled for April 8 through May 6. All artists must be citizens of a federally recognized tribe, in grades sixth through 12, and are limited to one entry per person. There is no fee to participate in the competition. Entries will be received between 10 a.m. and 5 p.m. on March 31 at the Cherokee Heritage Center. All submissions must include an entry form attached to the artwork, an artist agreement form and a copy of the artist’s Certificate Degree of Indian Blood card or tribal card. Artwork will be evaluated by division and grade level. Awards include Best in Show: $250; first place: $150; second place: $125; and third place: $100. The Best in Show winner will also receive a free booth in October at the Cherokee Art Market. A reception will be held at 6 p.m. on April 7 at the CHC in conjunction with the 46th annual Trail of Tears Art Show. Winning artwork will remain on display throughout the duration of the Cherokee Art Market Youth Show, ending May 9. Cherokee Nation Cultural Tourism is hosting the Cherokee Art Market Youth Competition. For more information, call Deborah Fritts at 918-384-6990 or email <a href="mailto: cherokeeartmarket@cnent.com">cherokeeartmarket@cnent.com</a>. The CHC is located at 21192 S. Keeler Drive.
BY ASSOCIATED PRESS
02/03/2017 04:00 PM
OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) – Museum officials said construction of the American Indian Cultural Center & Museum in Oklahoma City may resume as soon as this fall after a decades-long effort to create it. Fundraisers have collected $10.8 million in private donations, the Oklahoman reported. Fundraisers said they’ve collected enough funds to complete and open the museum, as outlined in a 2015 state law. Museum officials approved a plan to allow the acceptance of the donated money and give Executive Director Blake Wade authority to deposit the money in a state “completion fund.” According to Oklahoma City attorney John Michael Williams, depositing the private donations would start the process of issuing state bonds. He said the process would take four to five months. “I predict construction, if things go routinely, construction would start in October,” he said. The private donations are the first installment of the state’s $25 million pledge of matching funds to finish the museum. The cost to complete the museum is estimated to be at least $65 million. “This is a milestone resolution, a milestone day,” Williams said. The inside of the 162,000-square-foot museum remained mostly unfinished when construction came to a halt five years ago due to insufficient state funding, with the exterior of the museum nearly finished. In 2015, Oklahoma City leaders and the Chickasaw Nation partnered to complete and open the museum. Their partnership also includes the development of surrounding commercial property. Currently, the board includes $876,000 into its annual expenses to maintain the facility, secure the site and preserve warranties.
BY STAFF REPORTS
01/30/2017 12:15 PM
TAHLEQUAH, Okla. – Cherokee Nation Cultural Tourism will host cultural classes to learn the art of making traditional pucker-toe moccasins. The Saturday workshops are scheduled from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. for March 11, July 15, Oct. 7 and Nov. 4 at the Cherokee National Prison Museum. Registration costs $35 and is available at <a href="http://www.cherokeegiftshop.com" target="_blank">www.cherokeegiftshop.com</a>. Early registration is recommended, as class size is limited to 15 people. All materials will be provided to make traditional pucker-toe moccasins, which were historically worn by the Cherokee people. Participants are asked to bring their own lunches. The Cherokee National Prison was the only penitentiary building in Indian Territory from 1875 to 1901. It housed sentenced and accused prisoners from throughout the territory. It is located at 124 E. Choctaw St. For more information, call 1-77-779-6977 or visit <a href="http://www.VisitCherokeeNation.com" target="_blank">www.VisitCherokeeNation.com</a>.