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 LINDSEY BARK
Staff Writer
01/11/2017 08:15 AM
LOCUST GROVE, Okla. – Since he was 8 years old, Cherokee Nation citizen Dave Standingwater has had an interest in archery and been fascinated by the flight of the arrow. Growing up in the Snake Creek Community near Locust Grove, Standingwater learned about hunting from his grandmother, Maggie Whitekiller Standingwater. His first hunting experience was at age 13, killing a deer with a bow and arrow his uncle made. “I was hooked after that,” he said. He said when times were hard and his father was unemployed, he helped out by hunting and providing for his family. “It was rough times back then,” he said. Years later, he became a nationally ranked archer in the Cabela’s Archery Shooters Association, competing across the United States and in national championship tournaments. In 1991, he experienced his first archery outing when his son invited him to a 3-D archery range in Locust Grove. Though he hunted growing up, shooting 3-D targets proved a challenge. “My first outing was terrible. I was so bad, and so I asked them if they (archery range) was open every weekend. So I went back. I started shooting and practicing,” Standingwater said. He said he practiced at home for 20 minutes to 30 minutes a day, eventually entering local archery tournaments. “I got to taking first, second and third place trophies and stuff like that,” he said. In 1994, he joined the Cabela’s Archery Shooters Association tour and his first tournament was in Oklahoma City. He began competing in out-of-state tournaments and racked up points to qualify for the championship tournament in Tennessee. “At that particular tournament, there were like 2,500 actual shooters, and I shot the traditional way – stick and string,” he said. He used a custom-made modern dual-purpose Black Widow bow. He said competing nationally enhanced his archery skills against many high-level shooters. “If you missed, your arrow was just gone. But in competition like that you didn’t miss, you just didn’t miss, he said.” He competed until 2001. He never won a championship tournament but often placed second and third. One of the biggest highlights of his career was when a Cabela’s magazine recognized him as one of the top 10 traditional bow shooters in the nation during the 1999 tour. “I started looking down that list there and my name was No. 7. I wore that magazine out showing people,” Standingwater said. “I just wanted to shoot. I never thought that I’d become in the top 10 bracket.” Now at 74, Standingwater continues his passion for shooting, bow making and learning how to flint knap. He made his first bow out of bois d’arc, learned how to cut a stave (a trimmed rod of wood used to make a bow) and make bowstring from squirrel hide. He studies to become a more “powerful” and “faster” bow shooter and said he is staying with the traditional way of shooting so that he has the knowledge to survive and provide for his family if he needs to. “I’m a full traditional shooter. I don’t aim down the arrow. I don’t look at the string. I look at the place where I want to hit. That’s where I want the arrow to go and that’s what I’m looking at. So that’s as traditional as you can get. I think that’s a plus when you get out in the woods. A lot of times your shots are going to be quick,” he said. He said he’s passing his archery knowledge to his family and compared his great-niece’s shooting to that of Robin Hood. He said the two often take nature walks and practice shooting rabbits and squirrels. Standingwater said he’s retained what he learned from his grandmother, who was a midwife and knew how to gather plants for medicines. Through her, he also learned to fish and gather foods that are in season. “I learned a lot from my grandmother, (she) taught me a lot.”
BY STAFF REPORTS
01/10/2017 02:00 PM
TAHLEQUAH, Okla. – The Cherokee Speakers Bureau will be held Thursday January 12, 2017 from 12:30 - 4pm. We will meet in the Community Ballroom that is located behind the Restaurant of the Cherokee. All Cherokee speakers are invited to attend. If you want to bring a side dish or a dessert, feel free to bring it. Come speak Cherokee and enjoy food and fellowship. For further information about the event, please contact the Language Program Office: 918-453-5151, 918-453-6170, 918-453-5487.
BY STAFF REPORTS
01/10/2017 08:30 AM
TAHLEQUAH, Okla. – Congratulations to Cherokee Nation citizen Dana Parks from Brownsboro, Texas, for being the Cherokee Phoenix’s fourth-quarter giveaway winner. On Jan. 3, Parks won beaded jewelry made by Native Uniques owner Samantha Barnes. The winning package consisted of a bracelet, necklace, dream catcher and earrings. Parks won it after Cherokee Phoenix staff members drew her name from approximately 170 entries. Parks joins Nan Butler, of Wellston, Wauneta Wine of Columbia, Maryland, and Dale Easky of St. Clair, Missouri, as the 2016 Cherokee Phoenix quarterly giveaway winners. Butler won four painted tiles by Cherokee artist MaryBeth Timothy of MoonHawk Art for the third-quarter contest. Wine won a carving by Cherokee sculptor Matthew Girty for the second quarter, and Easky won a knife by Cherokee knife maker Ray Kirk for the first quarter. Entries can be obtained by donating to the Cherokee Phoenix’s Elder Fund or buying a Cherokee Phoenix subscription or merchandise. One entry is given for every $10 spent or donated. The Cherokee Phoenix will hold its first quarterly drawing for 2017 on April 3 when it gives away a finger-woven belt made by Jules Brison of Waterspider Creations. For more information regarding the giveaways, call Samantha Cochran at 918-207-3825 or Justin Smith at 918-207-4975 or email samantha-cochran@cherokee.org or justin-smith@cherokee.org. For more information on Waterspider Creations, visit <a href="http://www.etsy.com/shop/WaterspidercreaGifts" target="_blank">www.etsy.com/shop/WaterspidercreaGifts</a> or <a href="https://www.facebook.com/waterspidercreations/" target="_blank">https://www.facebook.com/waterspidercreations/</a>. For more information on Native Uniques, go to Nativeuniques.com or call 918-214-0030.
BY STAFF REPORTS
01/04/2017 12:00 PM
TAHLEQUAH, Okla. – In January, two traditional basket-weaving classes will be offered at the United Keetoowah Band’s John Hair Cultural Center and Museum. Each class will have a two-day session with the first class taking place on Jan. 5-6 and the second on Jan. 19-20. All classes are from 5 p.m. to 8:30 p.m. During the first class students will learn how to weave around a glass flower vase, and during the second class students will focus on weaving a basket and fitting it with a woven lid. Cindy Hair, a Keetoowah Tradition Keeper and master basket weaver, will teach the classes. She has approximately 50 years of weaving experience, and her basketry is known around the country. “I just love weaving baskets and love teaching basket weaving,” she said. “I want to keep it up and pass it on as long as I can.” The classes cost $25 each with reed being provided. Students are encouraged to bring their own vase, but vases will be available for purchase for $2. For more information or to register, call 918-772-4389.
BY LINDSEY BARK
Staff Writer
01/04/2017 08:15 AM
BRIGGS, Okla. – For the past 65 years, United Keetoowah Band citizen and Cherokee National Treasure Dorothy Lee Ice has been loom weaving, an art form used to make items such as belts, scarves, headbands, bookmarks, bracelets and shawls. Ice, of Briggs, became an employee of the Sequoyah Indian Weavers in the 1940s when she was 15 years old. She became interested in weaving after watching weaver Lucille Hair. After a time, her curiosity brought her back to watch the loom weavers. Bill Ames, a man from New York who ran the SIW, approached Ice and asked if she would like to learn. She did not hesitate and was employed that day. Her first woven piece was a blanket. “I just loved it when I first started. What got me interested, mostly, was (I) just got in there and started. I didn’t have to ask any questions,” Ice said. She said loom weaving consists of using a wooden loom, stringing or threading a warp and using shuttles on the loom to create a design. Ice said she only uses four designs when weaving. “I use plain weave, hit and miss, herring bone and diamond. That’s all I do,” she said. Ice said SIW employees were paid by “piece work.” Once an item was completed John Ketcher, of the Sequoyah Vocational School and former Tribal Councilor, inspected it. He was able to spot a flaw instantly, and if it was not good, the weaver had to re-create the piece. Once items passed inspected, they were shipped to New York to be sold. She said at the time, along with the Briggs weaving hall, there were weaving halls ran by Ames in Bull Hollow, Peavine and Jay. Ice worked for the Briggs SIW until 1960 and again in 1964 until it was shut down because of robberies and a lack of weaving material. She continued to loom weave on her own and only created made-to-order items. She said loom weaving remains the same as the art form has not evolved much from the time she started. She became a Cherokee National Treasure in 1991 for her knowledge of loom weaving and said that meant she “better be learning more and teaching more.” Ice, 81, now teaches classes at the Cherokee Arts Center in Tahlequah. The classes are commissioned through the Cherokee Nation. “(Out of) the Cherokees, I think I am the only one that is weaving. I would like to pass it on, and all I want to hear from them (students) is ‘I learned this from so and so, and I taught so and so.’ That’s all I want to hear from them. I just want to pass it on. I don’t want it to die,” Ice said. “If they want to learn and I know it, and I am able to teach them, I would like to teach them. I think it would be important for them to learn all of the traditions so that they can survive if hard times come.” Aside from loom weaving, Ice teaches reading and writing of the Cherokee language, her first language, and teaches others how to make shackles for stomp dances. As a UKB citizen, she also received that tribe’s Tradition Keeper Award for loom weaving in 2014. She also worked for Briggs Schools for many years as a teacher’s assistant and bus driver. In her spare time, she likes to clog dance at the senior citizens center in Tahlequah.
BY STAFF REPORTS
12/28/2016 04:00 PM
TAHLEQUAH, Okla. – Cherokee Nation citizens Richard and Sheila Fields will host a grand opening of their new 4 Winds, 7 Clans Gallery at noon, Jan. 7 in Tahlequah. A ribbon cutting will take place at 2 p.m., Jan. 5 at the gallery hosted by the Tahlequah Chamber of Commerce. “4 Winds, 7 Clans Gallery showcases fine art by Cherokee National Treasures in addition to creations by up and coming Cherokee artists and craftsmen,” said Sheila. “All artists showcased in the gallery are of Cherokee descent, many are fluent in their Cherokee language, and each Cherokee artist brings their heritage to life through their individual talents and gifts which they pour into the design found in their art.” She added that the Cherokee elders among the Cherokee National Treasures inspired the gallery and that is why they are featured within it. “We are starting slow and we’re going to grow from there. We hope to add classes soon, a legacy for our artists,” said Richard. “If you are looking for authentic Cherokee art then you will find something to your liking in 4 Winds, 7 Clans Gallery.” The gallery is located at 210 S. Muskogee and is open from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday.