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

About the Author
Born in Dayton, Ohio, Tesina first started working as an intern for the Cherokee Phoenix after receiving the John Shurr Journalism Award in 2009. Later that year, Tesina received her bachelor’s degree in journalism from Ball State University in Muncie, Ind., and in 2010 joined the Phoenix staff as a reporter.    

In 2006, Tesina received an internship at The Forum newspaper in Fargo, N.D., after attending the American Indian Journalism Institute at the University of South Dakota. She also attended the AIJI summer program in 2007 and in 2009 she participated in the Native American Journalists Association student projects as a reporter. Tesina is currently a member of NAJA and the Investigative Reporters & Editors organization.
TESINA-JACKSON@cherokee.org • 918-453-5000 ext. 6139
Born in Dayton, Ohio, Tesina first started working as an intern for the Cherokee Phoenix after receiving the John Shurr Journalism Award in 2009. Later that year, Tesina received her bachelor’s degree in journalism from Ball State University in Muncie, Ind., and in 2010 joined the Phoenix staff as a reporter. In 2006, Tesina received an internship at The Forum newspaper in Fargo, N.D., after attending the American Indian Journalism Institute at the University of South Dakota. She also attended the AIJI summer program in 2007 and in 2009 she participated in the Native American Journalists Association student projects as a reporter. Tesina is currently a member of NAJA and the Investigative Reporters & Editors organization.

Culture

BY STAFF REPORTS
02/27/2015 12:00 PM
LONDON – Following the success of its first-ever photography competition, Survival International, the global movement for tribal peoples’ rights, has announced its second worldwide photography contest, which aims to celebrate photography as a powerful medium for raising awareness of tribal peoples, their unique ways of life and the threats to their existence. Both amateur and professional photographers are encouraged to enter. Photographs can be submitted in the guardians category, which are images showing tribal peoples as guardians of the natural world; the community category, which are portraits of relationships between individuals, families or tribes; and the survival category, which are images showing tribal peoples’ diverse ways of life. The judging panel consists of Survival’s Director Stephen Corry, Survival Italy Coordinator Francesca Casella, The Little Black Gallery Co-Founder Ghislain Pascal and Max Houghton, senior lecturer in photography at the London College of Communication. The 12 winning entries will be published in Survival’s 2016 calendar with the overall winner’s image featured on the cover. The closing date for entries is April 30. For more information, visit: <a href="http://www.survivalinternational.org/photography" target="_blank">www.survivalinternational.org/photography</a>.
BY STAFF REPORTS
02/22/2015 04:00 PM
DAHLONEGA, Ga. – The next meeting of the Georgia Chapter of the Trail of Tears Association will begin at 10:30 a.m. on March 14 at the University of North Georgia in Dahlonega. The speaker will be GCTOTA board member Walter J. Knapp, instructor of Native American Culture and History at UNG. The topic will be “Successes and Challenges for Native Americans Today and in the Future”. Visit <a href="http://ung.edu/visitors/campuses/dahlonega/driving-directions.php" target="_blank">http://ung.edu/visitors/campuses/dahlonega/driving-directions.php</a> for directions to the university. The meeting will be held in the Adult Education building across from the main entrance to the campus between a pizza place and a Dairy Queen. The address is 82 College Circle Drive. The Trail of Tears Association was created to support the Trail of Tears National Historic Trail established by an act of Congress in 1987. The TOTA is dedicated to identifying and preserving sites associated with the removal of Native Americans from the southeast. The association consists of nine state chapters representing the nine states that the Cherokee, Creek and other tribes traveled through on their way to Indian Territory, now Oklahoma. The GCTOTA meetings are free and open to the public. People need not have Native American ancestry to attend the meetings, just an interest and desire to learn more about this fascinating and tragic period in this country’s history. For more information about the TOTA, visit the National TOTA website at <a href="http://www.nationaltota.org" target="_blank">www.nationaltota.org</a> and the Georgia Chapter website at <a href="http://www.gatrailoftears.org" target="_blank">www.gatrailoftears.org</a>. For questions about the March meeting, email Tony Harris at <a href="mailto: harris7627@bellsouth.net">harris7627@bellsouth.net</a>.
BY STAFF REPORTS
02/18/2015 04:00 PM
OKLAHOMA CITY – Cherokee National Treasure Martha Berry will teach a beginners-level beadwork class from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. on April 11 at the Oklahoma History Center at 800 Nazih Zuhdi Drive. Participants will learn how to make a lady’s purse. All supplies and lunch is included in the cost. For enrollment or cost information, call OHC Director of Education Jason Harris at 405-522-0785 or email him <a href="mailto: jharris@okhistory.org">jharris@okhistory.org</a>. Beadwork artist Martha Berry was born and raised in Tulsa. Her grandmother and mother taught her how to sew and embroider at age 5, and she later became a professional seamstress. As a Cherokee artist Berry creates elaborately beaded bandolier bags, moccasins, belts, knee bands, purses and sashes inspired by the styles of Southeastern tribes including the Cherokee, Creek, Choctaw, Chickasaw, Seminole, Yuchi and Alabama. Her work is displayed in museums throughout the country. Berry, 66, of Tyler, Texas, taught herself the craft of beading and continues to research the beadwork of Southeastern tribes. She is credited with helping bring back the art form to the Cherokee people and makes time to teach others her craft.
BY JAMI MURPHY
Reporter
02/17/2015 08:00 AM
TAHLEQUAH, Okla. – During a Feb. 7 benefit stomp dance, more than 400 people gathered at the Tahlequah Community Building to raise money for a local Cherokee family that suffered a horrific car accident in January. The stomp dance was originally planned to raise money for the Echota Ground, a Cherokee stomp ground in Park Hill. Echota Ground Chief David Comingdeer said the event raised more than $3,500 with half going to the Flynns to help with their expenses. Family members suffered multiple injuries and totaled their vehicle in the accident. “This evening here in Tahlequah we’ve called all our ceremonial grounds together from the Cherokee Nation, Muskogee Creek, Eucha, Shawnee, Seminole, Seneca Cayuga, even Peoria and Ottawa,” Comingdeer said. “We’ve all come together to help a family, a Cherokee family, a ceremonial family who got in a really bad wreck. We’ve decided to do what we can to help them.” The Flynns, driving a 2004 Chevy Trailblazer, were hit in a head-on collision on State Highway 51 by Randall Welch, of Welling, who was driving a 2002 Nissan Frontier. Welch was taken by Tulsa Life Flight and admitted for injuries while the driver of the Trailblazer, Jack “Red” Flynn, was taken to Arkansas with external trunk, leg and head injuries. Jack’s passengers were Kathy Gann, Jimmy Ross and Nellie Flynn, all family members of Jack. Ross suffered injuries to the head trunk and leg, according to the Oklahoma Highway Patrol. Nellie, Jack’s mother, was taken to a Tulsa hospital with similar injuries. Nellie was unable to make it to the event because of continual problems with the injuries she suffered. Jack, Ross and Gann were present during the dance along with several other family members. Some family members said the accident had put the family in a financial bind with hospital visits and losing the vehicle. “Their going back and forth to the hospital. Both him (Jack) and Nellie are going,” Linda Christie, a Flynn family relative, said. She said the funds would help with gas, food, travel and anything else unforeseen. Jack said without the benefit assistance the family would be forced to suffer more with the financial hardship in which the accident put them. The Flynns and Ross will have a long road ahead of them for full recovery, family members said, but they were appreciative of the donations and support from those who attended. Stomp dance attendee Celia Xavier said witnessing the fundraiser “felt like a throwback to the way our earlier societies were.” “Moving in the same direction, giving a helping hand when one needed it. What affects one, affects all. We are supposed to help each other,” Xavier said. “The antithesis of today’s ‘me society.’ It was interesting to see kindness through the actions of the chief of the Echota Grounds. He is giving half the donations to the Flynn family, who was in dire need of help. It was a moving and spiritual experience.” The family is a member of Stokes Ceremonial Grounds, but Comingdeer said it doesn’t matter what ground one is from. “They may not be from our ground, but they’re from another ground and we have a lot of respect for each other. We always support each other, try to love and understand each other,” he said. “You can take everything away from us, even our land. You can take all of our corporation away, as long as we still have our beliefs and our tradition we can build a fire, have our dances and take our medicine, speak our language, then we’re still a tribe. Tonight is the foundation of our culture. It’s the foundation of our tribe, and this is how we help each other. For those interested in donating to the Echota Ground or the Flynns can do so by mailing a check to Route 4 Box 1570, Stilwell, OK 74960. Make checks out to Echota Ground and indicate in the memo where donation is to go.
BY STAFF REPORTS
02/16/2015 12:00 PM
CATOOSA, Okla. – The 25th anniversary of Indian Health Care Resource Center’s annual dinner and auction “The Dance of the Two Moons” will be Feb. 21 at the Hard Rock Hotel and Casino in Catoosa. The “Dance of the Two Moons” dinner and auction was established 25 years ago as an annual fundraiser to help support the many great programs and services provided to the Native American community by the IHCRC. Proceeds from the event are once again supporting the vital programs and services currently paid from IHCRC’s general fund, including: maternal/child health, adult/child fitness and wellness programs, annual powwow, Spring Break Youth Camp and Youth Summer Camps. The honorary chairs of the 2015 “The Dance of the Two Moons” are Dr. Joseph and Mary Cunningham. Dr. Cunningham, medical director of Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Oklahoma and Mrs. Cunningham are personally dedicated to helping IHCRC improve the lives of our patients, states an IHCRC press release. Tickets to the event are $150 per person or $250 per couple. Sponsorship levels are available ranging from $2,000 to $10,000. For more information, to preview auction items, or to purchase a sponsorship or tickets, visit <a href="http://www.ihcrc2moons.org" target="_blank">www.ihcrc2moons.org</a>. The evening will include hors d'oeuvres, cocktails served during the silent auction, and a meal served in the grand ballroom as traditional dancers entertain attendees. IHCRC officials said it appreciates having Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Oklahoma as the 2015 Silver Anniversary Sponsor. Additional sponsors include Hard Rock Hotel and Casino, Choctaw Nation of Oklahoma, Tiger Natural Gas, Meeks Group, Delores Titchywy Sumner, Conner & Winters, and many other generous business and personal contributors. The Indian Health Care Resource Center of Tulsa is a 501(c)(3) organization funded through a contract with Indian Health Services, state and federal grants, private foundations and donors, and its annual fundraiser “The Dance of the Two Moons.” Utilizing a patient-centered, multidisciplinary, medical home approach, IHCRC offers a full range of health and wellness services tailored to the Indian community. Services include: Medical, Optometry, Dental, Pharmacy, Transportation, Behavioral Health, Health Education and Wellness, Substance Abuse Treatment and Prevention, and Youth Programs focused on traditions, health, and leadership skills. With more than 18,000 active patients representing in excess of 150 Tribes, IHCRC provides more than 126,000 patient visits each year to improve the general health status and reduce the incidence and severity of chronic disease of the urban Indian community. Contact Deb Starnes at 918-382-1203 or <a href="mailto: dstarnes@ihcrc.org">dstarnes@ihcrc.org</a> for more information about the IHCRC or “The Dance of the Two Moons” fundraiser.
BY WILL CHAVEZ
Senior Reporter
02/15/2015 08:00 AM
TAHLEQUAH, Okla. – Cherokee artist Lisa Rutherford recently shared her experiences from researching textiles in December at the National Museum of the American Indian in Washington, D.C. In mid-January she gave a presentation in Tahlequah using a slide show about some of the artifacts she studied at the museum. For nearly two weeks, Rutherford studied pre-19th century textiles, fibers and cordage of the Mississippian culture in the collections of the NMAI as part of the museum’s “Artist Leadership Program for Individual Artists.” She hoped to gain more knowledge about the techniques used by Southeastern peoples to weave materials. Following her research visit, Rutherford was asked to facilitate a community project to share knowledge learned from the experience and research. In January, she conducted two weaving classes and discussions for Cherokee Heritage Center employees at the CHC in Park Hill where she used twine made from jute plants to weave a skirt and other items. She said at the NMAI she saw a twine skirt that was found in a cave in Tennessee that she has replicated. “I have replicated the skirt, but I think I can do a closer approximation of it now that I’ve seen it in person and studied the fibers up close,” she said. She said she also had the opportunity to study artifacts from the Spiro Mounds site in eastern Oklahoma in Leflore County. The site is not a Cherokee site, but belongs to the ancestors of the Quapaw, Caddo and Osage tribes. At approximately the same time period, Cherokee people used the same twining techniques used by craftspeople at Spiro, Rutherford said. “There Cherokee objects found at Spiro, so there was trade, there was interaction, so we know they were probably using some the same techniques,” she said. This past summer, Rutherford worked in the Diligwa Village, a Cherokee village set in 1710, at the CHC where she learned from the other villagers on staff and also taught others how to make yellow dye from bois d’arc shavings. Rutherford and other artists used the yellow dye along with brown dye made from walnuts to dye the jute material. The versatile Bois d’arc tree is used by Cherokee bow makers to make bows. “So now the bow makers are saving their shavings for dye, and we’re all working together. I think that’s the way it would have been in 1710. We all had to work together and help each other out,” she said. Rutherford is encouraging Native artists to apply for the NMAI’s “Artist Leadership Program for Individual Artists.” She said it was a “valuable experience” for her and it was so much more than she expected. “It was a remarkable experience for her as an artist to come into the collection of the Smithsonian and really bring to live the stories and the life experiences of the cultural material of the Cherokee Nation,” Museum Programs Outreach Coordinator for the NMAI Keevin Lewis said. Lewis came to Tahlequah in January to observe Rutherford share the knowledge she gathered from Smithsonian institutions in Washington, to visit with Cherokee artists and visit the CHC. Along with making twine skirts and bags, Rutherford is a skilled and an award-winning potter. She is also skilled at making Cherokee baskets, historic Cherokee-style clothing, beadwork, creating oil paintings, beadwork pieces and feather capes.