Monolingual Cherokee speaker Mack Vann, 83, holds the start of a handmade bow on March 14 in the backyard of his Briggs, Okla., home. Vann is part of a dwindling population of Native Americans in Oklahoma who only speak their original traditional language. Tribal language departments are turning to fluent and monolingual speakers to help translate tribal words into English in efforts to preserve the languages. KRISTI EATON/ASSOCIATED PRESS

Tribes draw knowledge from monolingual speakers

BY ASSOCIATED PRESS
04/08/2014 08:31 AM
BRIGGS, Okla. (AP) – Mack Vann sits in the living room of his single-story home in rural Oklahoma with the television blaring, a news reporter giving details of the latest grisly crime to hit the state.

But the 83-year-old Vann doesn’t understand most of what the reporter is saying. Vann, who speaks only Cherokee, instead focuses on the visitors to his home, many of whom know only a few simple words of Vann’s Native American language.

“Osiyo,” he says to his new visitors, the Cherokee word for hello.

Vann is part of a fading population of American Indians in Oklahoma who speak only their Native American language, no English. Though Oklahoma was once known as Indian Country and ranks second in the nation in the number of Native American residents, many of the tribal languages are endangered or vulnerable to falling out of use.

That’s what makes Native Americans such as Vann, one of an estimated 50 Cherokee monolingual speakers in eastern Oklahoma, all the more interesting: They have somehow preserved their cultural identity through decades of pressure to assimilate, and now tribal language departments are turning to them to help keep their languages alive for future generations.

“They’re living treasures,” Cherokee Nation Principal Chief Bill John Baker says, “and it’s folks like him we bring in to pick their brains and say, ‘OK, what do you call the white oak tree? What do you call the other medicine trees? What’s the Cherokee word for them? What’s the old word for them?’ And the more we can pick their brains and the more the translation department can put it down, the more we can put it in not only hardback but on the web or a platform (and) the closer we’re coming to not even losing words.”

The Cherokee Nation has been at the forefront of language preservation. In the last few years, the tribe’s language department has worked to get the language added to Microsoft Windows 8, Google Gmail, and Apple’s iPhone and iPad. Most recently, a dozen Cherokee speakers spent last year translating 150,000 modern English terms into Cherokee so people can use the language on Microsoft Office web apps including Microsoft Word, Excel, PowerPoint and OneNote.

To make all that happen, the tribe draws upon the knowledge of speakers such as Vann, a descendant of Andrew Ross, the brother of Cherokee Chief John Ross, who led thousands of Cherokees to Indian Country during their forced removal from the southeastern United States.

Vann, who grew up in Greasy, a predominantly Cherokee community in eastern Oklahoma, learned some English in school but dropped out after the fourth grade to help with the family farm and slowly lost the ability to speak it.

Now, he says, he’s too old to learn it. Instead, friends and family help him translate when he needs help. Vann, whose wife died several years ago, worked at the Cherokee Heritage Center for years and continues to sell handmade bows.

Speaking through a translator in the backyard of his Briggs home, Vann, a citizen of the United Keetoowah Band of Cherokee Indians, says he would like more children to learn to speak Cherokee. He speaks with two young children on a regular basis in hopes of helping them learn the language.

“Everybody is just changing their ways and not really concentrating on our culture,” he says.

And as more tribal citizens like Vann age, it becomes increasingly important for tribes to preserve their vast cultural knowledge.

In January, the Chickasaw Nation, another large Oklahoma tribe, announced the passing of their last monolingual speaker, Emily Johnson Dickerson, 93. Dickerson, who died at her Ada home in late December, was among only about 70 fluent Chickasaw speakers.

“Emily Dickerson was a treasured elder who held the Chickasaw language and ways of life close to her heart,” Chickasaw Nation Gov. Bill Anoatubby said in a statement. “This is a sad day for all Chickasaw people because we have lost a cherished member of our Chickasaw family and an unequalled source of knowledge about our language and culture.”

Culture

BY STAFF REPORTS
10/30/2014 12:14 PM
TAHLEQUAH, Okla. – The application deadline for the 2015 Remember the Removal bicycle ride has been extended from Oct. 31 to Nov. 10. The ride is nearly a 1,000-mile journey that travels through seven states, testing riders’ physical and mental endurance as well as teaching leadership and the history and struggles of the Cherokee Nation and Cherokee people. The three-week ride retraces the northern route of the U.S. government’s forced removal of the Cherokees from their homelands in the southeast to Indian Territory, starting in 1838. Participants must pass a physical, participate in group training rides and meetings, and attend Trail of Tears history courses prior to the summer ride. The Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians is an annual partner in the remembrance ride and will have a group of riders participating in the journey, which begins in New Echota, Georgia, which was once the site of the Cherokee capital. Along the way, the group will explore and participate in activities that link the riders to the experiences their Cherokee ancestors had at the time of the removal. The ride will culminate with a homecoming event as the team arrives in Tahlequah, the capital of the CN. After gold was discovered in Georgia in 1829, the U.S. government created an illegal treaty with a small group of dissidents to remove all Cherokees from their homes and relocate them in the vast unknown “Indian Territory” to the west of Arkansas. The event took place over the winter months of 1838 through 1839 and became more commonly known as the Trail of Tears. An estimated 16,000 Cherokees were forced at gunpoint to remove themselves and their families from their homes, farms and communities. After being held in federal stockades, they were subsequently herded on an over land routes and taken by boats on river routes. More than 4,000 Cherokees died during their round up, imprisonment, and along the various removal routes from harsh conditions. Ride organizers of Remember the Removal ride hope to promote awareness of the removals as Cherokee citizens revisit the areas where their ancestors traveled. Other goals of the Remember the Removal bike ride are to help educate Cherokee students about their tribe’s history and the difficulties associated with the Trail of Tears, and to promote the achievements of the modern CN to those along the route. For an application, visit <a href="http://www.cherokee.org/remembertheremoval/HomeRTR.aspx" target="_blank">http://www.cherokee.org/remembertheremoval/HomeRTR.aspx</a>. For more information, call 918-453-5198.
BY STACIE GUTHRIE
Reporter
10/29/2014 08:03 AM
CATOOSA, Okla. – Twenty-six of the 32 Cherokee Nation citizens who participated in this year’s Cherokee Art Market Youth Competition placed in their respective categories. Overall, the youth competition, which began in 2008, had 46 entries. It was part of the larger Cherokee Art Market held Oct. 11-12 at the Hard Rock Hotel and Casino Tulsa. The youth competition contained artwork from children in grades sixth to 12th. All art in the contest was previously judged and placed according to grade level and category. Trey Pruitt, 13, of Stilwell, won second place in the Sixth through Eighth Grade: Miscellaneous Cultural Items category for his clay shield. The shield has a turtle engraved in the center with 10 engraved leaves circling it. He said the piece took him approximately a month to create. Aside from competing in the CAM Youth Competition, Pruitt has entered works in other art shows, one being the 2014 Cherokee Holiday Art Show. There, he won the Judge’s Choice and second place for his pottery. Pruitt said he started entering competitions three years ago but has been making pottery for five years. He said he learned to create pottery by watching Cherokee National Treasures and working with his father, David Pruitt. “My dad does pottery, too, but I don’t think I’ll be where he’s at for a while,” he said. Although Pruitt’s youth competition entry was a shield, he said he’s best at making pots. He said when designing he likes to stick with traditional Native American art styles. Lillie Vann, 13, of Tahlequah, won first place in the Sixth through Eighth Grade: Pottery category. “It’s the biggest pot I’ve done so far, and it’s a traditional Cherokee design. I hand drew it,” she said. “At the top where the rim is and from the design to the bottom is all polished. It took me two weeks to make it.” Vann said this was her first CAM Youth Competition she’s competed in but not her first competition. “I’ve been doing shows in Tahlequah,” she said. She won second place and Judge’s Choice for her pottery at the 2013 Cherokee Holiday Art Show. She added that this year she won first and second place for her pottery as well. Vann said she’s been creating pottery pieces for two years and enjoys doing it because she likes “learning what Cherokees did a long time ago” and being with her grandmother, Jane Osti, who also creates pottery and is a Cherokee National Treasure. CAM Coordinator Deborah Fritts said the youth artists amaze her every year. “The youth always amaze me and this year is not different. They are talented,” she said. “Their parents and teachers should be proud.” For more information regarding the youth competition email <a href="http://cherokeeartmarket@cnent.com" target="_blank">cherokeeartmarket@cnent.com</a>.
BY WILL CHAVEZ
Senior Reporter
10/20/2014 01:05 PM
CATOOSA, Okla. – Numerous Cherokee women artists participated in the ninth annual Cherokee Art Market held Oct. 11-12 at the Hard Rock Hotel & Casino Tulsa. Of the 154 CAM participants, 25 were Cherokee women artists. Cherokee artist Janet Smith, who traveled from nearby Wagoner, said her main interest is creating “traditional Cherokee paintings.” “I paint in the old style, the old flat style that I was taught at Bacon (College),” she said. “I’ve been doing some type of art ever since I can remember, but primarily to sell since the early (19)80s.” Along with attending the Cherokee Art Market each year, she said she travels and competes in many art shows each year, including the Santa Fe (New Mexico) Art Market and the annual Cherokee art shows held in Tahlequah. “This is a great market. For one thing, the location is just super, and they take good care of us. I always do well here,” she said. “You have so many artists, not just Cherokee artists, but from all over. This is really a national show. It’s just always so much fun to visit with them and to look at what other artists are doing. I just really enjoy it.” Cherokee artist America Meredith of Santa Fe attended this year’s Cherokee Art Market as a publisher to share her art magazine “First American Art,” which showcases the “Art of Indigenous Peoples of the Americas.” “They let me do a magazine booth, which is really exciting because a lot of the writers are here. Some of our advisors are here, and some of the artists are here like Troy Jackson (Cherokee), who was the cover of our last issue,” Meredith said. “So it’s kind of fun that the people can meet the artists and take this (magazine) home and read about the artists, too.” Meredith said she taught Native American art history, but found writing about art was a better way to reach more people. “There’s really a lot of exciting things happening in Native American art, but we just need that context and understanding, so I feel like I’m serving the public better,” she said. “My own art career is on hiatus. I figure it’s more important for people to understand what’s going on in Native art. So, we try to present all tribes and try to have hemispheric approach – North and South America – because I think we have a lot of cultural connections with South America...because people used to travel a lot in the old days, I think.” She said the magazine, which publishes quarterly, allows artists to explain their work and makes Native artwork accessible. She profiles four artists in each issue from a variety of mediums and areas. When she does create art she paints and has recently began doing smoke art. Her work can be seen at the Spider Gallery in Tahlequah. One of a handful of Cherokee finger weavers, Karen Berry of Garland, Texas entered her finger weaving and gourd art in the market. She won a third place ribbon in the Traditional Weaving division for her “Red Men’s Garters.” “I actually have been trying to do the oblique style of finger weaving, which hasn’t been done lately, and I’ve been trying to help revive it. It is what we did in the 18th century with trade goods from Europe,” she said. “I’ve really been enjoying it and have been perfecting the technique. It’s usually a solid color of yarn with white beads woven into it. It’s time consuming to get the beads on the yarn, but I really enjoy working with it.” She also entered a 3-foot-tall gourd fashioned into the legendary snake-like creature Uktena from Cherokee folklore. The piece is titled “The Guardian” and depicts Uktena twisting up in a coil of water. “It’s a creature that we feared and also revered,” she said. “I kind of thought that would win something, but you just never know.” This was Berry’s fourth year at the art market and the first time she won a ribbon. “I’m excited to win. It’s a hard show to win in and it just feels really rewarding when you do win because there are some really amazing artists here,” Berry said.
BY STAFF REPORTS
10/17/2014 04:00 PM
CATOOSA, Okla. – This year’s ninth annual Cherokee Art Market honored Benjamin Harjo Jr. (Absentee Shawnee/Seminole) with “Best of Show” for his “Ahead of Their Time” painting entry at Hard Rock Hotel & Casino. The awards reception held Oct. 10 honored CAM winners with $75,000 in overall prize money awarded across 25 categories. The event featured art from more than 150 elite Native American artists from 50 tribes. Art forms included Paintings, Drawing, Graphics and Photography; Sculpture; Beadwork/Quillwork; Basketry; Pottery; Textiles; and Jewelry. With nearly 60 winners in eight classes, the following highlights the CAM 2014 “Best of Class” winners: Cherokee Art Market, Best of Show: Benjamin Harjo Jr., “Ahead of Their Time” Class 1: Painting – Benjamin Harjo Jr., “Ahead of Their Time” Class 2: Sculpture – Troy Jackson, “The Gift” Class 3: Beadwork/Quillwork – Jackie Bread, “Owen Heavy Breast” Class 4: Basketry – Shawna Cain, “Grandmother’s Gathering” Class 5: Pottery – Alvina Yepa, “Kiva Prayer Bowl for Rain & Water” Class 6: Textiles – Marie Janette Martin, “Grayhorse Girl - Sunday Best” Class 7: Jewelry – Antonio Grant, “Oldest Game of This Land” Class 8: Diverse Art Forms – Sean Rising Sun Flanagan, “Bug Pow Wow” Additionally, Ken Williams earned the Culture Keeper Award for “Continuation & Evolution” elk hoof bag set, and Richard Casey earned the Innovator Award for “Native Steam Powered Time Machine.” The CAM annually brings together an elite group of Native American artists from across the United States to display and sell their works. For more information and for a complete list of winners and additional details, visit <a href="http://www.CherokeeArtMarket.com" target="_blank">www.CherokeeArtMarket.com</a>.
BY WILL CHAVEZ
Senior Reporter
10/14/2014 08:30 AM
CATOOSA, Okla. – Benjamin Harjo Jr. on Oct. 10 was awarded “Best of Show” at the ninth annual Cherokee Art Market, which Cherokee Nation Cultural Tourism hosted at the Hard Rock Hotel & Casino Tulsa. Harjo (Absentee Shawnee/Seminole) of Oklahoma City received the award at an Oct. 10 reception. He won for his painting titled “Ahead of Their Time,” which depicts two artists working on a piece of artwork. “Looking at some of the Aztec work where they did repetitious faces and heads, I used the heads at the top and then I show them with their paint brushes putting on the finishing touches,” Harjo said. “Boy, I’m glad I finished that piece now.” He said he had no idea he would win with his painting and said he was “very nervous.” He also thanked the artists who influenced him when he was younger. “I hoping that the younger generation looks at my work as well as the works of the artists,” he said. Harjo has attended eight of the nine Cherokee Art Markets. “It’s got some quality people here. It’s not as large as say, Santa Fe Indian Market, which has 1,200 artists, but what brings a lot of people to this show is the prize money,” he said. CAM Coordinator Deborah Fritts said 154 artists, with a majority of them being Cherokee artists, from throughout the United States brought works to the market. She said citizens from about 50 federally recognized tribes competed and sold their works at the market on Oct. 11-12. Artists competed for $75,000 in prize money in seven classes of art, including Paintings, Drawing, Graphics and Photography; Sculpture; Beadwork/Quillwork; Basketry; Pottery; Textiles; and Jewelry. Fritts said the CAM is held to promote Native American culture, educate, and keep art and traditions alive. One artist who traveled halfway across the country was Antonio Grant of Cherokee, North Carolina. He brought his shell work such as wampum, necklaces and earrings. “These are the traditional shells of this land, of the southeast,” he said. He uses “old designs” from the Mississippian Era. His Mississippian-influenced gorget titled “Oldest Game in the Land” won “Best of Class” in Jewelry. “They (designs) are like 1,500 years old. They did it with traditional tools. I have to use dental tools to do the same effects,” he said. “The technique of shell carving was lost. There are only a handful of us that do this. There’s a Mr. Dan Townsend. He’s the one who pretty much showed me how to do all of this. He showed me, and I took to it really fast.” Grant (Cherokee/Navajo) said this was only his second time to come to the market, but he said he enjoys meeting other artists and seeing their works. “I love meeting the artists here and seeing the work they do,” he said. “Every since I was a little boy I was always intrigued by art. I lived in New Mexico. That’s where my mother is from. She’s from the Navajo reservation. They taught all kinds of things like leatherwork, sand work, weaving. So I was familiar with all of that. Plus, she did some of those things. Plus, her family did...silversmithing. My father, he’s from Cherokee, North Carolina. He did all kinds of stone work, sculpting, bone carving. We did it all.” Cherokee artist Troy Jackson of Tahlequah won “Best of Class” and “Judges Choice” awards for his clay sculpture “The Gift.” “I grew up in a family that is white and Cherokee. I got many gifts from each side,” he said. He said his sculpture symbolizes the Industrial Revolution and how it affected Native Americans. “You’ll see a lot of gears and cogs on my pieces that are symbolic of the Industrial Revolution. We’ve also been given the gift of nature, so that’s why you’ll also see a lot of fish, which symbolizes more of the abundance of natural things,” he said. “The irony is when we developed the Industrial Revolution, we also hurt nature. We destroyed a lot of our nature.” He said the irony is now man uses industry to try to repair damage done to nature. The sculpture is 43 inches tall, 15 inches wide and is 5 inches in depth. Jackson said the top portion of his piece, which is a figure of a man, symbolizes someone giving a gift and his faith in God. “Basically it’s just a representation of Christ and being a gift to us – to Native Americans,” he said. Jackson has attended CAM for eight years and said he enjoys being with other artists and the competition. “I’m competitive in my nature, so I like the competition,” he said. “One of the things I always try to do is to learn from other artists and to see what they’re doing, to see how it pertains to my art and how I can better my work.”
BY STAFF REPORTS
10/10/2014 04:00 PM
CLAREMORE, Okla. – It’s a walk through the woods to the birthplace of Will Rogers, much like it was when Will was born in 1879 in the “White House on the Verdigris.” Claremore artist Pat Crume, a one-time member of the Will Rogers Memorial Commission, has re-created the path leading to the Children’s Museum at the Will Rogers Memorial to give the feeling of a walk through the woods. There are bright redbirds in the trees, a scissortail flycatcher, baby lynx peering from the underbrush near a waterfall rushing down a stone wall. There’s a turtle on a hollow tree trunk, opossums peeking from behind a tree, rabbits ready to run and a squirrel perched to jump from one tree limb to another. Deeper in the woods is deer on the lookout, butterflies fluttering around the blooming wildflowers, owls with wide eyes, a tiny pony, buffalo and longhorn steers. “I incorporated the state animals, tree and wild flower into the painting along with the Church in the Wildwood, creating an Oklahoma history lesson of state icons,” Crume said. A lane leads up to the front door of the house familiar to those who visit the Will Rogers Birthplace Ranch near Oologah. Outside the house there are three girls and a boy playing near the barn. Rogers had three sisters – Sallie, Maud and May. Crume – an artist, designer, entrepreneur and sometimes homebuilder – spent about 200 hours in the basement creating what could have been the road to the ranch when Rogers was born. It was where he lived until after his mother’s death. Then he spent much of his time away at school or with his sisters in Chelsea before quitting school and hitting the road, which eventually led to a successful movie career and life of philanthropy. The Children’s Museum is divided into several areas – a radio broadcast room, performing stage, puppet theatre, library, playroom and schoolroom. “We are going to be making changes to the pods, one at a time and will be announcing some of the renovations soon, said Tad Jones, museum director. “We will try to keep the Children’s Museum open most of the time, except for the pod that is being changed.” Jennifer Holt, museum curator, said there are no firm plans but she expects the Carnegie Library area to be a Wild West Show play area. The Jones brothers – sons of Jones and his wife, Sammi – have given up some of their toys to share with museum visitors. The Children’s Museum has long been a favorite destination for them and their cousins. This is just the first of a complete renovation of the area, to be completed with the least amount of interruption for children’s visits. Changes are expected during the winter months during slow visitor times, museum officials said.