I am Cherokee. I know this because I have a Certificate of Indian Blood card that says so. I also have a blue card that says I’m a citizen of the Cherokee Nation. I have identified as Cherokee my entire life but I have not immersed myself enough in the culture, or most regrettably, the language.
I grew up hearing the Cherokee language, as my dad is a first-language speaker. Cherokee was the only language my paternal grandmother chose to speak on a daily basis. She knew English, but hardly ever spoke it. I heard it so often as a child I was able to understand what my grandmother and dad were saying but never learned to speak, read or write. My granny died when I was 11 and that’s when my knowledge of the language died for me. My dad still spoke it to my aunts and uncles, but for a reason I can’t remember, I stopped really listening to understand it. He would try to get me to learn by giving me directives or asking common questions in Cherokee, but I didn’t take the time to sit down and learn.
As an adult, when people ask if I know how to speak, I tell them I was too busy as a kid playing sports and doing other things to learn. I also took Cherokee I and Cherokee II while at Northeastern State University, but none of the teachings resonated with me. Hearing me say that, and now typing it, I’ve come to realize that is a lame excuse.
I’ll be honest and say I really didn’t see the need to learn the language. I didn’t think knowing Cherokee would get me any further in life. Other than speaking to a few people, I would rarely use it, so why learn. I’ve worked for the Cherokee Phoenix for 11 years. We publish Cherokee stories in our monthly paper and when time allows, we have the translators record audio of the stories in order for readers to hear it spoken by scanning a QR code from a smartphone. I’ve not paid as much attention to it as I should. It’s a great way to see and hear the language.
Now that I’m older, I regret not paying attention to the language growing up and taking the time to learn. I think my generation has made a huge contribution to the downfall of the language. But all is not lost. Although it’s more difficult, it’s not too late to learn. I realize how vital the language is to Cherokees as a people. It is more than a way to communicate. It’s embodies our identity and soul of our tradition, history and the Cherokee way of life.
With the New Year fast approaching, my resolution will be to learn Cherokee. The CN has several outlets as well as online options that are available to learn the language. I also know my dad and aunts will be eager to teach me and I believe they will say, “It’s about time.”
Building safe homes, increasing scholarship opportunities and offering accessible health care to our citizens are essential services provided by the Cherokee Nation tribal government. Our ability to deliver vital programs is dependent on our success at Cherokee Nation Businesses. Hospitality and entertainment are the foundation of our economic success, but our diversified businesses, or non-gaming business ventures, now account for about 35 percent of CNB’s total revenue.
Several years ago, we concluded that gaming should be a portion of our economic portfolio but not all we do. We originally called this line of business “diversified” because we had to find a way to lessen our dependence on gaming.
CNB’s diversified businesses, which include 29 companies outside of the gaming industry, achieved more than $1 billion in federal and commercial contract wins in fiscal year 2017. Since 2010, the companies have increased their revenue and profitability significantly, which means they can provide a larger dividend to Cherokee Nation for critical services and programs, like education, housing and health care.
Federal contracting is a market with great potential. The U.S. government is the largest customer in the world, and we will continue creating expertise and securing contracts to bring dollars home to the Cherokee Nation. The hard work of our team, led by CNB’s President of Diversified Businesses and Cherokee Nation citizen Steven Bilby, has made CNB one of the most successful mid-level government contracting businesses in the world.
We have employees in 49 states and contracts in a variety of industries. Whether it is providing disaster relief services for FEMA, serving our Armed Forces through medical readiness exams or helping develop a cure for deadly diseases like the Zika virus, CNB has a significant footprint around the globe and serves more than 60 federal agencies.
Our reputation and results are stellar, and the success brings CNB positive exposure on a national stage.
Yes, we continue to offer hospitality jobs to Cherokee Nation citizens within our 14 counties, but now citizens have opportunities to secure employment in technical and specialized fields across the country.
Helping create career opportunities for Cherokee Nation citizens for the next several decades is essential. It is equally important to instill in Cherokee children the dream of a remarkable career that is with the Cherokee Nation. Creating a highly skilled tribal workforce, along with the jobs, will sustain our tribe for generations.
Our mission always will be to grow Cherokee Nation’s economy here at home, and we have done that, but our mission is multifaceted. CNB’s profits outside the 14 counties help support the tribe through an annual dividend. The more success we have in federal contracting, the better we serve Cherokee Nation citizens. I look forward to an even more successful 2018 as our businesses on all fronts continue to grow and thrive.
In his response to Luke Mason’s apology (August 2017 issue), Larry J. Lewis, aka “Mashu White Feather,” using his Two Feathers International Consultancy public relations officer Daris Reno Blickman, who is also not a Cherokee Nation citizen, made this statement: “He (Luke Mason) is certainly not privy to Mashu’s family history or genealogy.”
While Mason may not have the skills to determine Lewis’ family history or genealogy, a team of genealogical researchers does have the skills to trace Lewis’ genealogy using public information, a lot of it that Lewis placed in the public forums.
In researching Lewis, genealogical researchers found that this was one of four names used by the same person. His birth name was Larry J. Lewis. His “papered name” now is Larry J. White Feather. Then there is the TFIC, which is a 501(c)3 nonprofit of which he is the founder and board chairman. A Google search for “Mashu White Feather” gave the name Larry White Feather. This gave the name of his parents, Jo Marie and James Orville Lewis. This was verified by the obituary for Jo Marie Lewis, which lists Larry White Feather as one of her sons. It also lists the names of her parents. More verification was given in a post by Doreen Bennett, in which she talks about the loss of their mother and names “Mashu White Feather” and his siblings listed in the obituary.
As “Mashu White Feather,” Larry Lewis claimed he is a Cherokee elder and his mother and her family raised him as a Cherokee traditionalist. But the genealogical research of Jo Marie Johnson Lewis found no connection to the Cherokee people. Her family consists of white people who came to Boone County, Missouri, from Kentucky, Virginia and Europe. Larry Lewis also claimed he is part Osage. Since his mother’s side consisted of all white people, he must be making that claim off his father’s side. But like his mother, his father’s side is also white people who came to Missouri from Kentucky, Virginia, and Europe. His father’s maternal grandmother was born in Osage County, Missouri, from parents who were born in France. So both of these claims are proven false by his family records.
Also, there are pictures of Jo Marie and James Orville in a house in Columbia, Missouri. The house’s address was listed as an address for Larry White Feather and the TFIC. This information is public. This evidence is available to view at the web address below, where it will be archived for public view, as well as in a blog away from Facebook. It is enough information for any genealogist to find Larry Lewis’ ancestors. Researchers worked on this information independently and each found the same results.
In researching Jo Marie Johnson’s family and that of her husband James O. Lewis, researchers found one consistent fact about each generation: each generation were people that were honest, hardworking people who ensured the survival of their family no matter how tough the times were. They were the type of people who anyone would be proud to call their ancestors. One can only wonder why Larry Lewis saw fit to recreate them into something they were not.
TFIC claims that Larry Lewis has never claimed to be a Cherokee elder, but a photo appearing on the TFIC page online is proof otherwise, as he certainly has control of what is printed about him there.
He claims to be a Cherokee elder and has traveled around the world dressed as a Cherokee speaking about Cherokee history, culture and current events when he is not a tribal citizen, has never lived among us, is not involved in any of our communities, has not contributed anything towards the betterment of our lives, is not a member of any of our ceremonial grounds, is not a fluent Cherokee language speaker, cannot vote in our elections and is claimed by none of us. This man takes selfies at the United Nations dressed in regalia when, as a non-tribal citizen, he has no voice there.
According to Manta.com, the TFIC had estimated revenue of $108,862 in 2016, employs a staff of five and shows an North American Industry Classification System code of 813211, “Grantmaking Foundations.”
“When these frauds ‘teach’ who we are to non-Cherokees, they are implementing the final stages of our genocide. “People see the fake history and perverted culture and then have no room to learn or respect what is real and so it is pushed that much more out of the way,” CN citizen Jared Edens said.
To view the facts of Lewis’ genealogy, visit: <a href="https://www.facebook.com/groups/1609142732471453/?ref=br_rs" target="_blank">https://www.facebook.com/groups/1609142732471453/?ref=br_rs</a>
I appreciate history and enjoy studying it, so it’s great that I regularly get to rub elbows with historians and people who research Cherokee history.
In October, I attended the 22nd annual Trail of Tears Conference & Symposium in Pocola, Oklahoma. Along with seeing friends from most of TOTA’s nine chapters, I learned things about our history. Many of the people who attend the conference possess a wealth of information about Cherokee history and the forced removals of our people in 1838-39. The states Alabama, Georgia, North Carolina, Tennessee, Kentucky, Illinois, Missouri, Arkansas and Oklahoma make up TOTA.
At a conference presentation, I learned more about the so-called “Old Settlers,” who were Cherokee people who began settling in Arkansas in 1809. Tahlonteeskee led this group, and he later became the first principal chief of the western Cherokee Nation. These Cherokees settled along the St. Francis, Arkansas and White rivers and established settlements along the Arkansas River in the vicinity of present-day Russellville, Arkansas. In 1817, Western Cherokees signed a treaty with the United States that established a large reservation between the Arkansas and White rivers.
In Arkansas, Cherokee people had settled among the Caddo, Quapaw and Osage tribes. The Osage resented these newcomers settling lands they claimed as theirs and raided Cherokee settlements. The Arkansas Cherokee began planning a retaliatory attack against the Osage in January 1817 and requested aid from their relatives in the east. They also requested help from the Choctaw, Chickasaw, Delaware and other tribes living in the area. The Cherokee knew that Osage men left their villages lightly guarded during the Strawberry Moon or in June to go on a long distance hunt for bison. It was decided to attack at this time.
Led by Chief Spring Frog, approximately 500 Cherokee and their allies met at a place on the Arkansas River where Russellville now stands. They traveled upriver into Indian Territory and went overland to the Osage villages located a few miles north of present-day Claremore, Oklahoma. The invading party killed 38 Osage and took 104 captives. Chief Clermont was present at the time of the attack and was killed during the fighting.
Because they possessed rifles, the Cherokee and their allies had a weapons advantage over the Osage in the “Battle of Claremore Mound,” also known as the “Battle of the Strawberry Moon.” The Osage relied on traditional bows and arrows and a small number of old muskets. During the two-day battle, the Cherokees and their allies killed or captured every member of Chief Clermont’s band and destroyed everything they could not carry away.
The two tribes continued to fight until 1823 when both tribes agreed to end hostilities.
In 1820, Tahlonteskee’s brother, John Jolly, helped establish Dwight Mission along Illinois Bayou, which was operated by the American Board of Commissioners for Foreign Missions. It served for eight years both as a mission and a school until 1828 when the Arkansas Cherokee were forced to sell their lands and move their community, along with Dwight Mission, to a new location farther up the Arkansas River in Indian Territory. The mission was re-established near present-day Marble City in Sequoyah County.
Tahlonteeskee and his group settled parts of present-day Sequoyah, Muskogee and McIntosh counties. Some of them settled again along the Arkansas River and formed the communities of Webbers Falls and Tahlonteeskee, later renamed Gore.
As pressure to move increased in the east, more Cherokee emigrants made their way to Arkansas and eventually the whole of the Cherokee Nation came west during the forced removals. The “Old Settlers” and newest Cherokee emigrants agreed on an Act of Union in August 1839 in Tahlequah, Oklahoma, which paved the way for a new Cherokee Nation Constitution that was approved in early September of that year.
On the last day of the TOTA conference, participants were asked to complete a survey to share their thoughts on how the conference went and what they would like to see at the next conference. A long-time member of the organization went to the microphone to share a story. He said after one past conference someone wrote on his or her survey form there was too much talk about the Trail of Tears. I guess they forgot the name of the conference.
Some of our history is difficult to read or hear about, but we should study it as much as possible to understand why our leaders made the decisions they made and how we survived and endured to become the strong nation we are today.
As we wrap up 2017 and begin 2018, we can reflect on our multitude of achievements in the past year and look forward to the coming year’s opportunities. We can see where we have been in the past 12 months and what possibilities the future holds. This reflective time of year reminds me to think about what truly matters to us. When the holidays come around, our lives take on a larger meaning than simply living for ourselves. We think of our loved ones, our extended families, our long-lost friends and our neighbors. As principal chief of the Cherokee Nation, I think of our almost 360,000 citizens around the world and want the best for every one of them.
A good government makes life better for its people and for future generations. That is what we are striving for at the CN. In 2017, we reached significant heights and accomplished historic achievements. First, we broke ground on the hospital expansion project at the W.W. Hastings Health Campus in Tahlequah. It will be a historic day for the tribe when we open our Indian Health Service joint venture facility. The 470,000-square-foot facility, which will be the largest Native health care facility in the country, is on target to open in 2019. The four-story facility will feature 180 exam rooms and an ambulatory surgery center. About 350 construction jobs and more than 850 new health jobs will eventually be fulfilled over time.
We also released the results of our latest economic impact study on the Oklahoma economy. The tribe strengthens the state’s economy through investments and jobs. Our fiscal footprint exceeds $2 billion, and we will strive to ensure that continues. Our newest entertainment facility in Grove, the 10th in the Cherokee Nation Businesses gaming portfolio, was opened on Grand Lake, and it created about 175 good jobs in Delaware County.
We filed a lawsuit against opioid distributors and large chain drugstores that have flooded our communities with dangerous pills. Over the past two years these companies have flooded CN with enough prescription opioid painkillers to provide every man, woman and child 153 doses each. In 2017, CN also filed a lawsuit against the federal government on claims the United States mismanaged the tribe’s trust fund. The suit asks the U.S. government to provide an accurate accounting of the Cherokee Trust Fund, which includes property, land, funds and other resources the federal government may have mismanaged over decades.
One of the most pressing things we focused on in the past year is the conservation of our air, land and water. The CN worked with the state to get an emergency order to halt the disposal of radioactive waste near the Arkansas and Illinois rivers, and we vowed to reduce the tribe’s carbon footprint at our complex and all buildings. It is our responsibility to preserve our natural resources by executing policies with long-term sustainability in mind. That’s why I am committed to making CN’s complex more friendly to renewable energy sources. We constructed a solar energy charge station and purchased electric cars to add to our fleet.
In cultural preservation, our Cherokee Language Master Apprentice Program graduated its first adult students. This program is designed to create a generation of adult speakers and teachers for the Cherokee Immersion Charter School. We also officially reopened Sequoyah’s Cabin Museum after the tribe acquired the property from the Oklahoma Historical Society. We will now manage the homestead of the legendary statesman and inventor of the Cherokee syllabary.
We announced a new foster care paid leave policy that is the first of its kind in Indian Country, and one of the first in Oklahoma. Employees who foster can receive five days paid leave for fostering Cherokee children. That is time that families can set aside for appointments such as doctors and daycare and for the bonding that is needed.
Finally, a decision came down in the longstanding Cherokee Freedmen case from the federal court. As I said during my State of the Nation address during Cherokee National Holiday, the CN will not appeal the decision. We have started processing citizenship applications, and now we are beginning the healing for all parties.
I hope 2018 offers us just as many opportunities to fulfill the needs of the Cherokee people and to deliver and execute ideas that will improve lives. In the coming months, we plan to break ground on the new Cherokee Casino Tahlequah and we will open a 4,000-square-foot, open-air pavilion near the historic Cherokee National Capitol building.
We are proud of what we have done and enthusiastic about what can be accomplished in the upcoming year. We will continue to focus on the things that make real and lasting impacts in the lives of our citizens. From my family and the family of Deputy Chief S. Joe Crittenden, we want to wish you a blessed Christmas and a Happy New Year.
Jimmie Durham is not a Cherokee artist. A major retrospective exhibition of his work called “Jimmie Durham: At the Center of the World” is being shown in the United States. It has been exhibited at high profile museums such as the Hammer Museum in Los Angeles, the Walker Art Center in Minneapolis, and beginning in November, at the Whitney Museum of American Art in New York City.
Research into his genealogy reveals no connection to any Cherokee ancestry, cultural ties or community.
Despite this, he has a successful career, which relies heavily on Cherokee identity, language and cultural themes, most of which are unfortunately inaccurate in his portrayal. His work is critically acclaimed among the elite in the mainstream art world in New York City, Los Angeles and across Europe. In the early part of his career, Durham shored up his Cherokee facade by being active in the Native American Church and the American Indian Movement, though he would eventually have a falling out with such groups after questions of his identity arose.
The Indian Arts and Crafts Act was passed in 1990, which prohibits artists from promoting their work as being Native made if they are not enrolled in a federally recognized tribe, for this very reason. In 1993, Durham finally admitted he was not an enrolled Cherokee in a letter to Art in America magazine. He wrote, “I am not Cherokee. I am not an American Indian. This is in concurrence with recent U.S. legislation, because I am not enrolled on any reservation or in any American Indian community.” He is not eligible for enrollment with the Cherokee Nation, the United Keetoowah Band of Cherokee Indians or the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians – the only federally recognized Cherokee tribes. With that, it would seem this whole issue should have been resolved, but the art establishment continues promoting him as an artist who represents the Cherokee people.
The exhibition catalog for “At the Center of the World” contains essays by prominent art critics and historians as well as some of Durham’s own writing, including an essay in which he writes, “Oklahoma Cherokees can be mortifyingly stupid.” A large portion of the catalog focuses on the Cherokee themes and connections in his work. So while the curator of the exhibit acknowledges Durham is not an enrolled Cherokee citizen, thereby technically following the regulations of the IACA, the artist is still being cast as “Cherokee” through the critical examination of his work. This is intellectually dishonest. Even after outcry from actual Cherokee artists and scholars, including an open letter in Indian Country Today and articles in such mainstream art outlets like ArtNet, Hyperallergic and Art in America, the art establishment continues to dismiss the concerns of actual Cherokees.
Most Cherokee people have likely never heard of Durham. It might seem that what the mainstream art scene thinks or does is of little importance to our everyday lives. We have many excellent artists in our community, and through programs like the Cherokee National Treasures and the Cherokee Art Market, for example, we as a tribe honor and promote our own. Cherokee artists can certainly hold their own against the likes of a Jimmie Durham and create thoughtful, world-class works of fine art. Each of the federally recognized Cherokee tribes has established guidelines for tribal citizenship. We also have established community connections through familial ties, community involvement and cultural mores, both spiritual and social. By ignoring the valid critique and vocal outcry of the Cherokee community these museums, historians and curators are actively undermining our tribal sovereignty. The prominence of Durham in the art canon as a “Cherokee” allows false information to proliferate to the public. A chart compiled by First American Art Magazine, which is published by CN citizen America Meredith, shows that in scholarly literature about Cherokee art, Durham’s coverage far overshadows actual Cherokee artists.
Durham might be one of the most prominent examples of an artist making false Cherokee claims to further a career, but he is a symptom of a much larger problem. This is not an issue of identity policing or censorship. If a non-Cherokee artist chooses to create art that is properly and respectfully informed by Cherokee culture, they are free to do so. The issue arises when that person falsely claims to be a Cherokee. It is imperative the CN ensures the voices of our Cherokee art community are heard so that more Jimmie Durhams cannot rise to prominence at the expense of actual Cherokee people.