nighTTrain, a classic rock cover band with a strong Cherokee presence, played at the RFC Music Fest on July 1 during the Huckleberry Festival in Jay, Oklahoma. Band members include bassist/vocalist Jeff Elmer, lead guitarist James Dunham, lead vocalist/guitarist Joe Hall, drummer/vocalist Tuff Barnes and guitarist/keyboardist/vocalist Waylon Barnes. ROGER GRAHAM/CHEROKEE PHOENIX
Cherokees musicians keep nighTTrain rocking
JAY, Okla. – Huckleberry Festival visitors were treated to time-tested classic rock on July 1 at the RFC Music Fest when the predominantly Cherokee band nighTTrain stepped on stage.
The five-member band includes three Cherokee Nation citizens in James Dunham, lead guitar; Waylon Barnes, guitar, keyboards and vocals; and his brother Tuff Barnes, who performs on drums and vocals. Other members include Jeff Elmer, bass and vocals, and Joe Hall, lead vocals and guitar.
Dunham talked about the band’s Native presence and their longevity. “Yeah, three of us are Cherokee officially and one who’s a kind of off-the-record Cherokee. But we must be doing something right. In about a week we will have been together eight years.”
He added that while the band plays classic rock, its set list is diverse.
“We play from America to Metallica and all songs in between,” he said.
As for its upcoming schedule, nighTTrain performs frequently at tribal venues including Cherokee casinos.
“We’ve got some dates coming up at the Hard Rock in Tulsa, at ‘Riffs.’ We’ve got Fort Gibson casino. We’ve got Grove casino and West Siloam casino. That covers us for the next couple of months,” he said.
Dunham said he also wants fans to know that the band also has a single out.
“We just went into Crisp recording studio over in Fayetteville (Arkansas). We recorded our take on Phil Collins’ “In The Air Tonight.” And we actually have that for sale by digital download, along with all the popular sites iTunes, Amazon music, Google music, it’s out there,” he said.
Tuff Barnes said he had had a rough start after joining the band eight years ago.
“When we first started out I couldn’t practice because I had heart surgery, so they were about three months ahead of me when we finally all got together. But we’ve come a long ways and play a lot of different venues now,” he said.
Waylon Barnes said playing with Cherokees musicians is fairly common for him.
“I’ve been playing with these Cherokees for the last eight years. Before that I played music with my dad, who was also Cherokee,” he said.
Waylon Barnes said he believes the band’s longevity has placed them on a good path.
“Yeah, with our band I think we’re hitting a pretty good stride. There are lots of gigs, and we just keep going up and up. With all of us having day jobs, it’s hard to stay on top of things all the time, but you got to do what you got to do.”
For more information on nighTTrain’s, visit www.nighttrainonline.com or www.facebook.com/nighttrainrox.
YUKON – Though it’s taken several years for Cherokee metal artist Tommy Roe Mitchell to find his stride, his distinctive style is now giving him the opportunity to pursue his passion while stepping out from his father’s shadow.
He grew up close to the art business, as his father Ron is a well-known Cherokee artist who began his career in the 1970s. While both have experience in metal art, Tommy said he’s now setting his work apart with painting and grinding techniques.
“Dad was doing metal artwork, but he wasn’t doing it to the extent that I am now, not with the color,” Tommy said. “He would actually cut the piece out, grind the edges and heat-treat it, but he wasn’t putting the grinding marks in it like I have. Dad never even thought about using the grinder the way I was doing, so already this was out of his league.”
Tommy said he usually draws inspiration from things he sees on television and YouTube. Once he completes a design on sketchpad, he transfers it onto poster board and then onto 14- to 18-gauge sheet metal with a magic marker.
The design is then cut with a plasma cutter before he uses a grinder to smooth jagged edges and polish out imperfections. Once satisfied, he grinds grooves into the metal to give the illusion of feathers and depth.
“I want a nice, smooth, flat surface to start creating, and that’s when I start with the grinding effects,” he said. “I want a three-dimensional look. People have come up to it and actually felt behind it because it looks thicker than it really is. It’s just the way the grinding is.”
Once the overall look comes together, Tommy heat-treats the piece or moves it to his paint booth before sealing it with an automotive clear coat for a smooth finish.
While expanding his range to include hummingbirds and cardinals, his roots lie in mythical symbolism, including his piece “Dance of the Phoenix.”
“Metal artists, they like doing the eagle feathers. I wanted to do something similar, but I don’t want to copy anybody’s work. We thought, ‘Phoenix, why not?’ Who knows what a Phoenix feather looks like? It’s a mythical bird so this is my interpretation of what the flaming feathers look like. It’s the bird that rose from the fire, kind of like me.”
In addition to creating versions of the phoenix, Tommy creates his interpretation of what individual feathers might look like on the creature. The feathers are called “Phoenix Spirit Feathers.”
He has also taken inspiration from Cherokee myths and legends, including that of the Raven Mocker, a feared witch that preys on the sick and frail.
“I was wanting something a little scary, and I started looking into the Cherokee myths, and we came up with something rather scary, which was the Raven Mocker,” he said. “That one is just a little more dramatic, a little more scary.”
Strangely enough, the blooming of Tommy’s metalwork came after being diagnosed with acute anxiety disorder. “When I was diagnosed with acute anxiety disorder, I did not want to rely on the medication. They gave me that to begin with, and I couldn’t take it. I struggled with that so we talked to a therapist, and he suggested art is a relaxing way of dealing with stress. So I thought, ‘OK, I can do this. This is something right up my alley.’”
Tommy said this is the first time his artwork has been something he “truly enjoys” and is “eager” for the public to see more. “I think they’re really nice-looking, and I feel really comfortable doing it. The greatest compliment on this artwork is when I take it to an art show and someone loves it so much that they’re willing to pay for it and take it home and hang it up on their walls. That’s the compliment that I like.”
For more information, visit <a href="http://www.dragonfiremetalart.net" target="_blank">www.dragonfiremetalart.net</a> or search “DragonFire Metal Art” on Facebook.
ROCKY MOUNTAIN – The Rocky Mountain Cherokee Community Organization will host Cherokee language classes beginning March 17 at its community building near Stilwell.
The classes will last eight weeks and will have alternating sessions or hours. The first Saturday class will last from 10 a.m. to noon, and the following Saturday the class will be from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. This will continue until the eights weeks are completed.
Lawrence Panther, a Cherokee Nation Cherokee Language Program translator, will instruct the classes. He said his objectives are for his students to learn how to read and write the Cherokee syllabary and how to speak Cherokee.
“These classes will primarily focus on the syllabary chart, thus helping the students enhance their reading, writing and speaking skills. There will be activity materials to progress their learning skills. Classroom setting will require speaking Cherokee, worksheets will be provided, and I will lecture as well,” he said. “At the end of the eight sessions, they will have a better understanding of the syllabary chart. Lecture and understanding the syllabary chart will further their reading, writing and speaking skills.”
The community building is located about 5 miles west of Stilwell. From Stilwell, travel on Hwy 100 west for 3 miles and then turn onto Rocky Mountain School Road and continue about 2 miles. The RMCCO Community Building is located across the road from the school’s softball field.
The RMCCO is affiliated with the CN Community and Cultural Outreach. Advancement of the Cherokee culture and communities in the Nation’s jurisdictional area, as well the tribe’s many satellite communities, is important for the future of the CN, according to the CCO program. It also states the CCO is designed to strengthen Cherokee communities.
Visit the RMCCO Facebook page for more information.
PARK HILL – The Cherokee Heritage Center is hosting a series of cultural classes designed to preserve, promote and teach traditional Cherokee art.
The Saturday workshops are held once a month and provide hands-on learning opportunities of traditional art forms.
Registration is open for the March 10 class on round reed basketry and the April 7 class on Cherokee moccasins. Both classes are from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. and cost $40 each.
Early registration is recommended as class size is limited. For more information or to RSVP, call Tonia Weavel at 918-456-6007, ext. 6161, or email <a href="mailto: email@example.com">firstname.lastname@example.org</a>.
The CHC is located at 21192 S. Keeler Drive.
ST. LOUIS (AP) – Kathy Dickerson worries about the future of the Kiowa culture.
Dickerson is a St. Louis artist and citizen of the Kiowa Tribe of Oklahoma. She said she does bead work, some silversmithing and brain tanning, where she takes the brain of an animal and uses it to tan the hide.
Each tribe’s crafts are a part of its identity, she said. The Kiowa moccasins she makes are different from those made by other tribes, even neighboring tribes. Her work isn’t creative, she said, she’s reproducing art from Kiowa tradition.
“We still do things that our ancestors did, and I’m still teaching my grandchildren what I was taught,” Dickerson said.
People who are not part of federally recognized American Indian tribes fabricate their artwork and their history, she said. They fool people who don’t know much about American Indians, skewing their understanding of tribes. She said the problem is apparent in St. Louis, where non-Native people are brought in to give cultural presentations at community festivals.
“They get the person that has dreamcatchers and tom-toms,” Dickerson said. “Things that are China-made and look like stereotypical American Indian stuff. These non-Natives that are not in a community, they don’t understand what Indians are.”
The Missouri House Special Committee on Small Business has unanimously approved a bill that would ban people who are not citizens of federally recognized American Indian tribes from selling their arts and crafts as authentic American Indian work. Under federal law, members of state- and federally recognized tribes can sell their work as authentic.
Chief Grey Elk of the Northern Cherokee Nation said all the work of their tribe is “authentic dating back to antiquity,” and the tribe’s artisans follow styles and patterns passed down through generations.
“All we do is reproduce that,” he said.
Grey Elk said the proposed legislation grew out of the animosity between the Northern Cherokee and the Cherokee Nation in Oklahoma, a federally recognized tribe. The CN has long disputed the legitimacy of the Northern Cherokee Nation.
“We’ve never got along, and it’s because we call them ‘Treaty Cherokees,’ and they call us ‘Wannabes,’” Grey Elk said. “We refused to sign any treaties, and they signed 50.”
The Northern Cherokee Nation is a nonprofit group that states it is an American Indian tribe recognized by the State of Missouri, not the federal government. Then-Gov. Kit Bond issued a proclamation in June 1983, where he acknowledged the existence of the Northern Cherokee Tribe “as an American Indian Tribe within the State of Missouri,” and declared June 24, 1983 “Northern Cherokee Recognition Day.”
Some, including Rep. Rocky Miller, the bill’s sponsor and a CN citizen say that proclamation does not make the Northern Cherokee a state-recognized tribe. Missouri has no established process for recognizing state tribes, and a list of state-recognized tribes will vary, depending on who you ask.
The Indian Arts and Crafts Board, which enforces federal law regulating the sale of American Indian art, doesn’t keep a current list of state-recognized tribes but was informed in 2014 by the Attorney General’s office that Missouri had no state-recognized tribes. The Attorney General’s office directed the Missourian to the Secretary of State’s office, which provided a list of 11 federally recognized tribes with a presence in Missouri, including the Absentee Shawnee of Oklahoma and the Sac and Fox Nation of Missouri in Kansas and Nebraska.
The tribes on the Secretary of State’s list are centered in surrounding states of Kansas, Oklahoma and Nebraska, and used to live on land in what is now Missouri. The Northern Cherokee Nation was not on the list.
Grey Elk said he asked Gov. Eric Greitens to check to see if the proclamation is legitimate recognition.
Miller, a Lake Ozark Republican, said any move to formally recognize the Northern Cherokee would be “ridiculous.” He said all tribal recognition should come from the federal Bureau of Indian Affairs.
CN Assistant Attorney General Alayna Farris testified in support of the bill at a small business committee hearing on Jan. 24. At that hearing, she said the Northern Cherokee Nation and other tribes that are not federally recognized are appropriating authentic Cherokee culture and erode trust in the American Indian art market.
Most American Indian art is regulated by the federal Indian Arts and Crafts Act of 1990, which allows artisans from federally and state-recognized tribes to advertise their work as American Indian-made. That would exclude the Northern Cherokee if they are not state-recognized, but Miller said the law is still necessary to give local law enforcement the ability to prosecute.
“It’s just a much quicker and easier way to stop this theft of our heritage,” Miller said.
Cases taken on by federal authorities can take a long time, Miller said, like the case of Terry Lee Whetstone, a Missouri man who pleaded guilty to violating the federal law in 2015, several years after he was reported to the Indian Arts and Crafts Board. Whetstone was eventually sentenced to three years of probation and ordered to stop selling his art or playing his flute unless he makes it clear that he is not a member of an American Indian tribe.
The bill is similar to one passed in the Oklahoma legislature in 2016. That bill amended Oklahoma’s 1974 Indian Arts and Craft Sales Act to protect artists from federally recognized American Indian tribes. Peggy Fontenot, who is a member of the state-recognized Patawomeck Tribe of Virginia, sued Oklahoma soon after the bill was passed. She is arguing the law infringed on her right to truthfully describe her art as American Indian-made when she sold her art in the state.
Oklahoma halted enforcement of the law in January 2017, pending the results of the case. Pre-trial motions have delayed the case in the Western District Court of Oklahoma, so the law is still not being enforced.
Grey Elk said he has an antagonistic history with Miller, stemming from a dispute over the proposed placement of a sewage treatment facility at the headwaters of the Blue Springs Creek, which is in Miller’s district. Grey Elk also said he thinks Miller is against the Northern Cherokee because he is a CN citizen.
“Rocky, I’m sure, could care less whether we label our stuff we make for powwows ‘Native American made,’” Grey Elk said. “Somebody down there has undoubtedly put a burr in his saddle.”
Miller said he didn’t want the treatment plant on that creek, either. He said his issue was with Grey Elk making that land “fake holy ground” in order to stop the plant.
“He’s basically a fraud, and he’s stealing my family’s heritage, and the people who join him are doing the same,” Miller said.
Miller said he’s pushing the bill because he doesn’t like people who break the law, and he doesn’t like people who take his heritage. His family was forced out of their home and to the Indian Territory in what is now Oklahoma, Miller said.
“For someone to come along and make light of that by making fake arts and crafts, it angers me,” he said.
Dickerson said that when people don’t know much about American Indians, they’ll gravitate toward people who fit their idea of what an American Indian should be. Much of that is influenced by Hollywood portrayals of American Indians, and isn’t accurate.
“When we go out, people ask, ‘Can you glam it up a bit, can you throw a little bit of Hollywood into it?’” Dickerson said. “And it’s like, no, this is what it is. We’re showing you our culture. We don’t want to create something that’s glamorous over what’s real.”
Those watered-down and stereotypical perceptions of what an American Indian is take away from unique tribal identities, she said, and people posing as Native Americans do the same.
“They copy off of different tribes and they kind of make a hodgepodge of these works that you cant tell who it belongs to,” Dickerson said. “But these non-Natives, they’re taking it and they’re bastardizing the culture because they’re not going by anything but what they feel the American Indian is about.”
Grey Elk said the Northern Cherokee’s works aren’t made just to be sold. The group’s website advertises several works, including jewelry and paintings, with contact information for the artists listed, but Grey Elk said they mostly sell at powwows. If someone is interested in a work, they’re happy to sell it and make another.
Grey Elk said most American Indian tribes consider the powwow a chance to show off their culture, skills and wares.
“And maybe it makes them a little money to boot,” he added.
RAPID CITY, S.D. – The First Peoples Fund recently welcomed a new cohort of artist fellows who embody the “Collective Spirit” and whose lives reflect the traditional values at the heart of FPF’s mission - generosity, wisdom, respect, integrity, strength, fortitude and humility. And one of the 15 artists selected to receive the ABL fellowship is writer and Cherokee Nation citizen Traci Sorell of Olathe, Kansas.
“I am humbled to receive this fellowship. I hadn’t initially realized all the marketing costs related to the launch of a debut picture book. My friend suggested that I apply for the First Peoples Fund’s Artist in Business Leadership fellowship because it provides training, support and financial resources to artists wanting to grow their business,” Sorell said. “I am so grateful to be selected and look forward to the professional training that First Peoples Fund will provide me and the other fellows when we gather in Santa Fe, New Mexico, next month (March).”
Sorell said the fellowship will help her launch an author website and design and print promotional materials for her book “We Are Grateful: Otsaliheliga,” which is set for release on Sept. 4.
The fellowship also will create a free downloadable curriculum guide for teachers and anyone else to download from Sorell’s website and pay for travel to book-related events.
“These costs would be very difficult for me to cover without the fellowship’s help,” she said. “Having this support also allows me to focus my time on writing more books and getting them ready for submission because that’s what is required to grow my business as a children’s book author.”
Each year First Peoples offers two fellowship-grant programs for artists: Artist in Business Leadership and Cultural Capital.
“We have such a range of mediums,” First Peoples Fund Program Manager Mary Bordeaux (Sicangu Lakota) said. “Everything from Indigenous foods to performing artists. We have artists using traditional techniques in modern ways. I’m excited about working with the artists, seeing them grow, and their projects come to fruition.”
Through projects of their design, as well as assistance and training provided by First Peoples Fund, it is hoped the 15 artists selected will develop skills to help them grow a thriving business for themselves and their families.
“When an individual artist is uplifted and supported, they impact their families, communities and the benefits can ripple out regionally and nationally. This inspires artists to fully honor their cultural creativity and frees them to embrace their Native identity and voice,” Bordeaux said. “The Artist in Business Leadership fellows are doing work within to stabilize themselves as artists.”
Receiving the fellowship goes beyond support for a year or a single project. Artist fellows are brought into the First Peoples Fund family and introduced to a network of artists, market opportunities and have a chance to build relationships while they grow their confidence and ability as artists.
Founded in 1995, First Peoples Fund honors and supports the “Collective Spirit” of First Peoples artists and culture bearers and strives to make a difference, pass on ancestral knowledge and extend a hand of generosity.
For more information, visit <a href="http://www.firstpeoplesfund.org" target="_blank">www.firstpeoplesfund.org</a> or email <a href="mailto: email@example.com">firstname.lastname@example.org</a>.
TAHLEQUAH – Cherokee Nation citizen Brian Barlow was awarded a $10,000 Dreamstarter grant in 2017 to make a difference in his community. Since then, he’s been working to integrate the Cherokee language into the town’s Walmart.
Growing up in the CN capital, Barlow said he’s seen less and less of the Cherokee language being used, especially among the youth. Through language classes in high school and tribal activities such as the CN Youth Council and “Remember the Removal” bicycle ride he said learning the Cherokee language has become important to him. So when he heard about the Dreamstarter grant he knew it would be the perfect opportunity to put forth his vision to engage more youth with the language.
His idea was to integrate the language into Tahlequah’s Walmart by translating the produce section into Cherokee and placing Cherokee phonetics, community level phonetics and the syllabary on produce labels.
“You can grow up in Tahlequah and not know any Cherokee, and I don’t think that should be acceptable. You should at least know some words,” Barlow said. “So the idea is to revitalize the language by putting it into the grocery store where like grandma can take grandbaby to the grocery store and use it as a teaching tool.”
He said using phonetics rather than just the syllabary simplifies it and make words easier to learn.
“Syllabary can be confusing if you don’t know how to read it. Syllabary is really cool. Don’t get me wrong. Sequoyah was a genius, but I just don’t think people have time to learn it. So putting the phonetics in would help the learning process,” Barlow said.
The Dreamstarter Grant is through Olympic gold medalist Billy Mills’ organization Running Strong for American Indian Youth. Each year, 10 American Indians under the age of 30 are awarded the grant to aid nonprofit projects that will benefit their community’s youth in some way.
Since receiving the grant, Barlow has worked with Cherokee language specialists John Ross and Roy Boney Jr. to get Walmart’s year-round produce translated into Cherokee. As of now, he is working with Walmart’s marketing and licensing department to get the produce labels to “code.”
If his idea is successful in Tahlequah, Barlow said he hopes to implement the Cherokee language in other Walmarts in other Cherokee communities such as Stilwell and Jay.
However, his vision isn’t stopping there. He also said working with a company like Walmart could open opportunities for other Native tribes to put their language in their local Walmart stores.
“I think it would help tribal communities across the U.S. Everyone has to eat. We all have to go to the store and get food, so what better way than to the put language where the food is,” he said.
Barlow said he hopes to have the Cherokee language on produce labels in Tahlequah’s Walmart by Thanksgiving.