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: firstname.lastname@example.org">email@example.com</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.
TAHLEQUAH – On a cold and windy Jan. 9, Cherokee Nation cultural biologists and Environmental Resources specialists harvested sunchokes, also known as Jerusalem artichokes, at the Heirloom Garden and Native Plant Site on the Tribal Complex.
It is believed the sunchoke was a main food source for Cherokee people prior to European contact.
“The sunchoke is a very important cultural plant. So that was one of the plants that we really wanted to establish in the Seed Bank and the native plant site. We were lucky enough to be gifted some really nice specimens from the Eastern Band (of Cherokee Indians) several years ago. They brought us three really nice plants. The three plants have really expanded,” Environmental Resources Senior Director Pat Gwin said.
Gwin said the sunchoke is able to produce in mass amounts to harvest for the Seed Bank and as a food source.
“Sunchoke, it was an important plant for a reason. It grows an extremely large amount of product for the amount of space, time and effort that you put into it,” he said. “We produce lots and lots of seeds every year.”
Though the harvest ran a little late this season, Gwin said he expected hundreds to thousands of sunchoke tubers to yield. The plant is commonly harvested in the winter and may have been a winter food source for Cherokee because of its ability to grow in cold weather.
Gwin said pre-European contact, the sunchoke was an important food source though it “fell out of favor” after contact. The plant has recently started to rise under the name of Jerusalem artichoke.
The sunchoke resembles a sunflower when in full bloom. When harvested, the tuber underneath the ground resembles a potato, or water chestnut, and has similar qualities and textures due to its root structure.
“When I have cooked these in the past, I’ve noticed that sort of eating them raw kind of tastes like a raw potato or even kind of like water chestnut. If you cook them, and don’t cook them at a high heat, they’ll kind of keep the texture of a water chestnut. They can mostly be cooked just the way that we would cook a potato,” Feather Smith-Trevino, CN cultural biologist, said.
She said sunchokes are not commonly found in a grocery store or produced commercially, possibly because of its inability to “keep” once it is out of the ground.
“With the potato, once we gather those, they can be stored for months and months at a time and they won’t go bad. But with Jerusalem artichokes, once they’re pulled out of the ground their usually only good for maybe about another week to two weeks. They don’t keep much longer than that,” Smith-Trevino said.
For this year’s Seed Bank, around 88 packages were created for Cherokees to grow and harvest their own sunchoke plants.
PARK HILL – Native American youth are invited to participate in the 2018 Cherokee Art Market Youth Competition and Show, scheduled for April 7 through May 5.
All artists must be citizens of a federally recognized tribe, in grades 6-12, and are limited to one entry per person. There is no fee to participate in the competition.
Entries will be received between 10 a.m. and 5 p.m. on March 29 at Cherokee Nation Businesses, 950 Main Pkwy., in Tahlequah. All submissions must include an entry form attached to the artwork, an artist agreement form and a copy of the artist’s Certificate Degree of Indian Blood card or tribal citizenship card.
Artwork is evaluated by division and grade level. Awards consist Best in Show - $250; first place - $150; second place - $125; third place - $100; Bill Rabbit Art Legacy Award - $100. The Best in Show winner will also receive a free booth at the Cherokee Art Market in October.
A reception will be held from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m. on April 6 at the Cherokee Heritage Center in conjunction with the 47th annual Trail of Tears Art Show. Winning artwork selected from the Cherokee Art Market Youth Competition will remain on display throughout the duration of the Trail of Tears Art Show.
Cherokee Nation Cultural Tourism is hosting the Cherokee Art Market Youth Competition. Applications are available at <a href="http://www.CherokeeArtMarket.com" target="_blank">www.CherokeeArtMarket.com</a>.
For more information, call Deborah Fritts at 918-384-6990 or <a href="mailto: firstname.lastname@example.org">email@example.com</a>.
The CHC is located at 21192 S. Keeler Drive.
TAHLEQUAH, Okla. – The Cherokee Family Research Center located within the Cherokee Heritage Center has been assisting individuals with tracing their family genealogies since the 1980s.
“We educate people,” Gene Morris, CFRC genealogist, said. “We’re here to promote our mission, which is preserve, promote and teach Cherokee history and culture. That’s what we do on a daily basis with genealogy.”
The CFRC is one of two locations in Oklahoma specializing in Native American genealogy and should not be confused with the Cherokee Nation Registration Department.
“We (CFRC) have no right to say ‘yes’ or ‘no’ that someone is Cherokee,” Ashley Vann, CFRC genealogist, said. “What we are able to tell them is ‘yes’ or ‘no’ about a paper trail to back up that family’s story that’s been handed down from generation to generation.”
Morris and Vann can be hired to help individuals complete their genealogies for a fee of $30 per hour, or $20 per hour for Cherokee National Historical Society members. For those wishing to conduct their own research, the CFRC resources area and the genealogy library are accessible from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday with paid admission into the museum.
Before visiting, Norris and Vann recommend gathering as much information as possible from several free and paid websites including <a href="http://www.fold3.com" target="_blank">www.fold3.com</a>, <a href="http://www.ancestry.com" target="_blank">www.ancestry.com</a>,
<a href="http://www.oklahomacemeteries.com" target="_blank">www.oklahomacemeteries.com</a> and <a href="http://www.findagrave.com" target="_blank">www.findagrave.com</a>.
The CFRC will also process genealogy requests by mail, but the timeframe in which the request is filled depends on demand.
“Depending upon how many folks are back here in the library at one time wanting all of our attention all at the same time and depending on if one of us is here or both us are here at that time,” Norris said. “What we try to do is do those requests in the order they are received.”
For more information, visit <a href="http://www.cherokeeheritage.org" target="_blank">www.cherokeeheritage.org</a>.