Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians citizen Gaby Nagel is a 15-year-old Native American flutist who has only been playing for five years, yet her talent has led her to play at events and competitions. KENLEA HENSON/CHEROKEE PHOENIX
Nagel showcases Native American flute talent
Eastern Band of the Cherokee Indians citizen Gaby Nagel holds three flutes she uses when performing. Each flute is in a different tune and is used for specific songs and styles of music she plays. KENLEA HENSON/CHEROKEE PHOENIX
FAYETTVILLE, Ark. – When 15-year-old Gaby Nagel isn’t listening to music she is playing it, particularly on the Native American flute. Her enjoyment and talent with the instrument has led her to playing numerous events and partaking in flute competitions.
Nagel, an Eastern Band of Cherokee Indian citizen, has been playing the flute for five years. She was introduced to it while walking Fayetteville Square and coming across a man playing one. Listening to him play, she said she became mesmerized. Her mother bought her a flute and she began taking lessons from the same man, Jerry Doubting.
She said the flute just came “natural” to her.
“A lot of the tricks it took him years to learn, all came natural to me. He would be sitting there and telling me about a technique, and he would say ‘it’s OK, don’t get frustrated if you don’t get it on the first try.’ Well, I would get it on the first try,” she said.
Nagel has competed in eight flute competitions of all sizes. However, she said the biggest competition she’s won was the Musical Echo’s in Florida. “I was the first female and youngest competitor to ever win. I got a blue ribbon from them and a check. It was really cool.”
In addition to competitions, she’s played at festivals and events such as Indigenous Peoples Day in Fayetteville and the annual Trail of Tears Association Conference this past October in Pocola, Oklahoma. She’s also been invited to play for senior citizens and children at schools to interact with them and share Native culture.
She said her most memorable performance was getting playing for a young girl who was battling cancer. “I played for a girl who had cancer in Chattanooga (Tennessee). She was a friend of a flute maker of mine, and we raised money for her to receive treatment. It was such an honor, especially because they invited me.”
To be able to travel different places, she said she is thankful for having supportive family and friends, especially her mother. “My mom is my number one. She has driven me around so many miles I can’t even count. She is my number one, and she has always got my back.”
Nagel said she is proud to be Cherokee and shares her heritage through the flute. She said her plans for 2018 are to travel more playing the flute and visit more elderly and hospice patients. She said she’s also been learning to play the piano and guitar.
“Playing the flute, I feel like I am honoring my ancestors and what they had to go through so we don’t get hated on for being Native American as much anymore,” she said.
AKINS – Visitors to the first “Sequoyah Day” event held May 20 experienced all things Cherokee such as art, music, lectures, performances, demonstrations and National Treasures all on the grounds of the historic Sequoyah’s Cabin Museum where the Cherokee syllabary creator lived.
“This is a chance to celebrate Sequoyah’s life and his legacy,” Cherokee Nation Cultural Tourism Director Travis Owens said. “We’ve had a flute-playing performance, the Cherokee National Youth Choir performed. We had the Girty Family Singers and presenters on our language today.”
Others attending the event included Cherokee National Treasures Lorene Drywater and David Scott, as well as Cherokee artists Roy Boney, Jeff Edwards and Mary HorseChief. Tribal Councilors Bryan Warner and E.O. Junior Smith, and 2017-18 Miss Cherokee Madison Whitekiller also attended.
Another highlight was the Traditional Native Games competition. CN citizen and games coordinator Bayly Wright said “Sequoyah Day” was a great place to hold Cherokee marbles, cornstalk shoot, horseshoes, blowgun, a hatchet throw and chunky competitions.
“Today is the second of the five competitions leading up to the championships, which will be held on Aug. 25, the weekend before the Cherokee National Holiday,” she said.
For more information on cultural events, visit <a href="http://www.visitcherokeenation.com" target="_blank">www.visitcherokeenation.com</a> or call 1-877-779-6977.
TULSA – Cherokee Nation citizens gathered at the Tulsa Drillers ONEOK Field on May 5 for Cherokee Nation Night.
Cherokees enjoyed themselves in the bleachers, as well as the lawn behind the outfield. The evening started with Cherokee Nation Youth Choir singing the National Anthem before Deputy Chief S. Joe Crittenden threw out the first pitch. Crittenden later led the crowd in singing “Take Me Out to the Ballgame” during the seventh inning stretch.
“I was kind of drafted,” Crittenden said. “So I have the honor and pleasure of throwing out the first pitch. We’ll see how it goes.”
CN citizen and Tulsa Drillers Vice President of Public Relations Brian Carroll said the business relationship between the CN and the Drillers is a longstanding tradition.
“Our staff has worked with the Cherokees for several years as a partnership on many, many events. It’s a valuable relationship for us, and on that has grown over the years, and has become better and better in that time,” he said.
Various CN departments and entities such as Career Services, Cherokee Heritage Center and Government Relations also attended. Staff members manned booths in the stadium’s main corridor while Cherokee Nation Businesses employees handed out Hard Rock Hotel & Casino drink koozies to Tulsa Drillers and Arkansas Travelers fans.
Miss Cherokee Madison Whitekiller said it’s important for the CN to take part in such events.
“We’re still here, and we’re thriving. We are a fun people. We do enjoy other things outside our cultural boundaries,” she said.
TAHLEQUAH – Whether as a planner, visitor, vendor, artist or administrator, Cherokees played an integral role in all facets of the 2018 Red Fern Festival held April 27- 28 in the downtown area of the Cherokee Nation capital.
From the CN Courthouse Square to Northeastern State University, the streets were alive offering music, food, culture, arts and crafts, as well as a coon hunt and hound dog field trials.
On April 28, CN citizen and Main Street Tahlequah President Shay Stanfill said Mother Nature played a hand in the festival’s success as Oklahoma just finished its second-coldest April as the festival started. “We’ve had beautiful weather both yesterday and today.”
“There’s a strong Cherokee presence everywhere this year,” she added. “There’s Cherokee food vendors, artists and crafters, clothing retailers who are Cherokee Nation citizens all up and down main street.”
Officials said the festival had 110 vendors for its 13th year and an unofficial attendance of 16,000 visitors. Among the festival events and attractions, there were Cherokee National Treasure demonstrations, bouncy houses, a chili cook off and Plein Air painting competition.
Cherokee Nation citizen Callie Chunestudy served as a Plein Air official.
“So Plein Air is just basically outdoor painting, and the Arts Council (of Tahlequah) has collaborated with Red Fern so we have it at the same time so painters can come into town for the festival, go all over town to different sites. So they just paint scenery from Tahlequah.”
CN citizen Ashley Vann said she came to the festival for social reasons.
“I knew lots of Cherokees would have booths, showing their arts and crafts, but I’ve really enjoyed just running into friends on the street.”
For upcoming events or the 2019 Red Fern Festival, go to <a href="http://www.tahlequahmainstreet.com" target="_blank">www.tahlequahmainstreet.com</a>.
CHOUTEAU – On Arbor Day, the Cherokee Nation hosted its seventh annual Environmental Festival at the Mid-American Expo Center with informational booths and cultural activities for three area schools.
Approximately 200 students from Salina, Justus-Tiawah and Adair schools attended the April 27 event to learn more about environmental issues.
Natural Resources Secretary Sara Hill said in the past year the CN has focused on reducing its carbon footprint by 20 percent in the next 10 years. She said the festival is a good way to get the message to kids about what they can do to help the environment.
“Kids are great, and you give them a little bit of information and they really start to apply it all the time to their lives. If these kids walk away just learning a couple of things. It’s important to think about our environment when we make decisions. It’s important to recycle when we can recycle, just some of those basic messages. Once you get that in a kid it spreads to the rest of the family. Children can really start and be an agent of change in that way, so that why events like this are really important to me,” Hill said.
One message conveyed was through the River Cane Initiative and how river cane is important to Cherokee culture. Roger Cain, RCI principal investigator, said river cane was an important resource for Cherokees and had many uses such as feeding cattle, making baskets, weaponry, food and housing.
“We started the River Cane Initiative just to find out where river cane is on tribal land, where it’s located on tribal land. The tribe has about 55,000 acres and we’ve covered about 40,000 so far,” Cain said.
He said in the coming year RCI officials hope to complete cataloging river cane locations and start going to schools to teach students about river cane conservation.
“People are using it and understanding that it takes a while for river cane to grow from a small seedling to a large cane to make a blowgun, which takes about 30 to 50 years to be able to use for blowgun quality or basket quality,” Cain said. “River cane was the plastic of the Southeastern Indians. It’s the most-found object in archaeological digs. I’m proud to say our tribe is leading the nation in river cane research.”
CN cultural biologist Feather Smith-Trevino gave out native Oklahoma tree seedlings while encouraging students and adults to plant them.
“We’ve got the state tree of Oklahoma, which is the Eastern Red Bud. We have several fruiting trees, which are important for wildlife, and also many people like to have fruiting trees, and they tend to be more popular. Some of these trees just have cultural importance. We have the black locust tree and Osage orange, which are both popular for making bows out of. We’ve got walnut trees. A lot of these are just very important for cultural reasons, and it’s a great for getting people out there and planting native trees in their yard,” she said.
Federal and local entities also shared information regarding forestry, fish and wildlife, entomology, water and environmental safety.
Chouteau was the first location outside of Cherokee County to host the festival.
“We thought that we needed some community outreach, and if we did it like this we could target the community a little bit better than just having something in Tahlequah. So we’re trying to make it go out into the different communities now every year,” Environmental Programs Manager Shaun West said.
TAHLEQUAH – The Encore! Performing Society on April 8 previewed its reimagined production of “Four Moons,” which highlights the careers of five Native American ballerinas.
“The history of the five ballerinas was always interesting to me because they are so unique. There’s only a handful of Native American ballerinas in the world,” “Four Moons” Director Lena Gladkova-Huffman said.
The production features 12 female dancers, nearly all of who are Cherokee, and uses digital backdrops with archived footage, pictures and interviews to showcase the life and careers of Yvonne Chouteau, Rosella Hightower, Moscelyne Larkin and sisters Maria and Marjorie Tallchief.
The group became known as the Five Moons and rose to prominence in the mid-1900s during a time when ballet was largely considered a Russian art form. The women represented the Cherokee, Osage, Choctaw and Shawnee tribes.
Four of them danced together for the original 1967 production, which occurred during the Oklahoma Indian Ballerina Festival. It was titled “Four Moons” because the Tallchief sisters were highlighted together.
“When we picked up this production, the girls had to do a lot of research and find out who each ballerina was. So they come out of this production with bigger knowledge of the world in general, and hopefully our audience will too,” Gladkova-Huffman said. “There were these five amazing women who, from children, decided to dedicate their life to art.”
She said her fascination with the Five Moons and the original performance sparked the need for a reimagining featuring her choreography.
“They met and danced, and it was a unique occasion because everybody danced, with the exception of Maria Tallchief, who was retired, and then nobody video recorded them. So from then on everybody that has recreated this play has used original choreography,” she said.
Gladkova-Huffman studied ballet in Volgograd, Russia, and though she pursued a career as a doctor after immigrating to America, she’s “closely connected” to directing and choreographing.
Many girls featured in her reimagining come from her dance studio, though each “handpicked” ballerina had to meet select criteria. They also vary in age from elementary- to college-aged students to highlight the Five Moons as younger and older versions.
Cherokee Nation citizen Natalie Walker, 19, studies at Northeastern State University and is dancing as the older Chouteau. She said she and her younger partner unfurl a ribbon during their dance as a nod to the Cherokee people and Chouteau’s heritage.
“There is a part in my dance where we pull a white ribbon and it separates the stage, which is supposed to represent the Trail of Tears,” she said. “It separates us from our Cherokee heritage, as well as the younger and older versions of (Chouteau).”
Walker said the dancers have rehearsed on weekends for months to prepare.
“We all are very good about taking criticism from Mrs. Lena very well, which I think helps us improve in dancing and for the production,” she said. “It has taken many, many practices since then to get ready for this, and I love dancing in front of people.”
CN citizen Lacy Ullrich, 13, portrays the younger Marjorie Tallchief.
“I didn’t really know much about it the first time I did this, but it sounded fun,” she said. “They’re all very interesting, and they’ve accomplished a ton of really cool things throughout their lifetime. All these girls come from different tribes, and one of them is Cherokee, and they were all born in Oklahoma, so it’s fun to get to dance the Cherokee variation.”
Portraying Hightower is CN citizen Hadley Hume, 17, who will attend the University of Arkansas at Little Rock this fall to major in performance dance. She said audiences should expect to see a mix of traditional ballet and Native American aspects. “You’ll see us dancing on point, on flat, but we’ll also have one girl come out in a traditional Cherokee dress. It’s just really amazing to be able to bring all of their tribes together, and it’s just a really cool way to say, ‘hey look, we’re all here.’”
Her mother, Dayna, is the vice president of Encore! who secured the rights to composer Louis Ballard’s music from the 1967 production. She also designed the traditional costumes.
“All of the coral dresses that you’ll see and the ribbon work, I’ve done,” she said. “I tell (the girls), ‘I create it, you bring it to life. You make it come to life when you dance.’ We’ve also had some various local Cherokee National Treasures that’s worked on other pieces.”
The preview was held ahead of scheduled performances in Washington, D.C., for the annual Cherokee Days on April 13-15 at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of the American Indian.
TAHLEQUAH – The Cherokee Phoenix peeked in on Sequoyah High School’s drama department as it rehearsed for its upcoming adaptation of Stephen Sondheim and James Lapine’s musical “Into the Woods,” which musically tells the darker side of the classic fairy tales Cinderella, Rapunzel, Little Red Riding Hood and Jack and the Beanstalk.
“Into The Woods” will be held at the Sequoyah’s The Place Where They Play on the SHS campus.
Showtimes are 7 p.m. on April 26, 1 p.m. and 7 p.m. on April 27 and 2 p.m. on April 29.
For more information, visit <a href="http://sequoyah.cherokee.org" target="_blank">http://sequoyah.cherokee.org</a> or the Sequoyah Speech/Drama/Debate Students Facebook page.