Native American Festival to honor late Cherokee author

09/06/2017 12:00 PM
Main Cherokee Phoenix
Robert J. Conley
CUSHING, Okla. – Organizers of the third annual Native American Heritage Festival on Sept. 9 will honor the late Cherokee author and Cherokee Nation citizen Robert J. Conley as its grand marshal.

Conley – who was born on Dec. 29, 1940, in Cushing – died in 2014 at age 73.

However, in the 1970s he served as assistant programs manager for the CN. He also served as director of Indian Studies at Eastern Montana, Bacone and Morningside colleges.

He taught English at Morningside, Southwest Missouri State University and Northern Illinois University. He also held teaching and administrative appointments at the University of New Mexico and Lenoir-Rhyne College and served as elder-in-residence at the University of North Carolina.

In 2008, he joined Western Carolina University and served as the Sequoyah Distinguished Professor in Cherokee Studies and founding director of its Tsalagi Institute.

His poems and short stories have been published in periodicals and anthologies during the years, including some in Germany, France, Belgium, New Zealand and Yugoslavia. His poems have been published in English, Cherokee, German, French and Macedonian versions.

He said his first novel, “Back to Malachi,” was published in 1986 “out of anger” rooted in misrepresentations of Ned Christie, “a Cherokee who was falsely accused of murder and hounded for 4-1/2 years before he was killed by a huge posse.” At the time, publishers did not believe they could publish a Western with an Indian protagonist, but his work broke the threshold as he went on to assist in the early development of Wordcraft Circle of Native American Writers.

Since that time he had more than 80 books published, a collection of short stories and several books on tape. He also wrote the novelization of the screenplay, “Geronimo: An American Legend.”

He was a Western Writers of America member and won two of its Golden Spur awards for his novels “Nickajack” and “The Dark Island” and another Spur award for his short story “Yellow Bird: An Imaginary Autobiography,” published in “The Witch of Goingsnake.”

In 1997, he was inducted into the Oklahoma Professional Writers Hall of Fame and a recipient of a lifetime achievement award in 2009 from the Oklahoma Center for the Book.

He was also named the 2014 recipient of the WWA’s Owen Wister Award for Lifetime Contributions to Western Literature.

Evelyn Conley, his wife of 38 years and a United Keetoowah Band citizen, will accept the grand marshal honor for her late husband at a Sept. 8 luncheon in Cushing.

Past grand marshals have been the late Dr. Bill Rice, a Native American law professor at the University of Tulsa who was also a UKB citizen, and actor Saginaw Grant, a Sac and Fox citizen.
The festival begins at noon on Sept. 9 and features a juried art show, vendors and a competitive powwow.

For more information, visit


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