Articles on this Page
- 07/27/15--13:19: _Mother, daughter te...
- 07/28/15--11:40: _Batton Scholar Spot...
- 07/29/15--06:38: _Iti Fabvssa: The Ba...
- 07/31/15--07:11: _Language school pre...
- 07/31/15--10:37: _Running for Chiefs
- 08/07/15--11:31: _Choctaw Nation deve...
- 08/07/15--13:22: _Choctaw Nation Join...
- 08/13/15--07:36: _Meet the Artist - S...
- 08/13/15--12:58: _Jones Academy stude...
- 08/17/15--07:12: _Chris Wesberry name...
- 08/17/15--12:49: _Iti Fabvssa - The H...
- 08/19/15--08:11: _Save the Box Tops f...
- 08/19/15--09:09: _Choctaw Artist Crea...
- 08/20/15--06:39: _Educational Talent ...
- 08/20/15--07:16: _Meyer Siblings Aimi...
- 08/20/15--07:52: _Young Choctaw Earns...
- 08/25/15--10:55: _Choctaw Artists Big...
- 08/25/15--11:24: _Wilson on Capital O...
- 08/26/15--08:12: _Mayos Lay Strong Fo...
- 08/26/15--11:12: _Spotlight on Elders...
- 07/27/15--13:19: Mother, daughter team graduate nursing school
- 07/28/15--11:40: Batton Scholar Spotlight: Kendra Germany
- 07/29/15--06:38: Iti Fabvssa: The Battle of Massard Prairie
- 07/31/15--07:11: Language school prepares Choctaw community teachers
- 07/31/15--10:37: Running for Chiefs
- 08/07/15--11:31: Choctaw Nation develops new early childcare program
- 08/07/15--13:22: Choctaw Nation Joins USDA Senior Farmers Market Nutrition Program
- 08/13/15--07:36: Meet the Artist - Sarah Elisabeth Sawyer
- 08/13/15--12:58: Jones Academy students get into botball
- 08/17/15--12:49: Iti Fabvssa - The Hiawatha Asylum for Insane Indians
- 08/19/15--08:11: Save the Box Tops for Hartshorne Public Schools
- 08/19/15--09:09: Choctaw Artist Creates Lifetime Legacy
- 08/20/15--07:16: Meyer Siblings Aiming Higher in Hoops
- 08/20/15--07:52: Young Choctaw Earns Diploma, Pursues Musical Aspirations
- 08/25/15--10:55: Choctaw Artists Big Part of Labor Day Festival
- 08/25/15--11:24: Wilson on Capital One Academic All-America Second Team
- 08/26/15--08:12: Mayos Lay Strong Foundation for Home Building Business
- 08/26/15--11:12: Spotlight on Elders with Stella Long
Kayla Hobbs Partridge and her mother, Melinda Hobbs, graduate Practical Nursing School.
Mother, daughter team graduate nursing school
By Lisa Reed
Melinda Hobbs started out as a health care provider approximately 26 years ago. At that time, she was a mother of triplets and felt it would be impossible for her to attend any type of training to further her education. However, she knew that she wanted to take care of people. Melinda had always dreamed of being a nurse, but as time passed, her level of confidence continued to drop. During the fall of 2013, she approached Choctaw Nation Career Development for direction and to inquire about funding for CNA training.
Once she became a CNA, she went through the Home Health Aid Training in the spring of 2014. During this time her daughter, Kayla Hobbs Partridge, decided she wanted to go through the Licensed Practical Nurse program at Kiamichi Technology Center. She encouraged her mother to go with her and apply.
The two attended Career Development’s nurse prep workshops and applied at Idabel for the Licensed Practical Nurse program in the spring. They were accepted into the 11-month program which proved to be a very trying time for Melinda. It had been years since she had been in the classroom setting, and because of that, she utilized the tutoring that Career Development provided.
Finally, this summer, she and her daughter graduated from the Practical Nursing School. This was the first mother and daughter team to attend Idabel KTC Practical Nursing. Melinda is a prime example that with hard work and determination, dreams do come true.
Batton Scholar Spotlight: Kendra Germany
By Zach Maxwell
(Editor’s note: This is the second in a series about the six recipients of the Batton Family Scholarship, which has been offered since 2012 to Choctaw students who are close to graduating at Southeastern Oklahoma State University.)
Durant, Okla. - Kendra Germany has always wanted to be a writer.
And her mother always urged her to seek out an education after graduating from Coleman High School. With those two goals in mind, she set her sights on a bachelor’s degree in journalism from Southeastern Oklahoma State University.
She used a combination of OHLAP funds and Choctaw Nation Higher Education grants to get most of the way through the financial portion of a four-year degree. But she needed that extra push to pave the way for her senior year.
In 2012, she was named one of the first recipients of the Gary & Angie Batton Family Scholarship. In 2013, she graduated with her journalism degree.
“It was an honor to be chosen. I was really thankful and proud that I was selected,” said Germany. “I’ve just always liked writing. I want to be somewhere in media, whether it be newspapers or magazines.”
She is currently working as a receptionist at her brother Dr. John Germany’s chiropractic office in Durant. She also recently accepted an opportunity to be a contributing writer for her tribal newspaper, the Biskinik.
The Germany siblings are the second generation of Choctaws in their family to attain college degrees. Their mother, Sheila, is a teacher at Coleman.
“My mom is the reason I got an education,” Kendra said. “She made sure we put education first.”
That guidance has helped steer the Germany siblings toward their goals and dreams.
1st Regiment Choctaw Mounted Rifle re-enactors await the mock battle at Massard Prairie. Below, a re-created camp scene at the reenactment. (Photos by Nick Wallace)
The Battle of Massard Praire
For this month’s edition of Iti Fabvssa, we are going to go back in time to an important battle that involved a number of Choctaw soldiers during the later stages of the American Civil War. First, a bit of background.
At the beginning of the American Civil War, federal military units had withdrawn from their outposts in Choctaw Nation. By doing so, the federal government broke a treaty agreement to protect the Choctaw people, and left the Choctaw Nation essentially surrounded by Confederate forces. The only choices left to tribal leadership were to be destroyed, to leave the area as war refugees, or to join the Confederacy. Many of the individuals who interacted with the Choctaw on behalf of the Confederacy were the same Southern men with whom the Choctaw had dealt as representatives of the United States government during the years before the war. With no more promising alternative, the Choctaw Nation signed a treaty with the Confederacy on July 12, 1861. Among its 64 articles were pledges that Confederate forces would protect the Choctaw Nation at all cost from a Union invasion if one were to occur, that Choctaw forces would not be conscripted to fight outside of Indian Territory, and that a Choctaw/Chickasaw delegate would be a part of the House of Representatives of the Confederate States of America. Ultimately, very few of these promises were kept.
During the Civil War, Choctaw men were repeatedly asked to leave Choctaw Nation to fight federal forces in Missouri, Arkansas, and other areas of what is now Oklahoma. With the men’s absence, it was difficult for people back home to get full crops planted and harvested. As the war progressed, refugees from tribes farther to the north, including the Cherokee and Muscogee moved into Choctaw country, putting a heavier strain on already short food supplies. To make matters worse, in early 1864, a Union army under Maj. Gen Blunt invaded the western Choctaw Nation, pushing all the way to the Red River. As Choctaw homes and fields were destroyed in the army’s path, some non-Choctaw Confederate forces sat in safety on the south side of the river. Thereafter, many Choctaw citizens were destitute, hungry, and suffering continuing depredations from bandit gangs.
This brings us to the Battle of Massard Prairie, an event that demonstrates something special about the Choctaw character. By this point in the war, Choctaws had been fighting for three years; promises made by the Confederacy to the Choctaw people had been broken; houses and crops had been destroyed, and Choctaw citizens were suffering considerably. Because these Choctaw soldiers received no pay and very little provisions from the Confederacy, they were probably hungry and frustrated and wanting to attend to their families at home. It might seem that they had no real reason to leave Choctaw Nation to risk their lives fighting for the Confederacy once again. Yet, they had something powerful within them; the sprit and determination of a Choctaw warrior.
On the 26th of July, 1864, Confederate Col. Douglas Cooper got word that Union troops were camped out in vulnerable positions around Fort Smith, Arkansas. He sent a force of about 600 men, comprised of Choctaw soldiers, Chickasaw soldiers, and soldiers from Texas, to attack one of these camps. Plans changed as the situation developed, but ultimately, this force, commanded by Brigadier General R. M Gano, attacked the camp of the 6th Kansas Cavalry (200 men) at dawn a few miles southwest of Fort Smith. The attack happened so swiftly, that the cavalry was unable to round up its horses, which had been grazing in the pasture. The Union troops were forced to fight on foot.
After putting up initial resistance, the 6th Kansas Cavalry was routed and driven 2 and ½ miles across the prairie. More than 100 Union men were captured, along with 200 rifles and 400 pistols. The Confederate force lost seven men. After the quick attack, Gano’s men headed back to Oklahoma virtually unscathed. They hoped to ambush any pursuers along the way.
Looking back, the Battle of Massard Prairie is significant in Choctaw history on multiple levels. In terms of the American Civil War, the top-of-the-line weapons that were captured from the 6th Kansas Cavalry helped the poorly supplied Choctaw units keep up armed resistance until the bitter end. In fact, it was within the Choctaw Nation that the last Confederate general surrendered, Stand Watie (a Cherokee) at Doaksville, June 23, 1865.
In terms of personnel, several prominent Choctaw Nation leaders fought at Massard Prairie. Col. Simpson Folsom was noted for his bravery in pressing the attack on the Union camp. Col. Jack McCurtain “Tvshkahoma,” was waiting with a Choctaw force to ambush any Union forces that may have pursued Folsom and the others into Indian Territory. McCurtain would later become the Chief of the Choctaw Nation, and would lead the nation through Reconstruction; the Choctaw Council House and the town of Tuskahoma, are both named after him. William Cass, “Tiakhomma,” a signatory to the 1858 Choctaw constitution, served as the chaplain for the Choctaw troops at the Battle of Massard Prairie. He lost his life in this engagement, while leading an attack and is likely buried on the battlefield. “Red Pine,” the English translation of “Tiakhomma,” is a modern street in Fort Smith named after this man.
As for its legacy, the Battle of Massard Prairie has been and continues to be seen as a testament to the resilience of Choctaw soldiers who faced incredible hardship during the American Civil War. To the best of the author’s knowledge, the Battle of Massard Prairie represents the last major victory attained by Choctaw units fighting with the Confederacy, and in broader terms, it also represents the last time in Choctaw history that a victory was attained by full Choctaw military units. Today, despite encroaching development, a portion of the battlefield is preserved in the Massard Prairie Battlefield Park, maintained by the town of Fort Smith. Each year, a reenactment is held, on-site, with Choctaw tribal members as regular participants.
Guest speaker Linda Skinner shares examples of incorporating history and interactivity in learning the Choctaw language. She holds a custom, decorated Choctaw edition of the game Scrabble she made herself using a standard game set. (Photo by Brandon Frye)
Language school prepares Choctaw community teachers
By Brandon Frye
Durant, Okla. - Roughly 50 Choctaw community language instructors strengthened their understanding of the language during this year’s Choctaw Language Community Teachers Workshop held at the School of Choctaw Language in Durant from May 18-19.
The purpose of the event, now in its third year, was to bring community teachers together to provide tools, resources, and materials to enhance their teaching skills and further their understanding of the structure of the Choctaw language. The next step is for these community teachers to spread their knowledge and increase the speaking abilities of our language learners overall.
“The better equipped we are as language teachers, the better we are as teachers to ‘breakdown’ and ‘simplify’ the teaching of the language as we continue on the mission to perpetuate and revitalize the language for future generations,” said Teresa Billy, Assistant Director of the School of Choctaw Language.
Topics like grammar, storytelling, lesson planning, and student engagement were discussed, and interacted with in small groups.
Special guest speakers Linda Skinner, Barbara Routledge, and Freddie Bowles instructed the two-day event with insight, tips, and tricks they developed over their teaching careers. Combined, the three hold 75 years of teaching experience and wisdom.
Skinner shared some personal stories, including her ongoing desire to learn more about the Choctaw culture, as well as showing off the Choctaw art and poetry some of her students crafted over the years. She also provided examples of how to incorporate history and culture into language lessons.
Speaking to the room full of language instructors, Skinner said it was people like them who made it possible for her to get involved with the language and culture. “You made it possible for a little girl who grew up wanting it to get it,” she said.
Though the lessons were aimed at community instructors, much of the knowledge would help anyone interested in learning more Choctaw. For example, the game Scrabble can be played using only Choctaw words to make learning fun, and creating poems and stories using Choctaw helps solidify an understanding of the language while keeping Choctaw art alive.
Choctaw tribal member James Winchester on the field for the Kansas City Chiefs. He expects to see action this fall as a long snapper for the NFL team. (Photo courtesy Kansas City Chiefs)
Winchester takes Sooner success to the next level
By Zach Maxwell
James Winchester, of Washington, Okla., is the latest Choctaw to “go pro” in the world of sports.
Winchester hails from a family known for its success in athletic efforts at the University of Oklahoma. Winchester, his father and both sisters have all made their marks on Sooner sports.
He is taking it to the next level as a deep snapper for the Kansas City Chiefs of the NFL. Winchester will be on the roster for training camp and likely well into the pre-season as he competes with another deep snapper for the only position on the squad.
“There’s not a spot available every year, so it’s a ‘right place at the right time’ sort of thing,” he said. “It’s been my goal and dream to play in the NFL, so I’m thankful for this opportunity to go to work every day and make this dream a reality.”
He was a punter at Washington High School, just like his father Michael was at OU for their 1985 national championship.
But James also dabbled in the world of quarterbacks, giving him the foundation to be a long snapper at OU. He “won the job” for the first three games of his freshman year in Norman and remained with the team through the 2011 season as its deep snapper.
He tried out for the NFL at the 2012 Kansas City rookie camp, but was told he needed to bulk up his 6-foot-4 frame. While working on this, he also tried his hand in the oil and gas fields of southern Oklahoma.
And, he didn’t give up on his dream. He caught the attention of several NFL teams in 2013, signing with the Philadelphia Eagles but losing the coveted spot to a longtime veteran.
Winchester found himself back in roughneck country in Oklahoma, but he kept working out at high school weight rooms or anywhere he could find in the remote oil and gas fields.
“It’s tough to stay in shape when your career is taking you outside of football,” he said. He tried out for the Colts and Browns, and attended a free agent camp in Arizona.
Finally, he signed with the Chiefs in March of this year and has been involved in a strength and condition program since April.
Winchester’s involvement with Choctaw Nation included a role as part of a tribally-sponsored rowing team at Paddle for the Cure, a “dragon boat” race in Oklahoma City. He assisted friend Seth Fairchild, from the Chahta Foundation, as well as former OU teammate Jordan Eagle Road and his brother Billy in this effort to raise funds and awareness in the fight against breast cancer.
His first NFL community service event was also special, he said. The “Punt, Pass & Kick” event was held in Lawrence, Kansas in conjunction with the American Indian Center of the Great Plains recently.
“I met a lot of Choctaw kids, so it was neat for it to be my first community service event,” Winchester said.
His sister Rebecca was a walk-on for the OU rowing team and eventually earned scholarships in the sport, as did another sister, Carolyn, in Lady Sooners basketball.
The Choctaw Nation Early Head Start program was recently awarded an Early Head Start Child Care Partnership grant. The grant will allow the staff (pictured) more opportunities to provide a continuum of care for children, getting them school-ready while helping parents get more involved with their children’s education prior to head start.
Choctaw Nation develops new early childcare program
Durant, Okla. - A new service is in the works for Choctaw families, which will act as a prequel to the Head Start program and expand the serviced age range.
With the new Early Head Start program, the Choctaw Nation will care for infants and toddlers from birth up to age three. Before, the Choctaw Nation began care for youth with the Head Start program, which children could enter once they turned three years of age.
This effectively extends the age range of Choctaw Nation childcare programs to include children from birth up to five years of age.
The Early Head Start program is currently funded to support the care of 138 children. This support for families will enhance self-sufficiency and school readiness for the children, beginning at an earlier age than ever before.
Early Head Start will offer additional aid covering the areas of family services, health, mental health, nutrition and education.
The program is focused on low-income families. It is a Choctaw-preference program, but the service is open to all families living near Early Head Start locations.
At launch, two facilities will be available: the Child Development Center in Bennington, and Kids Ranch in Broken Bow. Construction is currently underway for an additional center in Durant, scheduled to open in Jan. 2016.
To apply, parents must fill out a three-page application. Proof of income, residency, and birth will be required alongside the application.
Contact Pam Savage at 1 (800) 522-6170, ext. 2591, to apply or learn more. For in-person assistance with applications, visit one of the Early Head Start locations.
Jennene Fuller, of Yuba, holds a barrel of her most recent harvest of silver peas and green garlic at the Durant Farmers Market on Aug. 5. Following in her mother’s footsteps, Fuller runs a family farm near the Oklahoma-Texas border called “Pecan Acres Too,” growing and selling much more than just pecans, including potatoes, peppers, okra, garlic, herbs, and more.
Choctaw Nation Joins USDA Senior Farmers Market Nutrition Program
By Ronni Pierce
Durant, Okla. - The Choctaw Nation of Oklahoma has been named by the USDA as the 52nd state agency to operate the Senior Farmers’ Market Nutrition Program.
The program provides access to fresh, locally grown fruits and vegetables to at least 800,000 low-income older Americans across the country. It also includes eight Indian Tribal Organizations, now including Oklahoma. Last year, SFMNP coupons for fresh produce were accepted by over 20,000 farmers at farmers markets, roadside stands, and community supported agriculture programs.
“I am so excited about the official announcement today on our award,” says Claudene Williams, Choctaw Nation’s Director of WIC. “I started working with the grants department in 2010 in hopes to receive both the Farmers Market Nutrition Program for WIC and Seniors. We received the WIC Farmers Market Program almost immediately upon applying, appointed Peggy Carlton to be our Coordinator, and we were off to a good start. Each year since, we have applied for the Seniors Farmers Market annually in hopes that this would be the year; until finally … here it is!”
In 2014, Choctaw Health Services in partnership with Going Lean funded the Seniors Farmers Market Program to get it started. With the additional financial help, Choctaw Health Services was able to serve 1,200 senior tribal members within the Choctaw Nation. And with the additional funds from the USDA, the Program will be able to serve not only eligible tribal members but also their spouses who are non-tribal members and also meet the eligibility guidelines. With the funding from Choctaw Health Services and the USDA, the Seniors Farmers Market program continues to grow each year serving tribal seniors healthy, locally grown fruits and vegetables.
“I am so excited about the official announcement today on our award. I started working with the grants department in 2010 in hopes to receive both the Farmers Market Nutrition Program for WIC and Seniors. We received the WIC Farmers Market Program almost immediately upon applying, appointed Peggy Carlton to be our Coordinator and we were off to a good start. Each year since, we have applied for the Seniors Farmers Market yearly in hopes that this would be the year; until finally … here it is!”
In 2014, Choctaw Health Services in partnership with Going Lean funded the Seniors Farmers Market Program to get it started. With the additional financial help, Choctaw Health Services was able to serve 1,200 senior tribal members within the Choctaw Nation. And with the additional funds from the USDA, tribal members who are eligible as well as their spouses who are non-tribal members and meet the eligibility guidelines. With the funding from Choctaw Health Services and the USDA, the Seniors Farmers Market Program continues to grow each year serving the tribal seniors healthy, locally grown fruits and vegetables.
According to Peggy Carlton, Choctaw Nation’s WIC and Seniors Farmers’ Market Nutrition Program Coordinator, “We’ve been applying for this grant for the past six years and we were determined not to give up. So this announcement has been really exciting for us.”
“Seniors represent a particularly vulnerable demographic to food insecurity, with unique health, social, and nutrition challenges,” said Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack. “This issue has a particular importance for seniors living in rural areas, as America’s rural population is older than the nation overall and rural seniors experience higher poverty than seniors nationwide. The Senior Farmers’ Market Nutrition Program is one way USDA is working to improve the health and wellbeing of older adults, ensuring that all older Americans have access to healthy food.”
For more information about the Senior Farmers’ Market Nutrition Program, please visit: www.fns.usda.gov/sfmnp/senior-farmers-market-nutrition-program-sfmnp.
Meet the Artist - Sarah Elisabeth Sawyer
By Brandon Frye
Durant, Okla. - Sarah Elisabeth Sawyer, 29-year-old Choctaw author with four published titles under her belt, recently visited the Choctaw Nation to publicize her newest novel, “The Executions,” the first book in a series.
She took the opportunity to reconnect with her tribal roots in Oklahoma. Sawyer stopped in to take part in the monthly Heritage Monday at the Choctaw Nation Tribal Complex, molded some clay at a traditional pottery class, and spent June 27 at the Choctaw Welcome Center in Colbert during her Meet the Artist event.
Sawyer was born and raised in Texas and has been creatively writing since she was five. Her father was born in Mead, and her Choctaw heritage comes from her mother, Lynda Kay Sawyer.
“My mother is my biggest fan, my harshest critic, and my most enthusiastic cheerleader,” Sawyer said. “I dedicated my first novel to her and my great-aunt Evelyn. ‘The Executions’ is dedicated to the two women who taught me the importance of preserving the past for the future.”
She said she had always wanted to write Choctaw stories, and when she did, one of them won a small competition. This was a jumping board for Sawyer’s career and would lead her to meet other Choctaw artists and storytellers.
Her first experience with other Native writers and storytellers was at the Five Tribes Story Conference in 2010. Tim Tingle and Greg Rodgers showed her what it meant to tell the traditional stories of a tribal people.
“At the same time, they showed the value of telling and writing our own stories,” Sawyer said. “I credit them for lighting that fire. Because of their work, I can connect the writing I do with the tradition of storytelling that is so much a part of our heritage.”
Sawyer sees being Choctaw as an honor, opportunity, and responsibility. She said she is a descendant of people who forged a path through their own pain and injustice to give her a heritage. She feels a responsibility to remember, preserve, and share their legacy of faith and endurance.
Her “Choctaw Tribune Series” deals with times of injustice and bitter fights over cultural, racial, and legal issues. “The Executions” is book one in the series, with an expected three parts.
Sawyer said, with “The Executions,” she followed her characters along on their journey through a Choctaw execution, whiskey running, a witch-hunt, and meeting an Irish mail-order bride before finding an end at a lynching across the Red River in Texas. She added, the heroine of the story Ruth Ann concludes her journey with the discovery of her place as a young Choctaw woman in an increasingly white Indian Territory.
To learn more about Sawyer and her written work, visit her website at here.
Jones Academy students get into Botball
By Brandon Frye
Hartshorne, Okla. - Through a joint endeavor of the Department of Education and the Choctaw Nation, the school was able to initiate a Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM) Program at Jones Academy.
The Indian Demonstration Grant is a government initiative to promote math, science, technology, engineering, and critical thinking skills in junior high and high school students. Choctaw Nation sponsored a robotics class at the academy, which competed in a team-oriented Botball tournament in the spring.
Program coordinator Lindsey House arrived in January and hastily organized a team of eight Jones Academy students to prepare for the contest. They had seven weeks to design and program a robot for the competition.
With the assistance of Steve Goodgame from the KISS Institute for Practical Robotics, and Botball tutor Immanuel Ramirez and other mentors, the team earnestly set about their goals.
The challenge consisted of building two viable robots from a Botball kit. (All competitors had the same materials.) The team participated in the Oklahoma Regional Botball Tournament held in Norman on March 7. Out of 57 teams, the Jones Academy Botball team placed 14th in the competition and were named Newcomers of the Year.
In an effort to generate more interest in robotics, Jones Academy were hosting two summer STEM camps scheduled for July 12-17 and July 19-24. Applicants for the camp are from the 10-county area of the Choctaw Nation. In a related matter, Hartshorne Public Schools also introduced a robotics class this year at the high school.
The Jones Academy Botball team consists of Kielind Jim, Zachary Bennett, Seth Crow, Jaycelyn Charger, Dale Two Eagles, Kanani Watashe, Melissa Chill, Naomi Christmas and team coach Lindsey House.
Chris Wesberry named Executive Director of the Native American Institute
Chris Wesberry was recently named Executive Director of the newly-formed Native American Institute at Southeastern Oklahoma State University.
The Institute will include the Master of Science in Native American Leadership, the minor in Native American Studies, Choctaw language minor and the Native American Center for Student Success. The academic programs will be hosted by the Department of Behavioral Sciences, which will provide faculty oversight of curriculum and all related activities.
The Institute will also include the formalization of an advisory council with tribal participation.
“Southeastern has been recognized nationally for its Native American programs and Chris has obviously played a big role in that,’’ said Southeastern president Sean Burrage. “Under his leadership, the Institute will serve to coordinate all of our efforts in this area. We also hope to grow and expand our Native American programs in the future and the Institute is a key component.’’
Wesberry has been employed at Southeastern since October of 2005. He has served as an Academic Advisor to Native American students, the Director for the Native American Center for Student Success, and Co-Director of the Master of Science in Native American Leadership (MSNAL).
In these positions, he has served the Native American community in areas of academic advising, instructor, grant writer/principal investigator, and project director for federal grants in excess of $4 million. These grants have consistently focused on Native American student retention and teacher development.
He has also taught several courses at the University.
Wesberry earned a Bachelor of Science, Master in Secondary Education, and Master in School Counseling at East Central University. He is currently in the dissertation phase of a Doctorate in Higher Education Leadership.
He has 10 years of experience working for the Chickasaw Nation, seven of which were in Higher Education programming. Wesberry and his wife Stacy (2013 graduate of Southeastern) have a daughter and son, both of whom graduated from Southeastern. Caley Wesberry (’13) also graduated from Michigan State University with a Master Degree in Public Health, while Leslie Wesberry (’13) will be in his third year of law school at the University of Oklahoma this coming May.
The Hiawatha Asylum for Insane Indians
By Ian Thompson
South Dakota - This month, Iti Fabvssa travels outside of the Choctaw country in order to present a story that forever intertwines the lives of several Choctaw individuals with other people from 52 other Tribes across the United States. The Hiawatha Asylum for Insane Indians has been the subject of many articles through the years. We became aware that there is a Choctaw part in this story when we were contacted by a member of a northern Tribe, who gave us the name of a Choctaw person buried in the asylum’s cemetery. It can be difficult to present a horrific story from the past without bringing the pain back to life, yet people sometimes need to know what really happened in order to be able to move on from it. What follows is an account of something terrible, but within it is a counter story of resilience and perhaps, even of hope.
Imagine, that government agents break into your house, kidnap you, incarcerate you in a dangerous facility located hundreds of miles away, and block all contact with your friends and family. As much as this sounds like the beginning of fictional novel, for Native Americans living in the early 1900s, it was a real possibility. It may have happened because someone had a disagreement with the Indian agent, it may have come at the end of a rebellious year at boarding school, it may have been because an individual defiantly refused to give up the spirituality of his or her ancestors, or in some cases, it was because a person actually needed psychiatric care. Whatever the reason, during the opening decades of the last century, hundreds of Native American people were taken from their homes and incarcerated in the only mental health facility that has ever been created in this country for a specific “race”. There was no legal process for admission; all it took to get a person committed was the recommendation of the local Indian agent. Once inside this institution, most would never make it back home.
Located in southeastern South Dakota, the Hiawatha Asylum for Insane Indians opened its doors in 1902. Through the first three decades of the 1900s, it housed roughly 75 inmates at a time, of both sexes. Through most of the asylum’s duration, Dr. H.R. Hummer was the superintendent. Through his long tenure, every trained staff member who came to work under Dr. Hummer was either fired or forced to resign, usually after he or she made allegations of patient abuse. By the accounts of an outside medical investigator, the inmates in this asylum were treated worse than inmates in contemporary prisons. Accounts describe beatings and various forms of neglect and abuse. One inmate was allegedly strapped down for 10 years, without being allowed to get up. Family members’ attempts to get their loved ones professionally evaluated and released were thwarted. Inmates’ letters to their friends and families were intercepted, or edited. Direct contact with family members was forbidden. Although treatment for tuberculosis existed, it was denied to inmates at Hiawatha. The disease infected new victims in the institution, which had no running water or electricity. The average life span of an individual incarcerated at Hiawatha was only 42 years. When people died, they were buried in unmarked graves on the asylum grounds. The only record was a rough burial chart, written onto the wall of the superintendent’s office.
From 1908-1933, several separate government investigations recommended replacing the superintendent, or shutting the institution down all together. Yet, leaders in the local town, which was advertising the asylum across the country and charging tickets for people to come see the inmates, prevailed upon their congressmen to keep it open. Local entrepreneurs even sold souvenirs to tourists with a picture of the asylum on them. In 1933, when the institution was finally slated to be closed, town leaders filed an injunction in court, claiming that closing the asylum would cause undue economic hardship on the town.
Nevertheless, the asylum was closed later that year. Upon evaluation by a trained doctor, a significant number of surviving inmates were deemed mentally healthy and sent back home. Those who really needed psychiatric care were denied admission to another nearby asylum, on the basis of their being Native American. As a result, they were transported all the way to an institution in Washington DC, which effectively removed them ever farther from their communities and families. Eventually, all of the buildings at the old Hiawatha Asylum were torn down. Today, the only visible reminder is the cemetery, which contains the unmarked graves of approximately 180 Native American people who died at the institution.
The people who lie in these graves are not forgotten. Beginning in 1988, a group of Tribal people who have relatives buried in the asylum cemetery began holding an annual memorial service on-site. Through the years, this memorial has brought together Tribal people from across the country, connected to each other by their family members buried in the cemetery. The memorial is supported by the town, with community members participating, as a way of acknowledging something awful that happened before they were born, and of making positive relationships with Tribal people today.
Organizers of the memorial have reached out to 53 Tribes including the Choctaw Nation to make us aware that we had Tribal members who experienced the this asylum from the inside. We only know the name of one young Choctaw woman, who must have been incarcerated shortly after the institution opened, and was buried in the cemetery in 1905. Subsequent research has revealed a 1920’s article, in which a visitor describes meeting an unnamed Choctaw woman in the asylum that year, and indicates that other Choctaw people were at the asylum with her. Unfortunately, their names and stories are, at least for the moment, lost to the Tribe.
If you happen to know of a Choctaw person who was at the Hiawatha Asylum for Insane Indians, in Canton, South Dakota, please contact the Choctaw Nation Historic Preservation Department at 1-800-522-6170 ext 2216. We would love to hear your stories and begin to piece back together this part of Tribal history so that the memory of those Choctaw individuals who experienced the Hiawatha Asylum is not lost to time.
Save the Box Tops for Hartshorne Public Schools
Hartshorne, Okla. - Hartshorne Public Schools has been selected by the Choctaw Nation as the recipient of their Box Tops for Education program for the 2015-16 school year.
The Box Tops for Education program is a loyalty earnings program. For each participating product purchased, the box top can be clipped and redeemed for 10¢. The money is collected by the coordinating business and mailed to Box Tops for Education. Checks are then mailed to the recipient school twice a year, in April and December.
Participating schools use the money for needed school supplies, books, playground equipment, teacher training, computers, and other necessities.
For a list of eligible products see Box Tops. For further information, contact Jerry Tomlinson at (580) 924-8280 ext. 2904.
Box top drop off locations:
Choctaw Nation Community Centers
Choctaw Nation Travel Plazas
Choctaw Nation Headquarters
Or mail your box tops to:
Choctaw Nation of Oklahoma
Attn. Jerry Tomlinson
P.O. Box 1210
Durant, OK 74702
Dianna (Perkins) Adams with a large photo of her portrait of Mary (Qwasawa) Finkbonner. The painting in the photo is actually a smaller version of the 5’ by 7’ original.
Choctaw Artist Creates Lifetime Legacy
You may have seen the image in the background of this photo when reading about Choctaw Nation’s monthly Heritage Day events. The original is a painting of Mary (Quasawa) Finkbonner, a Lummi elder and great-grandmother-in-law of Choctaw artist Dianna Perkins Adams, the painter of the portrait (also shown in the photo).
The oldest of five children, Dianna is the daughter of Harold and Nell (Richardson) Perkins. Her father was born in Atoka, Oklahoma the year that Oklahoma became a state. He was a truck driver, mostly for gasoline companies. Her parents met when her father, then driving a taxi, drove his soon-to-be wife to where she worked as a waitress.
Dianna’s grandfather, Hugh Henry Perkins, was the owner of a livery stable in Atoka. He moved his family to Wichita, Kansas where he became a bookkeeper.
Her great grandparents were Lyman “L.H.” and Hattie (Stewart) Perkins, donators of land for the town and school at Indianola. Lyman was a member of the Tribal Council and believed to be a Choctaw Light Horseman. Lyman’s parents were George Perkins and Jane Folsom (niece of Peter Pitchlynn). George Perkins was noted in history for taking a case against the federal government to the Supreme Court in regard to illegal selling of Indian lands.
The love of art first came when Dianna was 10 years old. In school, she felt she had talent, but always thought someone else could do a better job than her. She says that even today, after all her years in the art field; she constantly sees work she feels is better than her own and strives to learn from others. She admits she is a perfectionist and it carries out not only in her art, but in everyday situations.
At the age of 17, Dianna knew she wanted to become an artist. She started art classes at Wichita State University, paying for her first semester of college with babysitting money she had earned at fifty cents an hour and a summer job with a pilot program of Head Start, working as the assistant teacher. It was through that job that Dianna learned the love of teaching. At one point, she struggled with whether she should become an artist or a teacher. Little did she know her future would be a combination of the two. Having received a rare fifth year degree, a Bachelor of Art Education from Wichita State University, she went on to complete her Master’s Degree and all but her dissertation toward a doctoral degree in Art Education from the University of Oregon.
At the early age of 27 years old, Dianna became Director of Art Education at Oregon State University.
She later worked as case manager for the largest sexual discrimination case in the country involving women’s equity in salary, tenure and assignment, taking the case all the way to the Supreme Court.
Dianna went on to be hired by the University of Oregon as advocate for people who had suffered racial discrimination, and as a counselor. She continued her commitment for social change and also continued to paint and draw, even teaching night classes.
Eventually, Dianna decided she wanted to work primarily with Native American students. After a short time with the University of Minnesota as Senior Counselor of the American Indian Learning Resource Center, she took a position on the Lummi Reservation to work at Northwest Indian College as Director of Admissions and Director of Talent Search.
Two years ago, Dianna married the love of her life, Perry Adams, a member of the Lummi tribe, after 40 years of being single. Dianna and Perry married at an elder’s dinner on the Grand Ronde Reservation in Oregon with over 400 elders from tribes all over the Northwest in attendance. The couple had met after she began working at Northwest Indian College eighteen years ago where Perry served as Chair of the Board of Trustees on two occasions. He was also a Tribal Councilman, Vice-Chair for several years and director of his tribe’s Veterans program.
Dianna has volunteered with the Lummi tribe since meeting Perry, leaving her regular employment after getting involved with the tribal elders. Her areas of volunteer work with the tribe have included teaching classes to tribal elders of the Dislocated Fisherman’s Program, painting an original art series called “The Grandparents of the Grandparents” and helping to keep Native American children from being fostered out off the reservation. She continues to do work for a research institute she founded called the Lacqtomish (People of the Sea) Research Institute where family structures of the Coastal Salish People are studied. She has aided many individuals in learning how to find their Indian names, a vital part of the northwest culture. She has also helped date back families into the 1700s in the region in connection to the names through history and ancestry.
Though she has mastered many areas over the span of her 47-year career, Dianna considers her primary art field as portrait painting. Dianna says her paintings are monumental in scale, and they satisfy her soul. One was an 8-foot portrait of her mother’s father with his fiddle at age 19. Even though her paintings are extremely detailed, Dianna is known for painting an entire large portrait in five to seven days, with the refining and finishing processes taking another week. She has an ability to sit before a blank canvas and already have an idea of what the composition will be when finished. Some special projects call for studies beforehand, but most times she relies upon her own expertise. Dianna chooses not to make her art into prints, postcards or greeting cards, as she prefers to keep her work exclusive and one-of-a-kind.
She has also over the years enjoyed working on her pieces in public areas. Being able to tune out the interruptions, or sometimes drawing them in as needed, she says people have enjoyed watching her work live. She particularly enjoyed doing so in the Lummi Tribal School foyer, where she loved talking to the children of all grades who came to her asking about what she was doing. She says she even let the children help a bit on her pieces in order to teach them.
Dianna is most pleased with her work when she knows that it moves someone. She considers her greatest compliment being after her work was completed of a portrait of a warrior she did that hangs in a tribal school, grandchildren of the man came in to approve the painting and they were each brought to tears over the likeness. In addition, a shaman who was in the school to perform a ceremonial cleansing saw one of her paintings and offered a plate of food to it through dance. She is grateful for her ability to communicate feelings and emotions through her work, saying it “speaks to the heart of people.” She believes that in her art, if she has done what she set out to do, her work speaks for itself.
Dianna loves talking about her own tribe’s culture and about art. She said, “Today, I see the young people making pottery in the old ways, and I understand that it is more than a connection to the art. It is also a connection to the land. And our heritage is as much about the land as it is about the language. It instills in us a sense of belonging.” She hopes to soon begin work on a painting of Chief Pushmataha at the Treaty of Dancing Rabbit Creek. Dianna says she feels a special connection to Chief Pushmataha because of her family line.
Dianna has one son, Matthew Kale and one granddaughter, Marie, who the family tragically lost earlier this year at the age of 23. Matthew often sat with his mother as she taught art classes, and he in turn taught his daughter. Matthew is a “maker”, someone who solves problems through design. Marie was a sculptor who was very proud of being Choctaw and carried the Choctaw name, meaning “fire cloud.”
Dianna credits her husband and son for much of her success, as she says they have endured the disruptions to their lives and her marathon painting sessions. She also notes that in addition to her family, her connection with a small group of other artists over the years has helped her to get to where she is today.
Today Dianna lives in Washington State, where she and her husband are both retired. Dianna and Perry are in negotiations to develop their own art studio. In their shared space, Dianna will work on her art, hoping to expand into sales for art galleries and Perry will work on carving mortuary canoes.
Dianna reflects that in going back to her days of teaching art education, she feels that all teaching must begin with the question of “why do I believe this is important?” Dianna has answered this question many times over in her own work. From single working mother to the people’s advocate, art teacher, artist, administrator and tribal volunteer, working 80-100 hours a week most of her professional life, Dianna Perkins Adams has indeed created a legacy.
(Artwork by Dianna Perkins Adams is listed under the name of Dianna Kale).
Educational Talent Search and Making a Difference Programs Host the 2015 – 2016 ACT Prep Workshops
The Educational Talent Search and Making a Difference Programs will be cohosting several ACT Prep Workshops throughout the Choctaw Nation this year. This workshop is an exceptional ACT test-prep opportunity that covers not only what is on the test, but also how to master the techniques necessary to be successful in achieving a higher ACT score. (Note - There will not be a practice test given during this workshop.)
The workshop covers general ideas about the ACT as a whole, and the individual sections which make up the test. The sections covered are: English (including what the test-makers are looking for and relevant English rules you need to know when taking this section); Math (including exactly what formulas and rules are needed to answer virtually every question); Reading (including three strategies on how to best take the reading comprehension section); and Science Reasoning (including common question types and strategies to better understand reading passages utilized on the test).
Talent Search has purchased several items which may be loaned to participants to help them prepare for the ACT. We have a number of ACT approved calculators which are pre-programmed by Cargill’s with math formulas and solvers which are needed to help you achieve a higher ACT score in math. Cargill’s ACT Study Guide is also available for loan from the Talent Search library. These loan programs are just one of the many benefits of participating in the Choctaw Nation’s Educational Talent Search program. (Calculators and books are loaned on a first come, first serve basis.)
Don’t miss out on this free opportunity to learn valuable techniques which will help you master the ACT. To register for one of the workshops hosted by Educational Talent Search and Making a Difference, please call 1-800-522-6170, Extension 2711.
Dates and Locations
September 11, 2015
Kiamichi Technology Center
October 23, 2015
Eastern Oklahoma State College
December 11, 2015
Kiamichi Technology Center
February 5, 2016
Kiamichi Technology Center
The sign-in desk at each of the events will open at 8:30 a.m. with workshops starting at 9:00 a.m. and concluding around noon. Students must be preregistered to attend one of the ACT Workshops. The registration costs, breakfast, snacks and lunch are provided free of charge to participants of the Talent Search and Making a Difference Programs.
Call today to register for a workshop in your area! (1-800-522-6170, Extension 2711)
Meyer Siblings Aiming Higher in Hoops
The brother and sister tandem of Austin and Mariah Meyer are following in the athletic footsteps of their parents.
Austin Meyer is a 6-9 junior from Mustang and was the starting center on the Mustang High School basketball team this past season. The Broncos went 28-0 this season and seized the Oklahoma Class 6A basketball title.
Austin also plays basketball in the summer for Mokan Elite, a Nike EYBL team. He is, understandably, receiving lots of interest from multiple Division 1 (large school) collegiate programs.
Mariah Meyer is a 5-8 shooting guard for the Lady Tigers of East Central University. She just completed her freshman year. After one season at Tuttle, Mariah’s family moved to Pflugerville, Texas, where she played three years at Hendrickson High School. She earned first-team all-district honors for two of those seasons, as well as academic all-state honors.
Their father, Patrick Meyer, played basketball at ECU as well as Murray State College. Mom Amber DeGiusti also played hoops at Murray State and she was part of the first women’s cross-country team at ECU. She helped them win the conference title.
Allison Cawthon smiles in a recent photograph taken before graduating high school. Walking across the stage would represent the culmination of great dedication and sustained hard work in one of the top schools in the nation for the young Choctaw performer. Soon, she would be moving to Florida in pursuit of an education from her ideal music school.
Cawthon Takes Next Step with Lifelong Dream
Allison Cawthon graduated from Plano West Senior High School in Plano, Texas last June and now, with the help of the Choctaw Nation, intends to continue her academic journey at one of the best music schools in the world: the Frost School of Music at the University of Miami.
She earned a 2030 on the SAT, a 3.95 GPA, and placed in the top 25% in her class upon graduation at a school in the top 1% in the U.S. She also became a member of the National Honor Society, French National Honor Society, and was a Ventures Scholar.
“Some people are born to invent; some people are born to play sports; I was born to inspire the world through music,” Cawthon said.
Her voice is her main instrument, but Cawthon said she also picked up acoustic guitar, electric guitar, bass guitar, and keyboard in her efforts to inspire emotion in others.
At age 18, she is following the dream she has had since childhood, and according to Cawthon, her parents have been supportive from the beginning. “Most parents, if they heard that their child wanted to pursue music as their career, would force their child to choose a more ‘practical’ career path,” she said. “But my parents have always supported my dreams.”
Cawthon’s parents, Kevin and Mary Cawthon, taught her happiness comes from doing what you love and not from money. To help her on her path, they flew with her across the United States to audition at the best music schools to give her the best opportunities possible.
In the end, Cawthon said, she aims to earn a Ph.D. and teach at the collegiate level.
A combination of Cawthon’s upbringing, her own strong drive, and a few nudges from the Choctaw Nation are some of the things Cawthon gives credit to in her success.
In particular, she remembers the Ivy League and Friends conference put on by the Nation, which she said allowed her to meet with many colleges that she had never before considered. She also recalled the Choctaw-funded Princeton Review SAT Prep Course, which she said allowed her to score so well on the test, helping her get accepted to her ideal college.
“I would like to thank the Choctaw Nation for the amazing support I received,” Cawthon said. “I feel so proud of my heritage, and I am so happy that Native Americans today have the opportunity to go to college and be successful.”
The 2015 Choctaw Indian Art Show poster, featuring a Scissortail Flycatcher, is the work of a previous competition artist, Dylan Cavin.
More than 200 Artists Expected to Enter Art Show Competition
Tvshka Homma, Okla. - Choctaw artists have options for participation over the four days of the Choctaw Nation of Oklahoma’s 2015 Labor Day Festival. A juried competition, booth sales and traditional demonstrations are all part of this event which draws thousands of visitors to the heart of the Choctaw Nation.
This year’s Choctaw Indian Art Show runs Sept. 5-6 on the Capitol grounds of Tvshka Homma. Those chosen for the annual juried show will have their works hanging in the historic Choctaw Museum for two days of the festival.
Many of the artists will have their works available for purchase by festival-goers.
“Based on past years, we expect more than 200 entries to be submitted,” said Shelley Garner, of Choctaw Nation of Oklahoma’s Cultural Services office. Artists may enter up to three pieces for consideration in any of the seven categories.
The categories include painting, graphics (pen, pencil, photography and mixed media), sculpture, pottery, jewelry, basketry, and cultural (Choctaw specific, which may not fit in any of the other categories).
Artists must be age 18 or over and CDIB members of the Choctaw Nation of Oklahoma.
Contest packets with fee information and entry forms are available by contacting Garner at (580) 924-8280, extension 2377, or writing her at: CNO Cultural Services, P.O. Box 1210, Durant, OK 74702. Entries will be accepted through Aug. 31. Delivery of art will be to the Tvshka Homma museum.
Three winners will be chosen for each category with prizes ranging from $400 to $100 each. A $500 award will be presented in the Heritage category (a work that tells the Choctaw story); $200 for the People’s Choice (chosen by popular vote); and $1,200 for Best of Show.
Artist vendors will also set up booths with arts and crafts for sale in designated areas on the festival grounds. For vendor requirements, contact Debbie Damron in the Cultural Events office, (580) 924-8280, extension 2309.
Traditional arts and crafts people will demonstrate early Chahta lifestyles in the Village site. For information about this part of the festival, contact Theresa Billy, Language Department, (580) 924-8280, extension 2102.
Kayla Wilson team photo, left, and in action at a long jump competition, on the right. (Photo Illustration Courtesy of Southwestern College Sports)
Choctaw Excels on the Field and in the Books
Southwestern (Kansas) College sophomore Kayla Wilson has been named to the 2014-15 Capital One Academic All-America® College Division Women’s Track & Field/Cross Country Second Team, as announced by the College Sports Information Directors of America.Wilson became one of the miost-decorated track and field student-athletes in the storied history of the Southwestern College women’s track and field program. The Mooreland native finished third in the Triple Jump competition at the 2015 NAIA Outdoor Track and Field National Championships in May in Gulf Shores, Alabama.
That performance followed a pair of All-American performances in triple jump and long jump and the 2015 NAIA Indoor Track and Field Championships in Geneva, Ohio. Wilson also claimed the Kansas Collegiate Athletic Conference long jump and triple jump titles at both the Indoor and Outdoor Championship meets. She was a four-time KCAC Field Athlete of the Week selection.
The Capital One Academic All-America® College Division Track & Field/Cross Country Teams are comprised of student-athletes from NAIA, Canadian and two-year institutions.
To be eligible for consideration, student-athletes much have achieved sophomore academic status or higher, must have attended their respective institution for one full calendar year, must compete in at least 50 percent of his or her athletic events that season, and must possess legitimate athletic statistics.
Student-athletes must also carry a cumulative grade point average of 3.30 or higher. Student-athletes are nominated first for Academic All-Region consideration.
First team all-region selections are then sent on to the national ballot for a chance to become an Academic All-American.
Darrell and Angela Mayo stand at the foot of the staircase in the second home they built together, just outside of Durant. The two directly worked with every aspect of building the home, from laying out floor plans, to material selection, construction, painting, and decorating the space. With their enjoyment of home building, the Mayos founded a business which they hope to grow with the help of the Choctaw Nation.
Mayos Lay Strong Foundation for Home Building Business
Durant, Okla. - Stonehenge Homes—the Choctaw-led custom house construction and design business based in Durant and servicing southeastern Oklahoma—laid a strong foundation back when husband and wife Darrell and Angela Mayo met in church as teens.
The Mayos developed a life together over time, raising three children, building two homes from the ground up, and launching two family businesses.
With the experience Darrell received working at his father’s painting business, and Angela’s natural eye for style and design, homemaking and home building just seemed natural for the couple.
It started when the two decided to build a home for their family just north of Durant, at Sandstone Place.
“At the first house, we enjoyed building it,” Darrell said.
“Everybody went on about it so much, we had several people in a row say we really ought to do that (for a living),” Angela said, finishing his thought.
Speaking on the choice to name the business Stonehenge Homes, Angela said, “We chose the name because we are all about making sure the foundation is right, and everything is structurally sound. It is a solid name, it is built to last.”
For the past six months, the Mayos have received assistance and guidance from the Choctaw Nation’s Preferred Supplier Program and Business Development.
The Preferred Supplier Program, led by Boyd Miller, works to bring business owners like the Mayos in contact with anyone needing their services. Business Development works to help them grow their business the best way possible.
Stella tells the story of the Trail of Tears at an Oklahoma City University pow wow.
Spotlight on Elders with Stella Long
By Ronni Pierce
Oklahoma City, Okla. - Let’s start with her Choctaw name, Fichik. The word for “star” in the Choctaw language. Appropriate, since Stella Long emodies all the characteristics of a star: a celestial body that generates light and other radiant energy.
A long time storyteller, Stella carries on the tradition of Native storytelling, creating a web of stories connecting our present to our past and introducing the stories of our ancestors to our children.
She was born in the Choctaw Nation in eastern Oklahoma near a small community called Kanema.
“They called it Kanema but in Choctaw it’s Kanima, which means somewhere in Choctaw,” she said. “So I had a lot of fun with that word when I was a little girl. People would ask me where I was born and I would answer ‘Somewhere,’ of course.”
She attended grade school for a short time in Kanema. Then her family moved to Chilocco Indian School, an agricultural school for Native Americans in Newkirk. It closed permanently in 1980.
“When my father was living we went to Chilocco. We were living at Chilocco Indian School because my father and my mother had met and married there.
“After that, we moved back near Stigler and there was a lot of hardship there. We lived off the land and my brothers chopped wood to sell.”
After her father died when she was 10, she was separated from her brothers and sent to Goodland Indian Orphanage, southeast of Hugo. She didn’t see them again for a very long time.
Her life was lived at the orphanage from 7th grade until she was a senior in high school. But she did get to go home every year for Christmas.
“My mother later married and had three children, one died and two are still living.”
Before her father died and her world was turned upside down, she would wander the woods around her home. And that’s where she learned she had an innate connection to nature and to the animals that lived around her. She said she came to realize that the spirits of our ancestors speak to us through the animals.
“I loved going up into the mountains, up into the rocks and I would see many birds, many types of birds. I saw flying squirrels jumping through the trees. I met a wolf there one time. He was up on the ridge looking back at me, and he walked forward for a little while still looking at me with piercing eyes. And because I respected animals I got down on my knees.
“This was a great king wolf that we Indian people respected. And I talked to the animal and he slowly went up the hill. He turned back around to look at me but I didn’t follow him. And I thought to myself, ‘He probably thought that little girl has a lot to learn.’”
Even with all the other animals she’s encountered, she still thinks of the wolf as her spirit animal.
“Three medicine men have told me I was part of a wolf clan after I told them I did not know what clan I belonged to,” she says.
“Among the Choctaws, there are not many animal clans that are heard of. You see, the Choctaws became what you might call civilized long before the other tribes did because the Choctaws wanted the education the white people seemed to be getting.”
Stella thinks that may be when we started losing our connection to nature.
In order to acclimate to the white man’s way of thinking “we had to change a lot of things, a lot of the ways we behaved when we lived off the land.”
“In fact,” she remembers, “I read in history books the first clothing we ever had was all leather, deer leather. And it had only one strap down toward the waistline with one breast showing. With leathers hanging down as a skirt.”
She still goes to Indian doctors, as well, claiming she’s learned quite a bit from them.
“I’ve been to a Cherokee medicine man. There are a number of John Ross family members who are in medicine. And he was a part of that family. He lives in Vian near a stomp ground, by the Dwight Mission in a log cabin.”
During one of her visits she said, “He placed me on a cot but he did not touch me. Soon I felt a warmth moving over my leg even though nothing was touching me.
‘I’m going to baptize you in the old way, he said. This is a special water.’ So, she explained, he dipped water from a little washpan then he stood behind her and trickled the water over her head.
“Even though there was a cold wind outside,” she said “all I felt was a comfortable warmth.”
She also visited an elderly Kiowa medicine man who helped her with a vision.
“There was a hurricane that had moved through the east. So I was worried about my children who I had not heard from.”
According to Stella, “He called out to the ancestors. It was dark in the cabin. He started playing the flute and singing in his language. Suddenly a bright light, red bright lights, then balls of red light started flying around him.”
Then she said he announced the presence of the ancestors.
“I looked around, smiled, and welcomed them,” she said. The medicine man told her the eagle that had accompanied the ancestors told them her children were safe. Then she said she felt peace because she knew they were OK.
Stella continues to represent the Nation in the most favorable light. She’ll be telling her stories of animals and ancestors during Choctaw Days at the Smithsonian in Washington, D.C. October 2 and 3.