I grew up hearing the Cherokee language, as my dad is a first-language speaker. Cherokee was the only language my paternal grandmother chose to speak on a daily basis. She knew English, but hardly ever spoke it. I heard it so often as a child I was able to understand what my grandmother and dad were saying but never learned to speak, read or write. My granny died when I was 11 and that’s when my knowledge of the language died for me. My dad still spoke it to my aunts and uncles, but for a reason I can’t remember, I stopped really listening to understand it. He would try to get me to learn by giving me directives or asking common questions in Cherokee, but I didn’t take the time to sit down and learn.
As an adult, when people ask if I know how to speak, I tell them I was too busy as a kid playing sports and doing other things to learn. I also took Cherokee I and Cherokee II while at Northeastern State University, but none of the teachings resonated with me. Hearing me say that, and now typing it, I’ve come to realize that is a lame excuse.
I’ll be honest and say I really didn’t see the need to learn the language. I didn’t think knowing Cherokee would get me any further in life. Other than speaking to a few people, I would rarely use it, so why learn. I’ve worked for the Cherokee Phoenix for 11 years. We publish Cherokee stories in our monthly paper and when time allows, we have the translators record audio of the stories in order for readers to hear it spoken by scanning a QR code from a smartphone. I’ve not paid as much attention to it as I should. It’s a great way to see and hear the language.
Now that I’m older, I regret not paying attention to the language growing up and taking the time to learn. I think my generation has made a huge contribution to the downfall of the language. But all is not lost. Although it’s more difficult, it’s not too late to learn. I realize how vital the language is to Cherokees as a people. It is more than a way to communicate. It’s embodies our identity and soul of our tradition, history and the Cherokee way of life.
Several years ago, we concluded that gaming should be a portion of our economic portfolio but not all we do. We originally called this line of business “diversified” because we had to find a way to lessen our dependence on gaming.
CNB’s diversified businesses, which include 29 companies outside of the gaming industry, achieved more than $1 billion in federal and commercial contract wins in fiscal year 2017. Since 2010, the companies have increased their revenue and profitability significantly, which means they can provide a larger dividend to Cherokee Nation for critical services and programs, like education, housing and health care.
Federal contracting is a market with great potential. The U.S. government is the largest customer in the world, and we will continue creating expertise and securing contracts to bring dollars home to the Cherokee Nation. The hard work of our team, led by CNB’s President of Diversified Businesses and Cherokee Nation citizen Steven Bilby, has made CNB one of the most successful mid-level government contracting businesses in the world.
We have employees in 49 states and contracts in a variety of industries. Whether it is providing disaster relief services for FEMA, serving our Armed Forces through medical readiness exams or helping develop a cure for deadly diseases like the Zika virus, CNB has a significant footprint around the globe and serves more than 60 federal agencies.
While Mason may not have the skills to determine Lewis’ family history or genealogy, a team of genealogical researchers does have the skills to trace Lewis’ genealogy using public information, a lot of it that Lewis placed in the public forums.
In researching Lewis, genealogical researchers found that this was one of four names used by the same person. His birth name was Larry J. Lewis. His “papered name” now is Larry J. White Feather. Then there is the TFIC, which is a 501(c)3 nonprofit of which he is the founder and board chairman. A Google search for “Mashu White Feather” gave the name Larry White Feather. This gave the name of his parents, Jo Marie and James Orville Lewis. This was verified by the obituary for Jo Marie Lewis, which lists Larry White Feather as one of her sons. It also lists the names of her parents. More verification was given in a post by Doreen Bennett, in which she talks about the loss of their mother and names “Mashu White Feather” and his siblings listed in the obituary.
As “Mashu White Feather,” Larry Lewis claimed he is a Cherokee elder and his mother and her family raised him as a Cherokee traditionalist. But the genealogical research of Jo Marie Johnson Lewis found no connection to the Cherokee people. Her family consists of white people who came to Boone County, Missouri, from Kentucky, Virginia and Europe. Larry Lewis also claimed he is part Osage. Since his mother’s side consisted of all white people, he must be making that claim off his father’s side. But like his mother, his father’s side is also white people who came to Missouri from Kentucky, Virginia, and Europe. His father’s maternal grandmother was born in Osage County, Missouri, from parents who were born in France. So both of these claims are proven false by his family records.
Also, there are pictures of Jo Marie and James Orville in a house in Columbia, Missouri. The house’s address was listed as an address for Larry White Feather and the TFIC. This information is public. This evidence is available to view at the web address below, where it will be archived for public view, as well as in a blog away from Facebook. It is enough information for any genealogist to find Larry Lewis’ ancestors. Researchers worked on this information independently and each found the same results.
In October, I attended the 22nd annual Trail of Tears Conference & Symposium in Pocola, Oklahoma. Along with seeing friends from most of TOTA’s nine chapters, I learned things about our history. Many of the people who attend the conference possess a wealth of information about Cherokee history and the forced removals of our people in 1838-39. The states Alabama, Georgia, North Carolina, Tennessee, Kentucky, Illinois, Missouri, Arkansas and Oklahoma make up TOTA.
At a conference presentation, I learned more about the so-called “Old Settlers,” who were Cherokee people who began settling in Arkansas in 1809. Tahlonteeskee led this group, and he later became the first principal chief of the western Cherokee Nation. These Cherokees settled along the St. Francis, Arkansas and White rivers and established settlements along the Arkansas River in the vicinity of present-day Russellville, Arkansas. In 1817, Western Cherokees signed a treaty with the United States that established a large reservation between the Arkansas and White rivers.
In Arkansas, Cherokee people had settled among the Caddo, Quapaw and Osage tribes. The Osage resented these newcomers settling lands they claimed as theirs and raided Cherokee settlements. The Arkansas Cherokee began planning a retaliatory attack against the Osage in January 1817 and requested aid from their relatives in the east. They also requested help from the Choctaw, Chickasaw, Delaware and other tribes living in the area. The Cherokee knew that Osage men left their villages lightly guarded during the Strawberry Moon or in June to go on a long distance hunt for bison. It was decided to attack at this time.
Led by Chief Spring Frog, approximately 500 Cherokee and their allies met at a place on the Arkansas River where Russellville now stands. They traveled upriver into Indian Territory and went overland to the Osage villages located a few miles north of present-day Claremore, Oklahoma. The invading party killed 38 Osage and took 104 captives. Chief Clermont was present at the time of the attack and was killed during the fighting.
A good government makes life better for its people and for future generations. That is what we are striving for at the CN. In 2017, we reached significant heights and accomplished historic achievements. First, we broke ground on the hospital expansion project at the W.W. Hastings Health Campus in Tahlequah. It will be a historic day for the tribe when we open our Indian Health Service joint venture facility. The 470,000-square-foot facility, which will be the largest Native health care facility in the country, is on target to open in 2019. The four-story facility will feature 180 exam rooms and an ambulatory surgery center. About 350 construction jobs and more than 850 new health jobs will eventually be fulfilled over time.
We also released the results of our latest economic impact study on the Oklahoma economy. The tribe strengthens the state’s economy through investments and jobs. Our fiscal footprint exceeds $2 billion, and we will strive to ensure that continues. Our newest entertainment facility in Grove, the 10th in the Cherokee Nation Businesses gaming portfolio, was opened on Grand Lake, and it created about 175 good jobs in Delaware County.
We filed a lawsuit against opioid distributors and large chain drugstores that have flooded our communities with dangerous pills. Over the past two years these companies have flooded CN with enough prescription opioid painkillers to provide every man, woman and child 153 doses each. In 2017, CN also filed a lawsuit against the federal government on claims the United States mismanaged the tribe’s trust fund. The suit asks the U.S. government to provide an accurate accounting of the Cherokee Trust Fund, which includes property, land, funds and other resources the federal government may have mismanaged over decades.
One of the most pressing things we focused on in the past year is the conservation of our air, land and water. The CN worked with the state to get an emergency order to halt the disposal of radioactive waste near the Arkansas and Illinois rivers, and we vowed to reduce the tribe’s carbon footprint at our complex and all buildings. It is our responsibility to preserve our natural resources by executing policies with long-term sustainability in mind. That’s why I am committed to making CN’s complex more friendly to renewable energy sources. We constructed a solar energy charge station and purchased electric cars to add to our fleet.
Research into his genealogy reveals no connection to any Cherokee ancestry, cultural ties or community.
Despite this, he has a successful career, which relies heavily on Cherokee identity, language and cultural themes, most of which are unfortunately inaccurate in his portrayal. His work is critically acclaimed among the elite in the mainstream art world in New York City, Los Angeles and across Europe. In the early part of his career, Durham shored up his Cherokee facade by being active in the Native American Church and the American Indian Movement, though he would eventually have a falling out with such groups after questions of his identity arose.
The Indian Arts and Crafts Act was passed in 1990, which prohibits artists from promoting their work as being Native made if they are not enrolled in a federally recognized tribe, for this very reason. In 1993, Durham finally admitted he was not an enrolled Cherokee in a letter to Art in America magazine. He wrote, “I am not Cherokee. I am not an American Indian. This is in concurrence with recent U.S. legislation, because I am not enrolled on any reservation or in any American Indian community.” He is not eligible for enrollment with the Cherokee Nation, the United Keetoowah Band of Cherokee Indians or the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians – the only federally recognized Cherokee tribes. With that, it would seem this whole issue should have been resolved, but the art establishment continues promoting him as an artist who represents the Cherokee people.
The exhibition catalog for “At the Center of the World” contains essays by prominent art critics and historians as well as some of Durham’s own writing, including an essay in which he writes, “Oklahoma Cherokees can be mortifyingly stupid.” A large portion of the catalog focuses on the Cherokee themes and connections in his work. So while the curator of the exhibit acknowledges Durham is not an enrolled Cherokee citizen, thereby technically following the regulations of the IACA, the artist is still being cast as “Cherokee” through the critical examination of his work. This is intellectually dishonest. Even after outcry from actual Cherokee artists and scholars, including an open letter in Indian Country Today and articles in such mainstream art outlets like ArtNet, Hyperallergic and Art in America, the art establishment continues to dismiss the concerns of actual Cherokees.
With a dream to educate the blind children of Indian Territory, a dilapidated building and no budget, the International School for The Blind opened. Lura appealed to Congress unsuccessfully for financial support. Finally, in 1900, the Choctaw and Cherokee nations each appropriated funds to support the school. At statehood in 1907, the school was assumed by the State of Oklahoma, becoming The Oklahoma School for the Blind.
Jump forward more than 100 years to 2010. Cherokee Nation citizen, Hunter Kelly of Claremore, was a handsome 17-month-old little boy with piercing blue eyes. His mother was a little concerned with what she thought was a slightly lazy eye. This began a flurry of doctors’ appointments. Eventually, he was diagnosed with retinoblastoma, cancer of the eyes.
Within days, Hunter and his family were on their way to St. Jude’s in Memphis, Tennessee. By this time, he was totally blind in his right eye and the cancer was aggressive in his left eye. Months of chemotherapy, cryotherapy, laser therapy and radiation followed. Finally, a hard decision was made to do what was necessary to save Hunter’s life.
To stop the cancer, his eyes would have to be removed. Hunter turned 2 years old on Nov. 25 and celebrated the last Christmas he would “see” before removing his left eye on Dec. 10 followed by his right on Jan. 31. Finally Hunter was cancer free.
The new plan increases pay and incentives for doctors and advanced providers. The increase includes raising base pay, about a $35,000 increase for physicians in primary care, as well as providing a quarterly incentive based on work quality. Under this plan, every physician and advanced practitioner will see a raise. It will raise the threshold pay to the region’s market rate, which will affect about 120 doctors and advanced level providers who administer care in the tribe’s nine health centers and W.W. Hastings Hospital.
We devised a plan to raise salaries that is responsible and affordable. Our health leadership team, led by Connie Davis and Dr. Charles Grim, along with my Cabinet leaders, studied the issue, listened to our doctors and sought input from the Tribal Council. Collectively, we are all committed to providing the best health care possible to the Cherokee people. We want our citizens to have access to the best quality care, and that starts with our physicians. Building a level of trust and peace of mind for our doctors will only improve health care opportunities for our people in the long term.
To meet the growing demands on our system, we need to recruit and retain the best doctors we can. We recognize that in the competitive environment of rural health care, we had to take immediate steps in order to attract and retain quality doctors.
The CN operates the largest tribal health system in the United States, and our hospital and clinics see more than 1 million patient visits per year, and we are growing rapidly. We are investing $200 million to build a new facility through a joint venture with Indian Health Service. IHS will provide more than $90 million annually for staffing and operations. It will make Hastings the largest tribal health campus in the United States. It will open in 2019, and we will need to fill close to 900 new health care jobs.
While Luke may not have the skills to determine Lewis’ family history or genealogy, he can use other factors about “White Feather” to determine if he is what he claims. But a team of genealogical researchers does have the skills to trace Lewis’ genealogy, using public information about him. A lot of this information was placed in the public forums by Lewis.
In researching “Mashu White Feather,” genealogical researchers found that this was one of four names that were used by the same person. His birth name was Larry J. Lewis. His “papered name” now is Larry J. White Feather. Then there is the TFIC, which is a 501(c)3 nonprofit of which he is the founder and board chair. A Google search for “Mashu White Feather” gave the name “Larry White Feather.” This gave the name of his parents, Jo Marie and James Orville Lewis. This was verified by the obituary for Jo Marie Lewis, which lists Larry White Feather as one of her sons. It also lists the names of her parents. More verification was given in a post by Doreen Bennett where she talks about the loss of their mother and names “Mashu White Feather” and his siblings listed in the obituary.
As “Mashu White Feather,” Lewis has claimed that he is a Cherokee elder and that his mother and her family raised him as a Cherokee traditionalist. But the genealogical research of Jo Marie Johnson Lewis found no connection to the Cherokee people at all. Her family consists of white people who came to Boone County, Missouri, from Kentucky, Virginia and Europe. Lewis also made the claim that he is part Osage. Since his mother’s side consisted of all white people, he must be making that claim for his father’s side. But like his mother, his father’s side is also white people who came to Missouri from Kentucky, Virginia, and Europe. His father’s maternal grandmother was born in Osage County, Missouri, from parents that were born in France. So, both of these claims are proven to be false by the actual records of his family.
Also, there are pictures of Jo Marie and James Orville on the top shelf of a bookcase in the house at 1509 June Lane in Columbia, Missouri. This is the address that was listed as both an address for Larry White Feather and the TFIC. This is all information that is available to anyone that searches for it because it is all public information. All of this evidence will be available to view at the web address below, where it will be archived for public view, as well as in a blog away from Facebook. It is enough information for any genealogical researcher to find the ancestors of Mr. Lewis. A team of researchers worked on this information independently and each found the same results.