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Native American Heritage Events at the San Antonio Public Library, November 2013

By Anne Schuette, J.D., M.L.S., Library Assistant, Las Palmas Branch, San Antonio Public Library

(Reprint with permission from American Indian Library Association Newsletter, Vol. 37, No. 1. Available at http://ailanet.org/wp-content/uploads/2014/05/AILA-Newsletter-37.1-Spring-2014.pdf)

The San Antonio Public Library sponsored two events in November 2013: (1) The American Indians in Texas at the Spanish Colonial Missions (AIT-SCM); and (2) The Cherokee Township of San Antonio.  Part of the mission for both is to raise awareness of tribal culture and hopefully illuminate fact from fiction.  We are extremely grateful they introduced themselves to the library community and helped clarify misconceptions about American Indians.  As such, AIT-SCM showed the film A Thousand Roads (Eyre 2005) and led a discussion.  Cherokee members taught traditional bracelet and cornhusk doll making and spoke on history and heritage.  

I.  A Thousand Roads and Discussion with the Coahuiltecan of Texas

Isaac Cardenas, AIT-SCM Program Director (Tap Pilam Coahuiltecan) drummed a call to the spirits for ceremony.  He and Chief Ramon Vasquez yCoahuiltecan Tribal Members Sanchez (Aueteca Pagume Band) told us Chris Eyre (Cheyenne/Arapaho) directed the project for the National Museum of the American Indian grand opening in Washington, D.C.  It is a fictional drama showing the demands of modern life.  For instance, a Wall Street broker reawakens to the Mohawk language and values.  A teen is torn between gang loyalty and ancient Navajo teachings revealing a different path.  When a mother is deployed to Iraq, her daughter joins family in Alaska – seemingly a foreign land until affection, humor, and Iñupiat ways capture her heart. 

During this segment, narrator John Trudell (Santee Sioux) mentions that whaling is not sport.  Instead, a whale selects the hunter and thereby affirms that both “destinies are intertwined” with the supplier of life.  Afterward, we discussed how Iñupiat beliefs contrasted with the idea that man owns dominion over creation, which led to a discussion of the sports mascot controversy.  One man wondered why the “Redskins” football team name is offensive.  He felt baffled since no derogatory meaning was intended.  Why not appreciate the gesture of respect for courage in battle and ferocity, he asked.

The presenters raised several points against such representation.  For one, they suggested we consider the reality that no other group within humanity is portrayed as a mascot, and yet non-Indians do not find that strange (Spindel 2000).  Isaac also held up his copy of Do all Indians live in tipis? within which American Indians offer short but detailed correction to established assumptions (National Museum of the American Indian, Smithsonian Institution 2007).  Our library has since acquired the book.

Additional facts: (1) Europeans liked “wolf peaches,” shipped specimens back home and renamed them “tomatoes”; (2) Coahuiltecans mastered horsemanship from taming Spanish equines; and (3) neither Mr. Cardenas nor Chief Vasquez y Sanchez was Latino.  Rather, the missionaries christened babies born in San Juan Capistrano with Spanish names.

Furthermore, finding resources citing Coahuiltecans in modern San Antonio is challenging.  Therefore, Isaac and Ramon demonstrated the dominant culture’s version of history could be incomplete (Coahuiltecan Indians, 2010).  Indeed, some allege that none remained in Texas by 1850 (Coahuiltecan Tribes, 1999, 11), while others report the extinction of all tribal bands (Coahuiltecans, 1995) .

Conversely, a master’s thesis based on primary sources and personal interviews with tribal members distinctly proves that Coahuiltecans live and thrive in Texas (Logan, 2001).  Likewise, another descendant of the Spanish Colonial Mission Indians counters the majority view (Killian, 2007, n.p.).

Finally, people eagerly shared their genealogies.  One has family on the Tohono O’odham Reservation in Arizona.  Another said it is frustrating to verify their Apache ancestry.  Many said they have no tribal roots.  Nevertheless, Cardenas and Vasquez y Sanchez indicated all humans were indigenous and related at one point somewhere on the globe.  Cardenas closed with a benediction on the wooden flute, but attendees lingered with further questions.

II.  The Real Story: Traditional Cherokee Crafts and Contemporary Culture

Secondly, we welcomed the board of the Cherokee Township of San Antonio (chartered by the Cherokee Nations in Tahlequah, Oklahoma in 2012).  Al Cummings, Roger Mays, Linda Flores and Jamie Edson began with historical facts and cultural edification.  Meanwhile, Cindy Cummings engaged the girls (and won over the reluctant boys) in bracelet and cornhusk doll production. Corn Husk Dolls

First, Al Cummings (Director) revealed that over 700 registered citizens of the Cherokee Nation live in San Antonio.  He relayed a good-humored tale of a great-aunt they called “outlaw” and how his grandfather knew Will Rogers (Cherokee).  Of course he mentioned the legacy of advanced farming, the written alphabet and publishing.  The 1827 Constitution that created a three-branch government is an evolving document and was recently amended (The Cherokee Nation Constitution Convention Commission, 2011).

Although not Cherokee, Cindy Cummings described the matriarchal society.  She quipped that if Al misbehaved she could place his belongings outdoors to formally dissolve the marriage.  That got a laugh.

Roger Mays (Treasurer) explained how other tribes merged with the Eastern and Western Bands and united in Tahlequah.  For instance, he was born on the Pine Ridge Reservation, is Shawnee, enrolled in the Cherokee Nation with ancestors from the Miami Tribe of Oklahoma.

Linda Flores (Public Relations) delivered anecdotes and a photo of her corncob pipe-smoking great-grandmother.  Grandma Gann raised cattle and children (Linda’s father) on allotted land.  Her grandpa drove the school bus and then trekked to his cabin on the hill to recuperate. 

Jamie Edson (Historian/Social Media) showed a PowerPoint presentation, newsletters, the Cherokee Phoenix newspaper, and the Native AmericanMaking Cherokee Necklaces Times PowWow Guide. 

Everyone enjoyed the crafts and interacting with the San Antonio Cherokees and Coahuiltecans.  Consequently, we may not wait for November for a Cherokee language workshop and further conversations with indigenous Texans!

Bibliography

"Coahuiltecan Indians." Handbook of Texas Online. Austin, TX: the Texas State Historical Association, 2010. http://www.tshaonline.org/handbook/online/articles/bmcah.

"Coahuiltecan Tribes." 1999. In Texas Indians, 11: Toucan Valley Publications, Inc.

"The Coahuiltecans." 1995. First Texans: Sixteen tribes of Native people & how they lived. A Thousand Roads. Directed by Chris Eyre. (Los Angeles, CA: Seven Arrows Telenova Productions, 2005), DVD.

Killian, Mickey. "Texas Mission Indians: First Texans." Accessed March 13, 2014, http://texasmissionindians.org/.

Logan, Jennifer Leigh. 2001. "A Tangled Web: The Role of Material and Ideational Definitions of Culture in Evaluating Coahuiltecan Cultural Change." Master of Arts, Texas A&M University. http://anthropology.tamu.edu/papers/Logan-MA2001.pdf.

National Museum of the American Indian, Smithsonian Institution. 2007. Do all Indians live in tipis?: Questions and answers from the National Museum of the American Indian, edited by Sally Barrows. 1st ed. New York: NMAI and HarperCollins.

Spindel, Carol. 2000. Dancing at Halftime: Sports and the Controversy Over American Indian Mascots. New York: New York University Press.

The Cherokee Nation Constitution Convention Commission. 2011. Constitution of the Cherokee Nation. 2011th ed. Tahlequah, Oklahoma: Cherokee.org. http://www.cherokee.org/Portals/0/Documents/2011/4/308011999-2003-CN-CONSTITUTION.pdf

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