Thursday, November 26, 2015

Te Ata

Unfortunately the Chickasaw Press web site is blocked again but you can still get books by calling them at 580-436-7282. Wenonah’s Story is still on sale for $20, and you can also buy the other newly published books: Chokma-si, the book of photos from around the Chickasaw Nation by Branden Hart and Stanley Nelson; the reprint of the first Chickasaw Dictionary by Vinnie May and Jesse Humes, first published in 1973, with comments on pronunciation by linguist Josh Hinson; a new cook book, Ilittibaaimpa’, Let’s Eat Together, by Vicki Penner and Joann Ellis, a reprint of Richard Green’s biography of the Chickasaw performing artist and preserver of Indian culture, Te Ata.

Now that my book has been published,  I've had a little more time to read, so I picked up the new edition of Te Ata. I have long been a fan of the author, Richard Green, who became our tribal historian while my mother was on the Chickasaw Historical Society Board back in the ‘80’s. Since then he has done a lot of research, both reviewing documents and doing interviews with tribal elders, which I think is so important.

Frankly, I didn’t pay much attention to the first edition of Te Ata. I knew was that she was a performer, and I didn't bother to read the book, thinking she must have just taken advantage of her Chickasaw heritage to draw a crowd, but she was so much more. First of all, she did really know about her heritage. She was related to the Colberts, and also to Douglas Johnson, the last Chickasaw governor before statehood. Her father spoke Chickasaw just like my grandfather, and she went to the Chickasaw boarding school, Bloomfield, like my mother.     

A shy but talented actress, Te Ata began presenting dramatizations of Chickasaw legends that she had been told as a child while attending OCW, Oklahoma College for Women. From her school performances, she attracted the attention of the Chatauqua Institute, an organization supported by philanthropists to spread culture to small towns, and she performed on their circuit for several summers. My mother describes the Chatauqua performances in Wenonah’s Story.

Anyway, Te Ata, continued to perform to an advanced age. She was a student of Native American culture, visiting tribes across the country, even into South America, learning the traditions, legends, dances and songs of many tribes, and presenting them to audiences around the world.

We are greatly indebted to Te Ata for being an ambassador for our people, promoting a greater understanding and appreciation for our culture and heritage.

By the way. Don’t think I’ve ruined the book for you. Mr. Green has done a masterly job researching the details of Te Ata’s life. The book is full of stories and it’s only by reading it in its entirety, that you can get an appreciation for Te Ata’s dedication and spirit. Also even if you already know about Te Ata, this latest edition of her biography has a large section of pictures not included in the first edition

Friday, November 13, 2015

Chickasaw Festival

Old Chickasaw Capitol in Tishomingo

I had never been to the annual Chickasaw Festival before this year. I was either away from the state, or too busy with my work, but this year I was invited to participate in a book signing there on the release of the book, Wenonah’s Story, that I wrote with my mother.

When I was a child there was no festival. We went to the annual Indian Exposition in Anadarko instead. It’s only been in later years, after the Native American tribes won their sovereignty, the right to organize their own governments, and the right to provide for their own people, that the Chickasaw Festival has come about.

My mother Wenonah lived to see it, and she and my father used to be regulars at the annual meeting and festival. Being there myself was a moving experience, and made me proud of our tribe, and what we’ve accomplished. I say that as if I had something to do with it, but that’s what tradition and heritage can do for you. It can make you feel part of something bigger than yourself.

The celebration was held September 25 through October 3 with events held all over the nation, from Ada, the current site of the Chickasaw government, to “Tish,” or Tishomingo where the old capitol is located, to the Culture Center in Sulphur, to the old Chickasaw community of Kullihoma, to Emet, the home of Douglas Johnston, the last Chickasaw governor before statehood. There were stickball games, a 5-K run, tours of the many Chickasaw facilities around the state, storytelling, craft demonstrations, an art show, a rodeo, cooking classes, the annual princess pageant.

My daughter now has both Chickasaw cook books, and she is an expert in cooking pashofa and corn bread.

Thursday night there was a ceremony recognizing the achievements of outstanding citizens, and the release of the new books published by the Chickasaw Press, the only native American press in the country.

Saturday began with a speech by Governor Anaotubby on the state of the nation. The list of programs and accomplishments was long but the governor has an easy going, engaging way of speaking that kept it from being boring. After the governor’s speech there was a parade – my cousin Homer, as one of the new Hall of Fame inductees, got to ride in it, and then an art show, food, stick ball, book signings, and other activities too numerous to mention.

It’s really awe inspiring what the nation has become: the health programs, the educational programs, the projects to discover and preserve our history, from the archives in Sulphur to archeological projects in Mississippi. Classes to learn to grow traditional plants, cook traditional dishes, to make baskets, stick ball sticks, arrows, to learn Chickasaw legends and tradition, and to even speak our own language. The legal struggle to obtain compensation from the US government for the debts owed the tribe from the time of the removal and statehood is continuing. The tribe is a billion dollar business now, and employs 14,000 people in the state of Oklahoma.

I’m not very well versed on the many government projects and programs, but I know they benefit all of us. My cousin stayed in the nation’s retirement center in his last year, and died in the old Carl Albert hospital. Another cousin has gotten hearing aides and glasses through the tribe, and my grandchildren have received excellent medical care at the new Chickasaw hospital in Ada, and scholarships for college. One of my cousins is able to get meals from the local Chickasaw community center, and the tribe is even going to pay to pave the driveway out to her house.

Chickasaw social services sent a visiting nurse out to see my mother and provided her with some of her medicines during her last years, and some of her friends in Ada even cooked her some pashofa when she became ill for the last time.

You ought to go to the festival next year. It will make you feel proud

Monday, November 2, 2015

Don's "Diaper Trouble"

Wesley Hospital, Wichita, Kansas

Since my dad worked for Boeing aircraft, which was considered essential to the war effort, he managed to avoid the draft during WWII, but two of his brothers served in the Pacific Theater, and they carried on a steady correspondence with him throughout the war. Don’s youngest brother, J.E., was in the navy, but he didn’t have to go overseas.

Letters from the front were all read by a military censor, so Boyd and Everett couldn’t say anything about what they actually going through, so they chatted about superficial things, and commented about the things Don told them in his letters.

The following is one of the letters Don got from his younger brother Everett, who had survived the attack on Pearl Harbor (see post of September 20, 2015). The letter was written in October of 1942, from the Pacific, where he would soon be embroiled in the Battle of Guadalcanal – but more about that later.

Oct 21, 1942, USS San Francisco. To Don Gunning 3112 E 3rd, Wichita
Dear Don, Your letters have been coming with every mail. You won’t have anything new to tell Jimmy’s Mother from this letter. Your letters are always full of good news tho. Your diaper trouble sounds critical. My girlfriends have all decided out of sight out of mind. They never write. It is comforting to know someone is concerned with my welfare, sometimes I am disturbed about my outcome also. Tell everyone hello.
Your Bud, Everett.

In his comment about “diaper trouble,” Everett was teasing Don about a rectal fistula he developed about the time I was born. A rectal fistula is basically an abscess of the buttocks that drains pus through a hole in the rectum, leaking onto your underwear, hence the diaper reference. My dad would kill me if he knew I was telling this story. Maybe he’s looking down on me right now, saying, “wait ‘til I get my hands on him.”

Anyway, in addition to the nuisance, it must have hurt pretty bad, and it might have caused a fever too. My parents always attributed the fistula to my dad’s having to sit out on the hospital steps waiting to get in to see Wenonah after I was born, but I doubt if that would have caused it.

After Wenonah brought me home from the hospital and settled into a routine, Don went to the doctor to see about his fistula, and was referred to a proctologist, a doctor who specializes in that sort of thing.

The proctologist told Don he would need to open the fistula, and he admitted him to a hospital for the surgery, probably Wesley Hospital, where I was born. After the procedure, he kept him there for several days, to observe the wound, and to have the nurses change the dressings.

Don’s roommate in the hospital was a professional roofer who had been hospitalized for a back injury. Apparently he had backed up to admire his work and accidentally stepped off the roof. Don enjoyed listening to the roofer’s stories. He had had a lot of falls, and seemed to consider them just part of the job. The roofer had a large family, all involved in the roofing business, and in the evenings they would all gather around his bed, and laugh and talk about their experiences. Don entertained the family for years with stories about the roofers.

Don had only one problem with his roommate. On the first evening after he was admitted, his family brought him a bowl of grapes that was infested with gnats. Don spent the rest of his hospital stay swatting gnats.

When Don came home, the doctor instructed Wenonah on how to treat the wound. Since a fistula is an infection, the wound can’t be closed, so it was left open, and Wenonah was to apply a sulfonamide paste every day. Preparing the paste was a complicated process involving heating the sulfonamide powder to liquefy it. The result was a caustic mixture that caused Don to “rise up off the bed in pain” according to my mother, whenever she applied it.

The other story my dad told about his experience was going in to see his doctor for follow up visits. Apparently the doctor wasn’t a people person, and couldn’t recognize his patients when he met them, so when would enter an examining room, his nurse would prompt him by saying something like, “Dr. Brown, this is Mr. Gunning.”

Well, one day when my dad went in for his visit, the nurse forgot to make the introduction. Unfazed by the omission, the doctor went right to work, asking Don to pull down his pants and to bend over. When the doctor looked at my dad’s butt – he swore this is true – he said, “Oh, Mr. Gunning.”