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Conversations with Remarkable Native Americans

Joelle Rostkowski, Deborah L. Madsen

Publication Year: 2012

Entertaining and enlightening interviews with some of today's most important Native Americans. In these lively and informative interviews noted ethnohistorian and international consultant Dr. Joëlle Rostkowski brings to light major developments in the Native American experience over the last thirty years. Overcoming hardships they have experienced as the “forgotten” minority, often torn between two cultures, these prominent native writers, artists, journalists and activists, lawyers, and museum administrators each have made remarkable contributions towards the transformation of old stereotypes, the fight against discrimination, and the sharing of their heritage with mainstream society. Theirs is a story not so much of success but of resilience, of survivance, with each interview subject having marked their time and eventually becoming the change they wanted in the world. The conversations in this volume reveal that the assertion of ethnic identity does not lead to bitterness and isolation, but rather an enthusiasm and drive toward greater visibility and recognition that at the same time aims at a greater understanding between different cultures. Conversations with Remarkable Native Americans rewards the reader with a deeper understanding of the Native American Renaissance.

Published by: State University of New York Press


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pp. c-ii

Title Page, Copyright Page

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pp. iii-vi


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pp. vii-viii


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pp. ix-x

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PREFACE: Tragic wisdom and survivance

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pp. xi-xviii

The guiding principle of the Native Traces book series is the concept of survivance, developed by Gerald Vizenor and exemplified by Joëlle Rostkowski’s conversations with a series of extraordinary Native Americans. Survivance is not a static object or method but a dynamic condition of historical and cultural survival and also of political resistance: an epistemology, an ontology, and an axiology. Survivance is the continual assertion of nonterritorial Native sovereignty, which the interviewees in this...

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INTRODUCTION: From forgotten Americans to Indigenous rights

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pp. xix-xxxvi

This collection of sixteen conversations illustrates some of the major developments that have marked Native American life during the last thirty years. Agents of change, actors of history, the persons interviewed in this volume have—in one way or another— witnessed major social upheavals. Most of them have, directly and indirectly, been instrumental in cultural revitalization and achieved important goals in the literary, artistic, legal, or political fields. They have engaged in individual and collective...

PROLOGUE: Conversation with Gerald Vizenor

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pp. xxxvii-lii

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1. N. Scott Momaday, poet, novelist, painter,an d UNESCO Artist for Peace

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pp. 1-8

N. Scott Momaday (Kiowa/Cherokee) likes to describe himself as a storyteller. As Charles L. Woodard has noted in Ancestral Voice, N. Scott Momaday’s voice is “naturally, conversationally, the voice of his writings.”1 Conversations with him have a “literate resonance.” Over the years our conversations have occurred in various places: Jemez, the family house, where his mother Natachee spent the last years of her life and where he felt in tune with the most minute nuances of the environment, but...

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2. Suzan Harjo, policy advocate, journalist, essayist, and poet

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pp. 9-16

Suzan Harjo (Muscogee/Cheyenne) is an extraordinary woman. Beautiful, strong. She is a warrior who has won many battles and is still leading many fights for religious freedom, peace, and sacred natural places. She is a poet, writer, curator, lecturer, and policy advocate, who has helped Native nations recover more than one million acres of land. Suzan has developed key federal Indian laws since the late 1960s, and has been instrumental in national policy advances concerning the protection of Native American...

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3. Richard West, lawyer and founding director of the National Museum of the American Indian

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pp. 17-22

The first director of the National Museum of the American Indian (NMAI), Richard West (Southern Cheyenne) has forged new concepts and achieved many goals that seemed totally unrealistic to most non-Indians and many Indians before the opening of the NMAI. His education in an artistic family and his legal training were combined to lead the way toward understanding and reconciliation in the field of Native art and Native heritage....

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4. Emil Her Many Horses, curator, National Museum of the American Indian

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pp. 23-28

Emil Her Many Horses (Oglala Lakota) is a member of the Oglala Lakota tribe and an accomplished beadwork artist, winner of the 2001 Best of Show category for his tribute to the Lakota Sioux Vietnam Veterans at the Northern Plains Tribal Arts Show. He is a curator of many talents, who has studied theology and is very interested in philosophy....

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5. Sven Haakanson, director of the Alutiiq Museum, Kodiak, Alaska

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pp. 29-36

Sven Haakanson (Sugpiaq) is executive director of the Alutiiq Museum of Kodiak, Alaska. He is also a skilled carver and talented photographer. A Native Alaskan with training in archeology and anthropology, he has been instrumental in the cultural revival of his community. Shortly after earning his PhD from Harvard University, he accepted the position of director in the new community museum.1...

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6. Veronica Tiller, historian, consultant, and writer

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pp. 37-42

Veronica Tiller (Apache Jicarilla), who was a rodeo champion in her childhood, is a strong and forceful woman, whose sensitivity remains well hidden until she has established a relationship based upon mutual trust. Her research and work as a historian has always been geared toward practical aims. She enjoys doing research to bring about concrete change. Veronica is a traditional woman, who speaks her own language and who is respectful of her tribal rituals and values. She is also a modern...

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7. Erma Vizenor, tribal chair,White Earth Reservation, Minnesota

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pp. 43-50

Erma Vizenor (Anishinaabe [Chippewa]) is a soft-spoken but very determined person. She is the first woman to lead the White Earth Anishinaabe Nation, the largest tribe in Minnesota.
Elected in 2004, Erma heralded in a new era of leadership that promoted fairness, transparency, and stability in tribal government. She has always taken risks to fight for justice and reform. In 1991 Erma took a stand against corruption and was...

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8. Louisita Warren, elder of Santa Clara Pueblo, New Mexico

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pp. 51-56

Louisita Warren, born in 1910, was a fine lady whose precious and precise memory encompassed almost a century. This interview took place in Santa Fe in 1987, where she was living with her son Dave and his family.1 During that memorable conversation, she enjoyed evoking her childhood, spent in the pueblo of Santa Clara. She put the emphasis on the spirit of independence and loyalty that characterized her as a young girl and kept inspiring her during her whole life....

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9. Tony Abeyta, painter and sculptor

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pp. 57-62

Tony Abeyta (Navajo) is a gifted artist whose serenity and self-confidence are remarkable. There is something of the Navajo quest for harmony, wholeness (hozho), in his approach to life. Modesty and ambition are reconciled in the way he likes to present himself. And he asserts his Navajo identity as strongly as his desire to belong to the global art scene....

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10. David Bradley, painter and sculptor

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pp. 63-70

David Bradley is an Anishinaabe (Chippewa) artist, born in Minnesota, who has spent most of his life in New Mexico. He is a sensitive and rather somber man, a master of political satire, whose work is filled with madcap historical and pop culture references.
Bradley defines his sense of humor as specifically Indian, closely linked to his Anishinaabe background and the traditional trickster stories still very much alive in his community. Throughout his career as an artist—both painter and sculptor—he...

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11. Darren Vigil Gray, painter and musician

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pp. 71-76

Darren Vigil Gray (Jicarilla Apache) is a free spirit. He is an intense and inspired artist who refuses to accept conventions and compromise. He is both faithful to his Apache roots and determined to achieve his goals as an international artist and reach out to an international audience.
He has been befriended by famous pop stars such as the Beatles. Yet he doesn’t hesitate to spend hours with his close circle of friends, to play music, to spend time...

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12. Jill Momaday, actress, model, and former chief of protocol, state of New Mexico

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pp. 77-80

Jill Momaday (Kiowa/Cherokee), actress and model, was chief of protocol of the Department of Cultural Affairs in the team of Bill Richardson, governor of the state of New Mexico until the end of 2010. In that capacity, she became the face of New Mexico in many elegant forums and artistic venues. Her slim figure and delicate features have become a symbol of Native beauty and the diversity of the Southwest....

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13. Rulan Tangen, dancer and choreographer

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pp. 81-84

Rulan Tangen is a gracious and talented dancer and choreographer who defines herself as a Métis and a nomad. Her creative work is imbued with a strong sense of Native identity, although she was born and brought up in an urban setting. Her choreography is strongly influenced by her Indigenous identity.
In her early twenties she was awarded several championships in traditional powwow dances. But her career started before that as a professional ballet and modern...

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14. Robert Tim Coulter, lawyer, founder and director of the Indian Law Resource Center

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pp. 85-92

Robert Tim Coulter (Potawatomi) is an attorney and an enrolled member of the Citizen Potawatomi Nation. He has been instrumental in the development of international law in the field of Indian rights. He was among the first Native lawyers who came to Geneva, Switzerland in the 1970s, to ask for the recognition of Indian Nations and the human rights of Indigenous peoples by the United Nations. A number of Indigenous delegations were then following in the footsteps of Deskaheh,...

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15. Kenneth Deer, journalist, educator,and UN Indigenous representative

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pp. 93-100

Kenneth Deer (Mohawk) is a charming and charismatic man, a member of the Bear Clan from the Kahnawake Mohawk community (Quebec), located just across the St. Lawrence River from Montreal.
Kenneth Deer’s Mohawk name is Atsenhaienton, which means: “The fire still burns,” and it fits him well. He has proven his passionate commitment as a political activist at the local and national level and on the international scene....

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16. United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples

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pp. 101-112

The General Assembly,
Guided by the purposes and principles of the Charter of the United Nations, and good faith in the fulfilment of the obligations assumed by States in accordance with the Charter,
Affirming that indigenous peoples are equal to all other peoples, while recognizing the right of all peoples to be different, to consider themselves different, and to...

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EPILOGUE: In memory of Deskaheh

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pp. 113-114

Deskaheh, a Cayuga chief and member of the Sour Springs Longhouse, spokesman of the Six Nations of the Grand River Land, near Brantford, Ontario, brought the cause of Iroquois sovereignty to the League of Nations, in Geneva, in 1923.1 He was known for his negotiating ability and his oratorical skills and, in Geneva, he inspired much sympathy and respect as a patient and unflappable spokesman....


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pp. 115-120

Selected Bibliography

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pp. 121-132

Index of People

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pp. 133-136

General Index

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pp. 137-148

Back Cover

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p. bc-bc

E-ISBN-13: 9781438441764
E-ISBN-10: 1438441762
Print-ISBN-13: 9781438441757
Print-ISBN-10: 1438441754

Page Count: 224
Illustrations: 17 b/w photos
Publication Year: 2012

Research Areas


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Subject Headings

  • Indians of North America -- Biography.
  • Indians of North America -- Civil rights.
  • Indians of North America -- Government relations.
  • Indians of North America -- Ethnic identity.
  • Indians of North America -- Intellectual life.
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