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  • Blessing and Welcome
  • Wallace Coffey (bio)

I want to welcome you and give you just a little overview of why we're here. I am the chairman of the Comanche Tribe. I am in my third term as chair. My folks said that it was going to be that way. Not because it was something that I wanted to do but because of something that was a responsibility and handed down to me. I'm a descendant of Ten Bears. Some of you may have seen the movie Dances with Wolves. Ten Bears was that central character. He was my great-great-grandfather. He also was in the movie The Outlaw Josey Wales. He established for us a position of responsibility to be handed down so that we might carry this responsibility into our future generations for our children yet to come.

I used to characterize my behavior a long time ago as having historical trauma. Some of our Indian people are going through that. Many times in this modern world there is a lot of anger, a lot of rage, sometimes people take it out on themselves, sometimes on others. Many of our young people, as Lenny Foster will tell you, are incarcerated because they don't understand the spiritual path that has been handed down to us from our relatives, our ancestors from long ago. Well, I'm glad to say it's good to be Indian. How many of you remember where you were in 1978 when the American Indian Religious Freedom Act was passed? How many were not even born then? Our Indian peoples have a memory that lasts for a long, long time. Next month in November will be the fortieth anniversary of the assassination of a president in 1963. That was devastating to me as a young [End Page 137] Indian boy in high school at the time. I remember where I was in 1968 when a man who had a dream was assassinated. I remember where I wasin 1973 during the occupation of Wounded Knee, prior to that thetakeover in Washington, DC, and I can see some other faces here that were there, too. In 1978 I graduated with a master's degree from Harvard University, at the same time that the American Indian Religious Freedom Act was being passed. As my nephew Walter "Bunky" Echo-Hawk will tell you, we grew up in a time of social unrest in the 1960s, when there were a lot of civil rights problems and difficulties (1960s and early 1970s). There were programs that were initiated in the 1970s, like affirmative action and equal opportunity employment, that provided some opportunities for our minority populations across this country. But Indian people didn't request affirmative action or equal opportunities; we requested the American Indian Religious Freedom Act. We wanted to be what we are.

That was a very significant piece of legislation because for the past twenty-five years I have seen some wonderful things out there in Indian Country. I have seen the incorporation of celebration and ceremony in many different tribes all across the United States, including Canada. I was twenty-one years old when I was behind the microphone at a powwow in Bacone College, Muskogee, Oklahoma. Their master of ceremonies didn't show up, and so they said, "Well, get Wallace, he'll do it," and all of a sudden there I was. For the past thirty-six years I have been master of ceremonies at powwows, ceremonies, and events all across theUnited States, and in my travels throughout Indian Country I've hadrelationships with different tribes. I've sat intheir ceremonies; I've participated in their celebrations. I've got grandsons in Onion Lake, Saskatchewan, and they sing Comanche peyote songs, and we sit there and we tie drum. I've got relatives all the way down in Florida, our Seminole Nation, our Mikasuki people. I go into Canada to the Mohawk Nation of Akwesasne, or to Six Nations Ontario, or to the Pechanga reservation in California, and all the Midwestern tribes all across theUnited States; I have seen some wonderful things. I have relatives inHidatsa country in New Town, North Dakota...


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