- Clyde Warrior: Tradition, Community, and Red Power by Paul R. McKenzie-Jones
Ponca activist Clyde Merton Warrior (1939–68) served a pivotal role in the emergence of the Native youth movement of the 1960s. Although his life and his life’s work have been discussed in a variety of different contexts by many scholars, Paul McKenzie-Jones offers readers the first book-length exploration of this fascinating and important figure. In so doing, McKenzie-Jones provides fresh insights rooted in heretofore underutilized archival sources and a good number of oral interviews.
Clyde Warrior features seven more or less chronologically arranged chapters bookended by a prologue and an epilogue. The prologue and first chapter seek to contextualize Clyde Warrior’s activism in the history of the Ponca people. During the late nineteenth century, the Poncas were forcibly removed from their ancestral homeland in present-day Nebraska to what is now north- central Oklahoma. They would find no peace there. Even as the Poncas reconstructed a sense of place and community, they confronted pressures to allot their lands and, along with that allotment, efforts to exploit their resources, particularly oil. McKenzie-Jones compellingly shows that although their worlds were being turned upside down, the Poncas weathered the storm by holding fast to their traditions and sense of community. Warrior, in turn, was raised by his maternal grandparents in a home where the Ponca language was spoken, Ponca songs were sung, Ponca stories were told, and Ponca values of kinship and generosity were observed. Especially instructive in this portion of the work is the author’s use of Ponca language to discuss Ponca ideas, ceremonies, and societies. [End Page 93]
In the middle chapters of the biography, McKenzie-Jones shows how Warrior drew upon the certainty of self afforded by his upbringing to face the challenges of living in close proximity to Ponca City, a metropolis founded on the exploitation of Ponca resources. Even as Warrior identified his world as “that of my tribe,” he found a way to navigate his way through the opportunities and challenges associated with the public school system. All the while, Warrior immersed himself in the Ponca knowledge system, rituals and ceremonies, and everyday ways of life. By his early teens, Warrior had earned recognition as a world champion fancy dancer, as well as an accomplished singer who played an important role in revitalizing the Poncas’ Hethuska Society.
The author engagingly follows Warrior as he attended Cameron Junior College, then transferred first to the University of Oklahoma and then to Northeastern State Teachers College between the late 1950s and mid-1960s. The story here is Warrior’s coming of age as both an intellectual and an activist. McKenzie-Jones finds Warrior’s involvement in Cameron’s Ittanaha Club, the Southwest Regional Indian Youth Council, and the American Indian Chicago Conference to be particularly instrumental. Through these experiences, Warrior matured intellectually, gained access to a formalized means of making sense of personal experiences, and became connected to a network of like-minded young people who were going through very similar life events. This, in turn, led to the founding of the National Indian Youth Council (niyc) in Gallup, New Mexico, in August 1961.
McKenzie-Jones’s later chapters focus on Warrior’s activism, much of which was channeled through his service to the niyc, first as a founder and member of the board of directors and then, during the last years of his life, as its president. Through examinations of Warrior’s involvement in the Pacific Northwest fish-ins, consciousness-raising speaking tours, and community-centered activism revolving around education among the Cherokees in northeastern Oklahoma and among his own Ponca people, McKenzie-Jones argues that Warrior came to articulate a vision of Red Power predicated on the concepts of community, tradition, and culture.
Even as Warrior became more immersed in direct action and local community engagement in the Cherokee Nation and in White Eagle, he confronted still other challenges, McKenzie-Jones explains. The greatest of these was alcoholism. The adverse health...