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Sandra Hale Schulman
Special to ICT

The latest: Cherokee Freedman get a close look in a new exhibit, a graphic novel tells the story of the Chilocco boarding school, and a Lumbee/Tuscarora singer makes musical waves.

ART/HISTORY: Freedmen exhibit examines Cherokee history

The fight for tribal citizenship rights of the Cherokee Freedmen is examined in an exhibit at the Cherokee National History Museum entitled “We Are Cherokee: Cherokee Freedmen and the Right to Citizenship.”

Told through stories, histories, images and documents, there are nine original artworks by Cherokee Nation artists that were created specifically for this exhibit, along with rare baskets by the late Rodslen Brown, a Cherokee Nation citizen of Freedmen descent.


“The enslavement of other human beings and the subsequent denial to them and their descendants of their basic rights for over a century is a stain on the Cherokee Nation. It is a stain that must be lifted,” Cherokee Nation Principal Chief Chuck Hoskin Jr. said in a statement.

“We now have more than 11,800 citizens of Freedmen descent enrolled in Cherokee Nation, but our work is just beginning. We remain committed to reconciliation and hope that through this exhibit, we’re able to amplify the voices, stories, and futures of Cherokee Freedmen."

The exhibit is part of the Cherokee Freedmen Art and History Project initiative, established by Hoskin, that seeks materials and stories to broaden the Cherokee Nation’s understanding of the Cherokee Freedmen experience.

The earliest known participation of slavery is from the 18th century, but it continues throughout the following decades, with the adoption of plantation-style slavery among Cherokees; Indian removal to the west; and the American Civil War. It also explains how the pivotal Treaty of 1866 freed slaves in Cherokee Nation and made them Cherokee Nation citizens.

The exhibit shows the steps taken by the tribe to strip Freedmen and their descendants of tribal citizenship, and examines the 2017 U.S. federal court ruling that upheld the Treaty of 1866 and reaffirmed Cherokee Freedmen as citizens of the Cherokee Nation.

A reception was held Sept. 3 to commemorate the exhibit opening at the Cherokee National History Museum. Among those attending were Hoskin, Deputy Chief Bryan Warner, Freedmen advocate Marilyn Vann and Freedmen community advisor Melissa Payne.

The show runs through April 29, 2023. It is free and open to the public. 

BOOKS: Graphic novel illustrates Chilocco history

A new graphic novel on the Chilocco boarding school examines the school’s history across generations as part of a larger oral history project by Oklahoma State University.

A new graphic novel, "Chilocco Indian School: A Generational Story," tells the story of the agricultural boarding school in Oklahoma through the eyes of a grandmother and aunty. It is written by Julie Pearson Little Thunder, of Creek descent, with graphic design by Johnnie Diacon, Muscogee (Creek), and Jerry Bennett. (Illustration courtesy of Oklahoma State University Library)

The novel, "Chilocco Indian School: A Generational Story," by Julie Pearson Little Thunder, includes interviews with school alumni, photos, a documentary and educator resources.

It is now available for free download from the website of OSU’s Chilocco History Project.

Pearson Little Thunder, who is of Creek descent, is a Tulsa writer and playwright and a visiting assistant professor at OSU’s Oral History Research Program. The novel also includes art and

graphic direction from Johnnie Diacon, a citizen of the Muscogee (Creek) Nation, and illustrator Jerry Bennett.

The Chilocco Indian Agricultural School, which operated near Ponca City, Oklahoma for almost 100 years, from 1884-1980, was the largest intertribal Native boarding school in the U.S. It provided agricultural and vocational education.

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The Chilocco History Project is a two-year collaboration between the Chilocco National Alumni Association and the oral history program at the Oklahoma State University Library.

"Part of the project goal is to make these primary sources about this school and the history of Indian education in the U.S. more accessible in the classroom," said Sarah Milligan, head of the Oklahoma Oral History Research Program. "For us, the goal was to create an easy gateway into this complicated part of Oklahoma history so it would be a little bit easier to bring into a classroom."

The novel follows Jaya Thomas, a Native teen who travels with her grandmother and aunt to a family reunion where she learns about Chilocco and its history through the stories her aunt and grandmother share.

The present day is illustrated in color while flashbacks are in sepia.

"Having relatives who had attended the various boarding schools in Indian Country and having been a student in a couple myself, I am humbled and honored to have the opportunity to use my artistic gift to help relate these stories," Diacon said in a statement. "This seems especially important in light of recent developments in the news concerning the often untold and unknown dark history of these schools."

The grandmother and aunt share stories that are sometimes harsh, but they also illustrate how the school taught students about auto mechanics and farming, and how the onsite National Guard Center allowed them to make money while still at school.

"I hope that our Native people, Chilocco alumni and non-Native readers of the graphic novel will appreciate, enjoy and learn from the small contribution that the graphic novel, hopefully, will make in bringing the larger history of boarding schools in Indian Country to a greater audience," Diacon said. "Perhaps it will be the seed that a mighty oak grows from and those who read it will be moved to learn more."

MUSIC: Performer Charly Lowry back in action

Musical powerhouse Charly Lowry, Lumbee/Tuscarora from North Carolina, made some beautiful noise at Indian Market, appearing at the Museum of Indian Arts and Culture, the Southwestern Association for Indian Art gala and on the main stage of the Plaza in Santa Fe, New Mexico.

An artist/activist, she sings bluesy folk and raises awareness about societal issues and community challenges. She has established a career as a professional singer-songwriter who plays acoustic/electric guitar and hand drum.

Musical powerhouse Charly Lowry, Lumbee/Tuscarora from North Carolina, performed at the opening of photographer Cara Romero's gallery during the Santa Fe Indian Market events in August 2022. (Photo by Sandra Hale Schulman)

She had a strong run on TV’s “American Idol,” and performs with her band, Dark Water Rising, with member Aaron Locklear, whom she met after the Idol run.

“Sometimes I’ll meet audience members after a show and they’ll say, ‘I thought there’d be flutes or more Native drums or something’,” Lowry said in an interview with Walter Magazine. “It’s been a journey to break down stereotypes and educate people, especially because I don’t look like what non-Natives think a Native looks like. But I grew up listening to everything.”

In Santa Fe, she showed up to perform at fine arts photographer Cara Romero’s gallery opening wearing a black leather jacket and studded leather boots while playing first an electric guitar then a hand drum.

She can be seen in the film, “Rumble: The Indians Who Rocked the World,” with supergroup Ulali. She said it was a thrill that she got to work with her mentor and Ulali member Pura Fé, Tuscarora/Taino.

Lowry continues to perform despite a series of health problems. She has had two kidney transplants, the most recent in 2020. During the years she was on dialysis, she moved back to be caregiver to her ailing mother, who died from cancer in 2017.

Her performance schedule is picking up, however, after the pandemic.

“This year, I plan to hone in on a bunch of different genres with a series of records,” she said. “I’ll do one called “Charly Goes Country,” then “Charly Goes Soul,” “Charly Goes Gospel,” or “Charly Goes Indigenous.” I’ll do my best because this is my life and music is my baby.” 

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