By Sallie Cotter Andrews
Thank you, Chief Friend. Good afternoon Ladies and Gentlemen and Children — and good afternoon to our distinguished international guests from the Canadian Consul and the Canadian Museum of Civilization, President Boren, Chiefs and leaders of our people, all Wendat and Seneca-Cayuga people and representatives of other nations, family members, special friends and guests.
It is an honor and privilege to speak to you regarding the stories of the Wyandotte and Seneca-Cayuga people whose personal artifacts and photographs we are going to see in just a little while. When the Wyandotte Nation learned that we were going to have this exhibit, it was strong on my heart that we needed to find the story of each individual whose object we were going to see. I felt that if we knew the person – we could better understand and appreciate the artifact and photograph.
Now, researching and writing stories for 50 artifacts and 28 photographs takes time! So, we assembled a team to get the job done! I tried to match team members with their own family artifact and person, if possible. I then issued a request to the Longhouse Women group and got writers from our women from across the country! And I asked people to help who I knew had or were building good tribal libraries of their own – and I asked those to help who I knew were just good researchers and writers!
I would like to acknowledge and have us thank each of researchers and writers who are here today! Please stand and wave when I call your name:
Barbara Conrad Aston
Patty Burnside Garrison
Judith (Hap) Jolitz
Marty Curtin LeBenne
Earlene Angel Roskob
Richard Zane Smith
Holly Zane and myself.
I don’t think that a single one of us ever dreamed when we started we would learn the most amazing facts – such as: the owner of a wooden bowl was a speech collaborator and advisor to Tecumseh; that we had stories of both Union and Confederate Civil War soldiers; that a Wyandotte baby girl was born in Kansas six weeks before the rest of the nation arrived there; that there was an earthquake that affected our people; that we were involved in legal action over a murder that even went as far as the U.S. Supreme Court; that we had a story of a firing squad; that a 104-year old Wyandotte woman remembered her nation’s history absolutely perfectly and told it in a newspaper article in California where she was living; that a funeral only cost $94.50 in 1925; that there was a marriage supper of chicken and dumplings; that one of our men truly loved loved horse racing and threshing machines just about more than anything. We had a boy who was the best student worker in the school, and a girl who was educated in Cincinnati by the “Father of the American Wine Industry.” Each and every story had a twist and point of interest! It was so much fun watching the stories come together and being able to add more information to a base story as more and more unraveled.
We had some short stories – and some long stories! Dr. Swan and his team at the Sam Noble made them consistent in size. So – what that means to me – is that there are a lot of juicy details not on the walls upstairs! To read all of the stories, as of next week, you can go to our website and read them in their entirety!
I want to share a couple of thoughts that I had about this exhibit and these stories.
First – I want to emphasize that these stories were not “gone” – they were all out there – in files, books, newspaper articles, at people’s homes, in memories and on the internet. We just had to find them. The artifacts were not “gone” – we knew where they were, which was more than we knew about the stories. Yet – to me – this project was like a brand new big jig-saw puzzle with lots of pieces inside the box. As we found the stories and put them together with the artifacts, like puzzle pieces – we found little notches and indentations that connected to other pieces and groups of pieces. Soon, we had complete photographs of individuals and a sense of their personalities – and as we put them all together – we built a picture of our people and nations at a moment in time. There were some things that our “completed” puzzle told us – we went through years when there were many orphaned children, we had many very young single mothers, alcoholism and health issues were prevalent – but there was a also a love of beauty, artistry, innovation in objects of utility, and we were a people of good reputation and hard work.
Secondly — these stories are probably not “done.” We have researched and documented them to the best of our ability – but there is always another fact to add, a clarification to make, and another side story to tell. And that is OK, and we can ADD to them!
A few years ago in Grapevine, Texas, we wrote a book called “Grapevine’s Most Unforgettable Characters.” The quotation that we writers and editors all kept in mind throughout the project was given to us by one of our beloved Characters – Mrs. Annie B. Watters, who said — “You are not GONE until you are forgotten.” I love that! Today, and through this process, we have put the puzzle pieces together and connected them – we know that the real people whose stories are behind the artifacts and photographs are not gone, because they are not forgotten.
While I am here – I want to share one more short story – a piece of our history — because I do not believe we will ever have this opportunity again — with all of these people in one room! It is the history of the Wyandotte Nation Historical Committee – now called “Cultural Committee.” I am going to ask a lot of you to wave, so please do wave!!
It all began in the 1980s – my son, Ben Andrews, was born in Houston (Ben wave) – and my parents, Jack and Vi Cotter were living in Tulsa (Mom, wave). I wanted Ben to know his grandparents and to know that he was a Wyandotte boy – so we made frequent trips on Southwest Airlines between Houston and Tulsa. On one flight we met a new friend, J. C. High Eagle (J.C., wave). We talked about Indian things, and I told him I needed to learn more about my heritage. He said that I needed to know his friend, Bill Welge at the Oklahoma Historical Society – that Bill could help! (Bill, wave). So my mom and I met in Oklahoma City and went to meet Bill Welge – and he launched us on a huge treasure trove of information in the Oklahoma Historical Society Archives. It was GREAT! Then my dad, Jack Cotter, died – he was 65; and six months later, my grandpa, Clarence Cotter, died – he was 90. I was just devastated and felt like I had wasted just about every opportunity to learn anything first-hand about being a Wyandotte. So, I wrote to Chief Bearskin in 1988 to see if we could start a Historical Committee. He said yes – and to get going on it. He wanted me to work with Artie Nesvold and Juanita McQuistion. (Juanita, wave). We agreed to meet at the home of Artie’s daughter — Artie Freese — in Claremore (Artie, wave) – so Mom, Ben and I went to Claremore for our first committee meeting. I took all of the items that I had gathered based on Bill Welge’s advice – including a song from Rev. Findley’s book that was printed in one of the Chronicles of Oklahoma – the song had Wyandot words – AND guess what – we knew the tune! So – at our very first committee meeting, Artie Nesvold, Juanita McQuistion, Artie Freese, my mom and I sang “Come Thou Fount of Every Blessing” using those Wyandotte words. Well – none of us knew a nasal from a glottal stop from a prenomial prefix! We just let it rip! So – Dr. Pearson and Dr. Kopris, our linguists (wave) – we have been working on Language since day one! That was 24 years ago! Shortly after that Lloyd Divine (Lloyd, wave) joined the committee – and Artie Nesvold passed on to the spirit world. Now her Granddaughter, Sherri Clemons, is leading the Historic Preservation Department of the Wyandotte Nation.
Just think what has been accomplished! What a thrill it is to be a part of something so wonderful topped off by this great International exhibit debuting today! I hope that the next 24 years+ will be as much fun as the first 24 has been. We still have much work to do – and so much more we need to learn. This committee story and this exhibit belongs to all of us – and it is in itself a wonderful history story!
Thank you (tizhameh) for letting me be a part of it! Thank you – writers and researchers! Thank you, J.C., and all our friends and family for your support and love.
God bless you all! I cannot wait to see what is upstairs!