The phrase Red Power, coined by Clyde Warrior (1939–1968) in the 1960s, introduced militant rhetoric into American Indian activism. In this first-ever biography of Warrior, historian Paul R. McKenzie-Jones presents the Ponca leader as the architect of the Red Power movement, spotlighting him as one of the most significant and influential figures in the fight for Indian rights.
The Red Power movement arose in reaction to centuries of oppressive federal oversight of American Indian peoples. It comprised an assortment of grassroots organizations that fought for treaty rights, tribal sovereignty, self-determination, cultural preservation, and cultural relevancy in education. A cofounder of the National Indian Youth Council, Warrior was among the movement’s most prominent spokespeople. Throughout the 1960s, he blazed a trail of cultural and political reawakening in Indian Country, using a combination of ultranationalistic rhetoric and direct-action protest.
McKenzie-Jones uses interviews with some of Warrior’s closest associates to delineate the complexity of community, tradition, culture, and tribal identity that shaped Warrior’s activism. For too many years, McKenzie-Jones maintains, Warrior’s death at age twenty-nine overshadowed his intellect and achievements. Red Power has been categorized as an American Indian interpretation of Black Power that emerged after his death. This groundbreaking book brings to light, however, previously unchronicled connections between Red Power and Black Power that show the movements emerging side by side as militant, urgent calls for social change. Warrior borrowed only the slogan as a metaphor for cultural and community integrity.
Descended from hereditary chiefs, Warrior was immersed in Ponca history and language from birth. McKenzie-Jones shows how this intimate experience, and the perspective gained from participating in powwows, summer workshops, and college Indian organizations, shaped Warrior’s intertribal approach to Indian affairs. This long-overdue biography explores how Clyde Warrior’s commitment to culture, community, and tradition formed the basis for his vision of Red Power.
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Tradition, Community, and Red Power
By Paul R. McKenzie-Jones
UNIVERSITY OF OKLAHOMA PRESSCopyright © 2015 University of Oklahoma Press
All rights reserved.
A PONCA UPBRINGING
"My world was that of my tribe."
In Indian Country, the questions "who are you?" and "where are you from?" often require a more complex answer than merely stating one's name and place of birth. The enquirer usually expects to hear one's name, clan, tribe, and parental and grandparental history. In the pre-reservation era, when the names of renowned warriors and leaders carried great power and afforded family members respect, such an introduction was often a diplomatic necessity. Then and now, lineage, community, and history are intrinsically linked to identity and self-awareness. When addressing youth councils or testifying before Congress, Clyde Warrior usually introduced himself as "a full-blood Ponca Indian from Oklahoma." In more formal cultural or ceremonial settings, he deferred to the traditional protocol of name and familial history described above.
Clyde Merton Warrior was born into the Ponca Tribe of Oklahoma on August 31, 1939. He was the eldest child of Gloria Collins and the only child of her relationship with Lamont Warrior, although both Gloria and Lamont had several children with other partners. Clyde's maternal grandparents were William Collins, Sr., and Metha Collins (née Gives Water). His paternal grandparents were Rolla Oo-hay-ga-he (Making a Path) and Maude Warrior Mon-zhay-gay-tee. In Ponca society, clan membership is patrilineal. Warrior, through his father, was Thí xí'da (Blood) Clan and a direct descendant of Chief Standing Buffalo (Ta-tan-ka-najim). Warrior was descended from hereditary chiefs on both sides of his lineage. William Collins, Sr., was a direct descendant of Chief Big Elk (Ompa Donga) through the Wa'xé hé hé'bé (Half Breed) Clan. He also had Irish ancestry on his mother's side, which made him one-sixteenth Irish, or fifteen-sixteenths Ponca/Iowa, as near to full-blood as most American Indians, even in traditional communities like that of the Poncas, could claim by the twentieth century. His Ponca name, given him by his maternal grandfather, was Ma' He Ska (White Knife).
Warrior's maternal grandparents, in keeping with a Ponca tradition still widely practiced at the time, raised him from birth. His mother eventually moved to Enid, Oklahoma, and raised six children there with an Otoe-Missouria husband, after having three more Ponca children, sons Stanley and Colin Snake, and a daughter, Barbara, who was also raised by her grandparents. Although gloria and Clyde remained close throughout his life, he rarely visited her in Enid, but he was remembered as always being open and loving to his extended Otoe siblings, Charlie, Vernice, Glenda, Susan, Holly, and Levi, when he saw them at the annual Ponca encampment (powwow). Through his grandparents, Warrior was fully immersed in Ponca language, traditions, and customs, which included learning the history of his tribe. This immersion ensured that as he entered adulthood he would have an incredibly strong sense of self, with many friends and colleagues commenting on how easily he mixed with the world around him, white and Indian. Ponca history instilled a determined nationalism within the people—and the reputation of this nationalism was strong even among other tribes in Indian Country. It was a quality that Warrior inherited and wore naturally—and that many of his friends and colleagues remarked upon in Warrior's adult life as an Indian civil rights activist.
Warrior's emergence as the architect of Red Power and as an advocate of tribal sovereignty and cultural self-determination was influenced as much by the Poncas' strong cultural identity as by the brief yet traumatic history of his people's relationship with American settler culture and the federal government. While that history shaped the Poncas and their interaction with the world outside of White Eagle and the surrounding Ponca communities, Warrior's upbringing forged his cultural identity and worldview. Before his emergence as an activist, that Ponca worldview shaped Warrior as a person. His complete immersion in language, traditions, ceremonies, and songs informed his knowledge of what it meant to be Ponca. In turn, "being Ponca" underscored his later understanding of the issues facing tribal communities across the country as he shaped Red Power as a movement and an ideology. Warrior's Ponca worldview influenced his intertribal, rather than pan-Indian, approach to Indian affairs. This meant that tribal identity took precedence over Indianness at every turn, and Warrior often commented upon the distinction. Warrior viewed Red Power as the distinct and unique cultural identities and heritages inherent within tribal nations throughout the United States. Red Power was not just something to fight for; it was something to protect and preserve.
Warrior was raised by his maternal grandparents on the Collins family farm, a working farm situated in Bois D'Arc, a Ponca community approximately two miles due west of the Ponca tribal complex at White Eagle. The family grew corn, green beans, onions, and tomatoes, and raised cows, hogs, and chickens. As Metha Collins, Warrior's grandmother, required a wheelchair for mobility in her later life, the younger children of the family were responsible for many of the lighter manual tasks around the farm, such as gathering eggs or drawing water from the well. What food the farm did not provide, such as rabbit or fish, they hunted, living off the land as much as they could. Having attended the Ponca school at White Eagle until he entered junior high school at twelve years old, Warrior's cultural contacts were almost exclusively Ponca. Any external influences came from neighboring tribal communities and elders with whom his grandparents mixed.
Despite living apart from the tribal complex, the family maintained strong ties to the White Eagle community. Warrior described being "raised by my grandparents in a typical American Indian home, poverty stricken ... my world was that of my tribe and I (took) part in all gatherings, organization, and functions of my tribe." Part of Warrior's upbringing was learning to understand the pipe religion and spiritual significance of tobacco as the plant that connected the creator to the earth, a belief that was still strong in some elements of Ponca society. For followers of the traditional spirituality, it was usually a private affair. In the late 1950s Warrior's friend Frank Turley casually remarked to Warrior, as he saw Grandpa Bill light some tobacco, that he had never realized that Clyde's grandpa smoked. Warrior, laughing, retorted, "[H]e's praying, you idiot." According to James Howard, the Ponca tribal pipe, which was also the sacred pipe of the Hethuska Society, was in the property of Mrs. Grace Warrior (née Standing Buffalo) as recently as 1954. By the time of the society's revival in 1958, however, Grace was alleged to have sold the pipe to a collector. Jimmy Duncan remembered that Clyde Warrior spent his life searching unsuccessfully for the pipe in an attempt to return it to the tribe.
Many afternoons after school Warrior would sit at the feet of his grandfather, listening to discussions of tribal politics, gossip, and stories and songs shared with friends. Elders from other tribes, including the Otoe, Osage, Tonkawa, and Kiowa nations, were regular visitors to the Collins kitchen. It was here that Warrior learned respect for, and insight into, tribal cultures other than his own, and he came to know the crucial role of tribal elders in maintaining and preserving those cultures. He also learned the arts of listening—to his elders—and talking, and he gained a strong sense of social responsibility in a traditional setting.
As it was spent raised in a traditional household, Warrior's childhood was filled with song. By the age of four he could join in and even lead the many songs he heard his grandparents sing. Singing was such an integral part of the Collins home that most mornings began with Grandpa Bill singing Ponca prayers and war songs as he prepared breakfast or coffee at the kitchen's large pot-bellied stove. Bill and Metha Collins were drum makers who began selling their drums in 1928, and Warrior did not simply watch his grandparents in the long, arduous, culturally uplifting process of making the traditional drums—he joined them. The process was far more than simple manual labor and construction. Clyde's immersion in this process gave him a respect for, and attachment to, Ponca traditions and culture beyond that of many of his generation.
For many American Indians, across all tribes, the drum is much more than simply a musical instrument. It is a significant and spiritual symbol of the earth's power. The drumbeat holds a variety of meanings, ranging from thunder to the heartbeat of the earth itself. As such, many people across Indian Country view the drum as a living, breathing entity. In powwow and ceremonial situations the drum is central. Without it there would be no ceremony. Therefore a great deal of respect and honor is paid to drum makers. The traditional creation of a drum begins with skinning cattle. The age of the animal is significant, with Warrior's grandfather insisting that it must be "over two years old or the hide will be thin." Warrior's sister Betty Pensoneau recounted having to negotiate her way through cattle carcasses and drying hides whenever she was on the farm. Warrior and his grandparents would strip the fur from each hide, which was then repeatedly washed in cold soapy water before being left to partially dry in the sun, returning to it when it was slightly damp rather than saturated. While the hide was drying, Warrior and his grandparents would strengthen the midsection of a large wooden barrel with an iron "wheel rim," which they inserted and fastened inside. They would then cover the barrel with bark from an ash tree. Once the hide was almost dry they would cut it in two and then stretch a piece over each end of the barrel. Once the hide was stretched, Warrior or his grandparents would cut a series of slits into the drum skins and then lace dried sinew from the same animal through the slits to tie the two drum skins together. They would then tighten the threaded sinew until the skins were taut enough to make the musical tone of a "tuned" drum rather than the dull thud of an "out of tune" one. They would then leave the drum out in the sun for the skin to dry completely, occasionally tightening the lacing to ensure that the skin remained taut as it dried. The process was the same whether the Collinses were making small hand drums or larger "powwow drums." Each drum would take Warrior and his grandparents several days to complete. Toward the end of the process, Grandma Metha would, as she described, "put several songs in the drum when I lace it." Grandpa Bill, meanwhile, would "lift it and beat a song into it when it [was] finished." These songs were important because they established a form of "medicine" inside the drum that created a sense of what Bill called "good feeling, a feeling of health and prosperity." Having grown up in this environment, Warrior became a skilled singer and drummer by a very young age, perhaps inevitably.
Warrior's grandparents also taught him the difference between social and ceremonial meanings of the songs and the drum. There was a distinction between social and ceremonial practices that generations of Plains Indians had observed as they shared songs and dances between tribes as methods of diplomacy, an intertribal diffusion that laid the foundations for the evolution of the powwow. Many academics argue that this cultural diffusion ultimately created a homogenous pan-Indian culture. Those involved in the process saw it differently, however. For example, Warrior's uncle Sylvester insisted that the Poncas had clearly defined the difference between spiritual and social when they gave their Hethuska ceremonies to neighboring tribes. It was a distinction that Warrior himself would carry forward as a young adult as he delineated clear cultural differences between not just the Indian and non-Indian worlds, but also between differing tribal worldviews within the framework of Indianness. His grandparents raised him to be aware of the economic necessity of catering to the tastes of non-Indians by creating different styles of drum for sale. For tourists and non-Indians, the Collinses painted the drum skins with a picture of an Indian chief in full headdress. There was no such decoration on drums intended for Indians, though, as "Indians care only for the sound. They don't want paint that may flake off after many beatings."
The Collinses sold their drums all across Indian Country. This included the annual Gallup Ceremonial in Gallup, New Mexico (where there was always an abundance of tourist traffic), the Miller Brothers Ranch 101 Real Wild West Show store in Ponca City, and on the southern plains powwow circuit in and around Oklahoma. Both the Gallup Ceremonial and the powwow circuit heavily influenced Warrior. The first dated back to 1920, when Indian superintendent Samuel Stacker conceived the event. The Indian Ceremonial, as it was first called, took place at Crownpoint, New Mexico, in 1920 before moving to Gallup in 1922. Here the organizing committee, under the control of the Gallup Chamber of Commerce, adopted a grander title: Gallup Intertribal Ceremonial Exhibition. The event was first organized to showcase the dances of Navajo and neighboring tribes, and, instead of receiving monetary payment, "all Indians attending were furnished food, hay and oats for their horses, with camping space on the ceremonial grounds." By 1929, the food available to Indian dancers and artists included a daily free barbecue. It was noted that "55 goats, five beeves and 700 loaves of bread" were eaten during the three-day event.
In the 1930s the Gallup Ceremonial expanded its exhibits and gradually recruited dancers from the Plains as well as California and New York tribes. Warrior accompanied his grandparents on their trips to New Mexico and quickly became aware of the many cultural distinctions between the various nations that attended the Ceremonial. He observed the Pottawatomi Eagle Dance, Apache Fire Dance, Hopi Katzina Dance, Taos Surrender Dance, and Zuni Butterfly Dance, and saw descendants of Aztecs wearing long headdresses, pheasant feathers, and peacock feathers. Ceremonial programs gave a brief history of each dance and the significance to the particular tribe that performed it.
The vast intertribal gathering exerted a considerable influence on Warrior throughout his life. The trips to Gallup, which usually included his uncle Sylvester, who on these occasions sang with a Kiowa drum accompanying Kiowa dancers, educated Warrior in the myriad songs and dances and languages of Indian nations. At the "49s," social gatherings that followed each day's dancing, Indians from many nations would mix and share songs and dances, teaching and learning from each other. No small amount of alcohol was consumed as old friends caught up with each other, romances were kindled, and stories swapped. The experience enhanced Warrior's cultural understanding of Indianness within the context of the sheer diversity of ceremony, tradition, and performance throughout Indian Country. This cultural awareness and sensitivity, rather than Indian/white relationships or the suffocating racism he was surrounded by in Ponca City, dominated his worldview.
Excerpted from Clyde Warrior by Paul R. McKenzie-Jones. Copyright © 2015 University of Oklahoma Press. Excerpted by permission of UNIVERSITY OF OKLAHOMA PRESS.
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Table of Contents
ContentsList of Illustrations,
Prologue: A Ponca History,
1. A Ponca Upbringing,
2. Laying the Foundations of a Movement,
3. The Cultural Foundations of Red Power,
4. Making the Case for Self-Determination,
5. Rising Tensions in Cherokee Country,
6. Creating a Culturally Relevant Curriculum,