Bridging Cultures Is My Livelihood

Sovereign Youth Leadership camp

Sovereign Youth Leadership camp

Nancy’s story:
“You will wear two dresses” my great-grandmother told me, referring to my mixed heritage of Cherokee/Choctaw/Scots Irish and the challenges to be faced.

But, thankfully from an early age I had a great-grandmother who taught me about tribal traditions, and a grandfather who wanted me assured of a western education and willing to indulge me with trips to natural history museums, art galleries, historical sites; anywhere to feed my insatiable curiosity about the world both “out there now” and “long ago,” which led eventually to a career teaching college level history, anthropology, and sociology.

Nancy at Genoa 2014

Nancy – “Wearing Two Dresses”

Teaching was the obvious choice for such broad interests but two remarkable opportunities arose here in Nebraska melding avocations and vocation. In 1987 beginning work with a church on the Winnebago Reservation propelled me into public speaking across the country on its behalf seeking potential supporters; then in 1997 being hired by the Neihardt State Historic Site creating educational programming on Neihardt and related topics. Neihardt’s literary and journalistic career and his inextricable link to Native Americans (think Black Elk Speaks) broadened the topics covered both in what was offered on site and what could be taken out to schools and other groups across the state.

For a mixed blood Native woman, these presentations expanded finding a perfect niche market. Using my own life experiences (i.e. being told in 3rd grade “You can’t be Indian, there are no Indians left” when I went home to a whole household of them) combined with what I taught in the classroom, was an excellent way to bridge gaps between cultures. Putting it bluntly, utilizing the combination of my European coloring and Native upbringing made me the “safe” Native person to answer potentially uncomfortable questions from non-Natives and allow for opening dialogue using factual information, informal manner, and often humor. And it works; for adults and school children alike, and hopefully leaves a lasting impression and appreciation for our shared history.

So, my great-grandmother would not be surprised at all to see me in a variety of settings wearing either a business suit or regalia – wearing two dresses.

About Nancy:
Nancy Gillis is the former Director of the Neihardt Historic Site, retiring in 2014; teachingNancy 2008 at Wayne State College, NECC, N.I.C.C. and Little Priest Colleges in Native American, U.S. and World History, Sociology, and Cultural Anthropology.

Gillis served the Nebraska Historic Preservation Office and NE Folk Life Network; NE Arts Council Multi-Cultural Grant panel; reviewer for Nebraska History Magazine; trained museum docents; coordinated writers’ workshops for Native youth; consulted for a 3-year Teaching American History grant; and as counselor for the 2014 Sovereign Youth Leadership camp. She is the 2014 Addison Sheldon Honoree for “service to the history of Nebraska” and for Humanities Nebraska she presents a variety of programs on both Native Americans and Neihardt.

To read more about Nancy’s speaking topics

Chautauqua Contest!

Organized by Humanities Nebraska, the Chautauqua Series brings workshops, presentations, and other activities for children and adults across the state in celebration of heritage and political and cultural happenings. This year’s theme is Free Land? 1862 and the Shaping of Modern America.
Book Cover

In the spirit of the upcoming Chautauqua series happening across Nebraska this month, we’re GIVING AWAY two signed copies of I Am a Man: Chief Standing Bear’s Journey for Justice by Joe Starita. To enter, leave a comment on this blog post telling us who you are looking forward to presenting underneath the Chautauqua tent and why!

We will randomly select the two winners on Monday, June 24. The winner will be notified via email, so it is important you leave a valid, active email address when leaving your comment. Good luck, and don’t forget to like our Facebook page or follow us on Twitter to stay in-the-know on future events and giveaways!

Learn more about the Chautauqua Series

Papillion Schedule
Wednesday, June 19
7PM: Warren Brown as Mark Twain
7:30PM: Betty Jean Steinshouer as author Willa Cather

Thursday, June 20
7PM Warren Brown as Mark Twain
7:30PM Patrick E. McGinnis as Union General and railroad builder Grenville Dodge

Friday, June 21
7PM: Warren Brown as Mark Twain
7:30PM: Karen Vuranch as author and homesteader Laura Ingalls Wilder

Saturday, June 22
7PM: Warren Brown as Mark Twain
7:30PM: Paxton Williams as homesteader and inventor Washington Carver

Sunday, June 23
7PM: Warren Brown as Mark Twain
7:30PM: Taylor Keen as Ponca Chief Standing Bear

Join the Papillion event on Facebook.

Grand Island Schedule
Wednesday, June 26
7PM: Warren Brown as Mark Twain
7:30PM: Betty Jean Steinshouer as author Willa Cather

Thursday, June 27
7PM Warren Brown as Mark Twain
7:30PM Patrick E. McGinnis as Union General and railroad builder Grenville Dodge

Friday, June 28
7PM: Warren Brown as Mark Twain
7:30PM: Karen Vuranch as author and homesteader Laura Ingalls Wilder

Saturday, June 29
7PM: Warren Brown as Mark Twain
7:30PM: Paxton Williams as homesteader and inventor Washington Carver

Sunday, June 30
7PM: Warren Brown as Mark Twain
7:30PM: Taylor Keen as Ponca Chief Standing Bear

Join the Grand Island event on Facebook. 

Official Contest Rules:

  • Contest starts at 9:00am Central Time on Wednesday, June 19 and ends at 9:00am Central Time on Monday, June 24.
  • Eligible entrants must be residents of Nebraska.
  • There can be only one entry per person.
  • Winner will be selected at random from a pool of eligible entries.
  • Winner will be announced on Tuesday, June 25 and notified via the email address submitted with the comment, so entrants must leave a valid, active email address when leaving a comment.
  • If the winner does not respond to communication from Nebraska Cultural Endowment within one week of being notified as the winner, a new winner may be selected.
  • Prize will be distributed by snail mail within 30 days of announcing the winner.
  • The Nebraska Cultural Endowment reserves the right to adjust the contest rules at any time.
  • All federal, state, and local taxes associated with the receipt or use of any prize is solely the responsibility of the winner.

Tribal Culture Is My Livelihood

Taylor’s Story Taylor Keen photo 3
Our identity is everything to us as human beings. I was born into two tribes, the Omaha, and the Cherokee. I was adopted at birth into the earthen Bison clan (Black Shoulder or Inke’cabe). My name is Ba’gee-zha, which means Bison Mane, literally, but refers to the transformation of an alpha male whose head and neck enlarge dramatically as he must physically fight for the vitality of the tribe. Our goal as Omaha Indians is to live up to the metaphor of our names so that our tribe will thrive. I will spend my life trying to live up to my name for my tribe.

I am a student of our tribal life-ways, and try to help represent the truth in history, art, history, and the humanities. I am a dancer, singer and artist and try to express myself through these mediums the pride and clarity of identity in all I do.

I was recently given the honor of being inducted into the Omaha Eagle Whistle Society; it is one of the highest honors in my tribe. And with such honors come great responsibility. If anyone in the tribe asks for my help, then I am instantly indebted. I could ask for no greater honor in serving my people.

With my art, I only make ceremonial objects that must live in our ceremonies, whether thatTaylor Keen photo 1 be prayer fans or war dance regalia, I insist that they be used, to bolster our tribal life-ways.

I often find myself advocating for the true impact of history. Every time I hear “Pioneer” here in Nebraska, I immediately follow up with an explanation of the impact to Native peoples. The dislocation of the Nebraska tribes is a painful and real part of Nebraska history. I recently started portraying Chief Standing Bear of the Ponca in an effort to help educate citizens on this topic.

But mainly I just try to live our teachings; “help one another… be kind to one another… even your worst enemy- shake their hand, and remember they are a human being and that there are those that need and love them.”

About TaylorTaylor Keen
Taylor Keen is an enrolled citizen of both the Omaha and the Cherokee Nations. Prof. Keen is a full time lecturer at Creighton’s College of Business, and has served on the National Council of the Cherokee Nation and is a member multiple different traditional societies; include the Tai Piah Gourd Dance Society of the Kiowa, the UmoNhoN Society and the Omaha Native American Church.

Taylor is a veteran dancer, singer and artist and loves to share this passion with younger members of the tribe, in the hopes of it always thriving. Taylor is active in board/trustee governance with the Humanities Nebraska, the Nebraska State Historical Society and is Chairman of the Board for the Blackbird Bend Corporation, the hospitality / economic development engine for the Omaha Nation.

Music Is My Livelihood

Verna’s Story
When my grandfather moved our family from South Dakota to Missouri, it was a piano that separated the horses from the cattle in the stock car of the train. I think that’s symbolic; music has always been a part of my family’s heritage.

Growing up, our house was always full of music. My talented mother could play the piano both by music and “by ear,” and my father played the harmonica. We only had one TV in the house, and would either watch whatever our father watched—which would frequently be Leonard Bernstein—or be sent off to read. My brothers and I learned how to play the piano (with varying degrees of success), so I grew up with an appreciation for all sorts of music, from classical to country to rock ‘n roll.

My family has always been proud of our Native American heritage. My great-grandfather was Oglala Sioux, and my great-grandmother was Northern Cheyenne. I’m enrolled at Pine Ridge Indian Reservation today, so I’m able to track my lineage and embrace my connection with the tribe. Music is an essential part of being Native American. It’s hard to describe, but when you hear Native American music, it’s a soul-touching experience.

We never thought of our relationship with music as “art” per se, but that’s precisely what it was. And it’s our livelihood.

Verna Edinger

About Verna
As Executive Assistant for the Nebraska Arts Council, Verna Edinger provides administrative support to the executive director and the organization. Additionally, she coordinates all travel and meeting arrangements for the agency, analyzes and routes requests for information, compiles materials and mailings, and performs additional administrative duties.

Prior to coming to the Nebraska Arts council, Verna served in administrative and leadership roles at the Hartford Financial Services. Verna attended Tarkio College, a liberal arts college in Tarkio, Missouri.  In her spare time, she enjoys the outdoors, spending time with family, and needlework.